American Owls

There are roughly 225 known species of owl and many of them can be found in the varied habitats of North and South America.

As in Africa, evidence of owls in the Americas goes back to the dawn of time, with the birds represented in Mayan hieroglyphics.

The Mayans and Aztecs both seem to have regarded the owl as a messenger of death, a belief that still has some currency in south American countries. For instance in some parts of Brazil the sight or sound of the birds is viewed as a bad omen. Conversely, in ancient Peru, the owl was worshipped.

Owls also have a strong presence in Native American rituals, with some species associated with taboo subjects like sorcery, and others elsewhere being seen as bearing the spirits of ancestors.

In the United States, the northern spotted owl and the ferruginous pygmy owl are protected as endangered species due to threats to their habitat. In some areas owl populations are affected by habitat loss caused by logging, urban development, pesticides and diseases such as West Nile Virus.

Here are the American owls that we have at the sanctuary:

Northern Hawk owl

Northern Hawk owl

Northern Hawk owl

Scientific name: Surnia ulula

Height: 360mm to 450mm
Geographical distribution: From eastern Alaska through to Newfoundland and in some areas extends south into Northern America.
Habitat: They live mostly in open coniferous forests, or coniferous forests mixed with deciduous species such as larch, birch, poplar, and willow. They are found in muskegs, clearings, swamp valleys, meadows, or recently burnt areas, and generally avoid dense spruce-fir forests.
Diet: In Eurasia the northern hawk-owl is known to feed primarily on voles, but will feed on a variety of prey, which can include small rodents to mammals more robust in size, and a variety of birds
Status: Unknown and poorly studied.
Here are the names of the Northern Hawk owls we have at the sanctuary:

Spectacled Owl

Aztec - Spectacled-Owl - Pulsatix perspicillata

Aztec – Spectacled-Owl – Pulsatix perspicillata

Scientific name: Pulsatix perspicillata
Height: 460mm
Geographical distribution: From southern Mexico through central America, Venezuela, the Guianas, Colombia, Ecuador, eastern Peru, Amazonian Brazil south to Bolivia and northern Argentina. Also formerly on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, where it is now probably extinct.

Habitat: mature forest
Diet: preys on mammals and large insects and will also take birds, including smaller owls
Status: generally uncommon but may be rather common locally, for example in Costa Rica, Colombia and the Amazon. The species may be endangered in areas suffering from deforestation.

Here is the name of the Spectacled owl we have at the sanctuary:


Mottled Owl

Mottled Owl - Strix virgataScientific name: Strix virgata
Height: 350-400mm
Geographical distribution: From northernmost Colombia east of the Andes, eastern Ecuador, Venezuela and Trinidad, the Guianas, Amazonian Peru and Amazonian Brazil to northern Brazil, south to Bolivia and northernmost north-west Argentina, south-eastern Brazil, eastern Paraquay and north-eastern Argentina.

Habitat: dry forest and jungle up to 7,500 feet above sea level
Diet: large insects and beetles, small mammals, snakes, lizards, salamanders and frogs.
Status: uncertain, but locally fairly common. May be threatened by forest destruction

Here is the name of the Mottled owl we have at the sanctuary:

Rufous-Legged Owl

Rufous-legged owl - Strix rufipes

Rufous-legged owl – Strix rufipes

Scientific name: Strix rufipes
Height: 330mm to 380mm
Geographical distribution: southern America

Habitat: dense and moist forest on mountain slopes or in the lowlands. Semi-open forest and woodlands
Diet: small rodents, birds, reptiles, insects and other anthropods
Status: uncertain – may be threatened locally by forest destruction

Here are the names of the Rufous-legged owls we have at the sanctuary:


Burrowing Owl

Zapper-Burrowing owl (Athene/Speotyto cunicularia)

Zapper-Burrowing owl (Athene/Speotyto cunicularia)

Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
Height: 200mm to 260mm
Geographical distribution: northern, central and southern America
Habitat: open grassland
Diet: small birds; insects, especially large beetles and crickets; small rodents, for example, kangaroo rats and voles
Status: locally threatened

Here are the names of the Burrowing owls we have at the sanctuary:

Magellanic Horned Owl

Demelza - Magellanic horned owl (Bubo magellanicus)

Demelza – Magellanic horned owl (Bubo magellanicus)

Scientific name: Bubo magellanicus
Height: 450mm
Geographical distribution: south-western America

Habitat: rocky landscapes with pasture above the timber line. Semi-open Patagonian and Fuegian forest, rich in lichens and mosses. Rocky semi-desert from sea level to the mountain regions, often near human settlements
Diet: small mammals, birds and reptiles
Status: frequent and locally common

Here are the names of the Magellanic horned owls we have at the sanctuary:


Great Horned Owl

Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus)

Great horned owl (Bubo virginianus)

Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
Height: 430mm to 530mm
Geographical distribution: north and south America

Habitat: woodland park, forest and desert
Diet: small mammals, birds (including other owls) and reptiles. Will often store surplus food which is unusual
Status: widespread, threatened locally

Here are the names of the Great Horned owls we have at the sanctuary: