owls in south carolina

Owls are mysterious creatures that silently roam the night skies of South Carolina, captivating the imagination of those who catch a glimpse of their enigmatic beauty. South Carolina is home to a diverse range of owl species, each with its own distinctive characteristics and habits.

Let’s read about nine of these remarkable owls, shedding light on their diets, scientific names, and unique features. So, let’s embark on a journey into the world of owls in South Carolina.

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

The Great Horned Owl, also known by its scientific name Bubo virginianus, is a majestic and imposing bird of prey that can be found throughout South Carolina. With its striking tufts of feathers resembling horns and large, round, golden eyes, it’s easy to see how this owl earned its name.

Great Horned Owls types of owls in south carolina

They are formidable hunters, feasting on a varied diet that includes mammals like rabbits, squirrels, and even other birds. These powerful raptors are not picky eaters and are known to adapt to changing conditions, making them a common sight in both rural and urban areas.

Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)

The Eastern Screech Owl, scientifically known as Megascops asio, is a petite and charming owl species found throughout South Carolina. These owls are masters of camouflage, with plumage that can range from gray to reddish-brown, allowing them to blend seamlessly with their surroundings. 

Eastern Screech Owl most common owl in south carolina

Despite their small stature, they are formidable hunters, preying on insects, small mammals, and even small birds. They are known for their distinctive trilling calls that echo through the night, creating an eerie yet enchanting ambiance in the woodlands of South Carolina.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

The Barn Owl, scientifically classified as Tyto alba, is a silent nocturnal predator that inhabits the countryside and open fields of South Carolina. Easily recognizable by its heart-shaped facial disc and ghostly white plumage, the Barn Owl is a sight to behold.

barn owl in south carolina most common owl

 These owls have an appetite for rodents, making them valuable allies to farmers as they help control crop-damaging pests. Unlike most owls, they possess exceptional hearing, allowing them to locate prey with remarkable accuracy even in complete darkness. Their hunting prowess and unique appearance make them a captivating addition to South Carolina’s owl population.

Barred Owl (Strix varia)

The Barred Owl, scientifically referred to as Strix varia, is a distinctive owl species that inhabits the lush woodlands and wetlands of South Carolina. With its mottled brown and white plumage and soulful, dark eyes, the Barred Owl has a unique charm.

barred owl biggest owl in south carolina

 These owls have a broad diet that includes small mammals, birds, and amphibians, making them versatile hunters. One striking feature of this owl is its eerie call, often described as sounding like, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” This vocalization adds an air of mystery to the nocturnal forests where they reside.

Long-Eared Owl (Asio otus)

The Long-Eared Owl, scientifically known as Asio otus, is a slender and cryptic owl species that occasionally visits South Carolina during the winter months. Sporting distinctive tufts of feathers atop its head, these owls are masters of camouflage, blending seamlessly with their tree-dwelling habitats

long eared owl in south carolina

While in South Carolina, they primarily feed on small mammals, particularly voles and mice. The Long-Eared Owl’s preference for dense coniferous forests makes them a rare but captivating find for bird enthusiasts exploring the state.

Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

The Short-Eared Owl, scientifically classified as Asio flammeus, is a fascinating owl species that occasionally graces the skies of South Carolina during the winter months. With their distinctive facial disk and striking yellow eyes, these owls are a sight to behold. Short-Eared Owls are diurnal hunters, making them unique among owl species. 

Short-Eared Owl

They primarily prey on small mammals such as meadow voles and shrews, and they can often be observed hunting over open grasslands and marshes in the state. Their habit of flying low over fields during daylight hours makes them an exciting find for birdwatchers in South Carolina.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)

The Burrowing Owl, scientifically known as Athene cunicularia, is a small and charming owl species that can be found in South Carolina’s open grasslands and prairies. Unlike many owls, Burrowing Owls are active during the day, making them easier to spot. 

Burrowing Owl common owls in carolina

They are named for their preference to nest in burrows underground, often using abandoned burrows dug by small mammals like prairie dogs. These owls primarily feed on insects, small mammals, and occasionally small reptiles. Their distinctive, long legs and bright yellow eyes give them an endearing appearance that has made them a favorite among bird enthusiasts.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl, scientifically classified as Aegolius acadicus, is a petite and elusive owl species that occasionally visits South Carolina during the winter months. These owls are known for their secretive nature and are often found roosting quietly in dense coniferous forests. 

