Owls in California

California is the third-largest state in the United States after Alaska and Texas, with an appropriately high level of geographical diversity. As a result, California is home to 16 owl species. One of them, the Barred Owl, has adapted well to the state’s old-growth forests despite not initially being native to California.

All owls in California remain protected under federal law. However, some of them are still at risk due to myriad factors. For instance, the population of the Burrowing Owl has dropped by 60% since the 1980s due to a loss of habitat. It is also worth noting that both the Northern and California subspecies of the Spotted Owl have been competing for resources with the aforementioned Barred Owl and failing to keep up.

Owls in California (CA)

List of Owls in California

NameAverage SizeStatusWhere Do They Live in the State?Mating Season
Small Owls
Northern Pygmy Owl
Length: 5.9–6.7 inches

Wingspan: 12 inches
NativeCommon throughout the state, excluding a few places like the Central Valley, the Modoc Plateau, and a few arid regions with a distinct lack of treesSpring to early summer (Late April to June)
Burrowing Owl
Length: 9-11 inches

Wingspan:  21-24 inches
NativeLives underground in places like the Central Valley, the Imperial Valley, the Mojave Desert, and even coastal areas like the San Francisco BayLate winter to early spring (February to August)
Elf Owl 
Length: 4.9-5.7 inches

Wingspan:  10.5 inches
NativeLimited range, spotted infrequently in San Bernardino as well as in riparian habitats close to the Colorado RiverLate spring to summer (April to July)
Flammulated Owl
Length: 6.5-7.5 inches

Wingspan: 12-15 inches
NativeFairly common in northwestern California, around the Sierra Nevada foothills, Yosemite National Park, and Sequoia National ForestLate spring to early summer (mid-April to July)
Western Screech Owl Length: 8.7 inches

Wingspan: 22 inches
NativeCommon in wooded areas, with sightings in the Sierra Nevada, as well as parks in urban areas like Griffith Park in LALate winter to early summer (February to May)
Whiskered Screech OwlLength: 6.3-7.9 inches

Wingspan:  17.3 inches
AccidentalRare, with a few occasional sightings in southern California along the Colorado River in places like Blythe and the Imperial ValleyLate spring to early summer (April to May); breeding populations have been observed in February in California
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Length: 7 – 8 inches

Wingspan: 17-22 inches
NativeFairly common in northern California, with sightings in the Klamath Mountains, the Lassen National Forest, and around the Oregon borderSpring (March to April)
Boreal Owl
Length: 8.7–10.6 inches

Wingspan: 20–24 inches
AccidentalExtremely rare, limited to a few unconfirmed sightingsEarly February to early May, depending on the availability of prey
Large Owls
Barn Owl
Length: 12-16 inches 

Wingspan: 42-43 inches 
NativeExtremely common except in a few mountainous areas, with most sightings in the Central ValleyYear-round, with peaks in late winter and spring (March to June)
Great Horned Owl
Length: 18-25 inches

Wingspan: 40-60 inches
NativeVery common in California and can be spotted year-round, with sightings in the Central Valley, the Los Angeles Basin, and the Sierra NevadaLate fall to early winter (November to January)
Barred Owl Length: 16-24 inches 

Wingspan: 16-24 inches
NativeCommon in old-growth forests, it has thrived throughout the state, especially in the Sacramento River Delta and the Humboldt Redwoods State ParkLate winter to spring (February to April)
Snowy Owl Length: 20-27 inches

Wingspan: 49-58 inches
NativeWhile this owl remains rare, there have been enough sightings to verify its existence hereVaries by region and based on prey availability (any time between May and September)
Long-eared Owl
Length: 13-16 inches

Wingspan: 24-40 inches
NativeWhile this owl remains common, it has been extirpated from the Central Valley and the southern coastLate winter to Spring (February to April)
Short-eared Owl
Length: 13-17 inches

Wingspan: 33-43 inches 
NativeRelatively uncommon, with most sightings taking place in northeastern California around  Suisun MarshVaries, often in early spring (March to September)
Spotted Owl
— Northern
— California
Length: 17 inches

Wingspan: 45 inches 
NativeBoth sub-species can be seen in the southern Cascade Range in northern California as well as in the Sierra Nevada and the Transverse, the Peninsular, and the Coast RangesEarly spring to late summer (February to August)
Great Gray Owl
Length: 24-33 inches

Wingspan: 4-5 feet 
NativeRelatively rare, with most sightings in the Sierra Nevada and certain counties like Lassen, Modoc, and SiskiyouSpring to early summer (March to May)

Where Can You See Owls in California

Barn and Great Horned Owls are commonly seen in Los Padres National Forest, which is usually open from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM. Sightings of the Spotted and Great Gray Owls occur in Yosemite National Park at night, while the Burrowing Owl can be seen while exploring the Bay Area during the day. 

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