Facts about the animal kingdom

Where Do Owls Live? - Owl Habitats

Nick A. Romero
By Nick A. Romero, Biologist and environmental educator. July 26, 2022
Where Do Owls Live? - Owl Habitats

The animals with know as owls belong to the order Strigiformes, which is subdivided into two families. The first is the Strigidae, which are more commonly known as true owls. The second is Tytonidae, which includes the birds we know as barn owls. Colloquially, when we refer to owls we can use the same word for both families. Despite having many commonalities, these are actually two distinct groups which share both anatomical differences and even variations in their habitats.

AnimalWised asks where do owls live? We answer the question by looking at owl habitats and distribution for all types of owl across the world.

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  1. Owl distribution
  2. Owl habitat types according to species
  3. Where do owls nest?

Owl distribution

The Strigiformes family constitutes a fairly diverse taxonomic group. This includes more than 220 species of birds of prey which we identify as owls. Owls have a very wide global distribution, being present on all continents except Antarctica. For this reason, they are considered cosmopolitan animals.

Although owls have a very wide distribution, 80% of owl species are found in the tropics. Some species make changes to their habitat for seasonal reasons, but less than 10% have migratory behaviors within their range of distribution. To know where do owls live, we must look at some of these species in more detail which we provide below.

Owl habitat types according to species

Owls inhabit almost all types of terrestrial habitat within their distribution areas. However, most live in various types of forests. These will have certain conditions, depending on the given ecosystem. Almost all owl species are arboreal, but there are exceptions.

When we ask where do owls live, we should know this is dependent on their species. Here are some particular examples of the habitat of certain species of owls:

  • Northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus): this species lives in the United States, Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica, with some migration to Canada. Although it is usually found in coniferous forests, it also develops in deciduous and mixed forests. Depending on the season, it can be migratory and present in urban areas.

  • Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus): has a wide distribution through forest areas in northern regions. It is in North America, including Alaska and Canada, Eurasia, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Siberia and some areas of Korea. This owl lives in subalpine and boreal forests.

  • Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus): this owl species has one of the largest global distribution, being found in practically the entire American continent. This ranges from the very north to Patagonia in South America. It is also found on the remaining continents, except for Antarctica and Australia. The preferred habitat has open spaces, without many trees. They are more associated with swamps and marshes, with relatively flat terrain.

  • Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo): if you are wondering where the eagle owl lives, you should know this type of owl has a wide distribution range both in Europe and Asia. They can also be found North Africa. It prefers wild and peaceful spaces. They are associated with rocky ecosystems, cliffs and ravines. It also favors areas with wooded patches in various types of forests and even river valleys and farmland.

  • Snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus): also known as the white owl, it is a widely distributed species in the northern circumpolar area.This means we ca find them in Alaska, Canada, China, Greenland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Russia, among other regions. It develops from sea level to about 300 meters above in biomes such as tundra, flooded grasslands, plains, marshes and even urban areas.

  • Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia): it is exclusive to America. Although the reproductive populations are from the United States, Canada, Suriname and Uruguay, the groups extend to many other countries in the region. The habitat of this owl is made up of open ecosystems with little vegetation, such as desert areas, grasslands, plains, prairies, agricultural spaces and even abandoned urban places, golf courses and other urban areas. As their name suggests, they nest in burrows, sometimes occupying vacated mammal burrows. They don't spend as much time in trees and have longer legs which have been adapted to run on the ground.

  • Black-and-white owl (Ciccaba nigrolineata): this species lives in Central and South America, although it can be found in certain locations ranging from Mexico to Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru. It inhabits various types of forests, such as humid, semi-deciduous or evergreen. It is usual that it lives near urban areas, since it is not afraid of humans.

To learn more about these incredible birds, we take a look at the issue of keeping owls as pets.

Where Do Owls Live? - Owl Habitats - Owl habitat types according to species

Where do owls nest?

When wondering where do owls live, we most likely want to know about their habits. While two owl species can live in similar habitats, it doesn't necessarily mean they will have the same nesting and hunting habits. Generally speaking, owls do not build their own nests. Although a common practice in other bird species, owls tend to buck this trend.

As you may imagine, not building their own nest can provide certain problems. For reproduction, as with all birds, they will need to lay eggs and find a way to protect these vulnerable incubators. For laying and incubating eggs, as well as rearing their young, many owls will use the nests of other birds and animals. This can be seen with the burrowing owl which uses the burrows of prairie dogs and other animals to nest.

Another option for many owls is to use holes in trees which are bored either by other animals or people, as well as those which may occur naturally. When owls roost, they may do so alone, in pairs or even in larger groups of pairs. Owls tend to be monogamous, so the pairs will stay with their own partner. When they take the nest of other animals, they will still insulate it and make it comfortable by bringing in natural materials.

Some owl species may even nest directly on the ground, although they are a minority of species. This is the case with the snowy owl. The female will choose a hidden space on the ground and will excavate the soil directly. Without adding any other materials, she will lay her eggs in the space created.

We can also mention the example of the eagle-owl which is used to looking for cracks between rocks, cliffs, caves or large nests of other birds to nest. Another case is that of the short-eared owl, which also nests on the ground, but makes nests in spaces with tall vegetation. It is common that they even return to the same nest in the next reproductive period.

As we have mentioned, owls are not generally migratory birds. They nest in the same areas where they otherwise usually live.

If you want to read similar articles to Where Do Owls Live? - Owl Habitats, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

  • Animal Diversity Web. (2020). Retrieved from: https://animaldiversity.org/
  • ITIS. (2022). Strigiformes. Retrieved from: https://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=177848#null
  • IUCN. (2022). The red list of threatened species. Retrieved from: https://www.iucnredlist.org/en
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Where Do Owls Live? - Owl Habitats