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Their diet consists mainly of small rodents and birds. Despite their diminutive size, Northern Saw-Whet Owls are fierce hunters, using their sharp talons to capture prey with precision. Their haunting, high-pitched calls can sometimes be heard during the night, adding an air of mystery to their presence in the state.

Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)

The Snowy Owl, scientifically referred to as Bubo scandiacus, is a majestic and iconic owl species that occasionally makes its way to South Carolina during the winter months. These owls are known for their pure white plumage, which provides perfect camouflage in their arctic tundra breeding grounds. Snowy Owls primarily feed on lemmings, small mammals, and waterfowl. 

snowy owl in south carolina

Their winter visits to South Carolina are a rare treat for birdwatchers, as these Arctic nomads undertake long migratory journeys southward in search of food during periods of food scarcity in their native habitats.

What is the Biggest Owl in South Carolina?

The largest owl species that can be found in South Carolina is the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus). Great Horned Owls are formidable birds of prey with a wingspan that can reach up to 5 feet (150 centimeters) and a height of about 18-25 inches (45-64 centimeters).

 They are known for their impressive size and striking appearance, with distinctive tufts of feathers resembling “horns” on their heads. These powerful owls are at the top of the avian food chain in South Carolina and are often considered the largest and most dominant owl species in the region.

Are Owls Good to have Around your House?

Having owls around your house can be beneficial in many ways, depending on your perspective and location. Here are some reasons why owls can be considered good to have around:

Natural Pest Control

Owls are expert hunters and primarily feed on small mammals such as rodents (mice, voles, rats). Having owls nearby can help keep these potential pests in check, reducing the need for chemical pest control methods.

Silent Predators

 Owls are quiet hunters, and their presence doesn’t disturb the peace and tranquility of your surroundings as much as some other forms of pest control might. Their nocturnal hunting habits also mean that they often work when you’re asleep.

Ecological Balance

Owls play a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance by controlling populations of prey species. This can help prevent overpopulation and its associated issues.

Unique Wildlife Observation

Owls are fascinating and elusive creatures. Having them around provides an opportunity for wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers to observe and appreciate these beautiful birds up close.

However, it’s important to consider a few factors if you have owls around your house:

  • Noise: Owls can be noisy during the breeding season when they hoot to establish territory and attract mates. While many people find this soothing and enjoyable, it can be bothersome to others, especially if you have a sensitive sleep schedule.
  • Predation: Owls are predators, and if you have small pets like small dogs or cats, they could potentially be at risk if they roam freely at night. It’s essential to take precautions to protect your pets if owls are in the area.
  • Nesting Sites: Owls might choose to nest in your vicinity, which can be both a positive and a negative. While it offers the chance to observe owlets, nesting owls may become territorial and protective, which can sometimes lead to conflicts with humans.


Exploring the fascinating world of owls in South Carolina reveals a rich tapestry of biodiversity and ecological significance. These majestic birds of prey, with their distinctive calls and nocturnal habits, play a crucial role in the state’s ecosystems. Protecting their habitats and understanding their behaviors and needs is vital for conservation efforts. As stewards of the environment, it’s our responsibility to ensure that the haunting hoots of these remarkable birds continue to echo through the night skies of South Carolina for generations to come.


What is the most common owl in South Carolina?

The most common owl in South Carolina is the Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio).

What are the most common owls in the world?

The most common owl species worldwide include the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) and the Tawny Owl (Strix aluco).

Why do owls hoot at night?

Owls hoot at night primarily for communication, marking territory, and attracting mates. It’s a way for them to communicate with other owls.

What is the largest owl?

The largest owl in the world is the Blakiston’s Fish Owl (Bubo blakistoni), which can have a wingspan of over 6 feet (2 meters) and is found in parts of Asia.

What is the most powerful owl?

The Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) is often considered the most powerful owl due to its size, strength, and ability to prey on a wide range of animals, including larger birds and mammals.

Are owls intelligent?

Yes, owls are considered intelligent birds. They possess excellent hunting skills, problem-solving abilities, and have adapted to a wide range of habitats, demonstrating their intelligence in various ways.

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