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Owls I Have Known

Did you know that this Friday, August 4th, is International Owl Awareness Day?

To honor this day, here’s a collage featuring most of the owls I have encounter in the wild during my travels abroad and closer to home:

Owls of the World

Twenty-eight of the thirty-plus owls I’ve seen in the wild.

Owl species depicted above, from left to right:

Row 1: Spectacled, Snowy, Great Horned, Great Gray, Austral Pygmy, Pearl Spotted Owlet, African Scops
Row 2: African Barred Owlet, Short-Eared, Burrowing, Peruvian Pygmy, Northern Saw-Whet, Long-Eared, Buffy Fish
Row 3: Barred, Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl, White-Faced Scops, Northern Pygmy, Crested Owl, Northern Hawk-Owl, African Wood
Row 4: Ferruginous (or Ridgway’s) Pygmy, Jungle Owlet, Collared Scops, Brown Fish, Spotted Owlet, Black and White, Tropical Screech

Some facts and notes about the owls I have known:

  • It’s no secret that I love owls.  Whenever I travel now, my guides are always a bit surprised when I mentioned that I really want to find owls.  Usually their clients are looking for mammals and other larger animals.
  • The owls above are listed in the order I first encountered them.  Yes, the Spectacled owl was the first owl species I ever saw, when I encountered an adult with an owlet in Costa Rica’s Carara National Park back in 2005.  The pictures weren’t great, but it turned me on to owls from then on.
Spectacled owls

A pretty poor photo, but these Spectacled owls were the first owls I photographed in the wild.

  • I’ve actually seen a few other species, including the Costa Rican pygmy owl, Barn owl and the Vermiculated screech owl, though the photos were either obstructed or from a distance.
  • It took several attempts before I saw the coolest-looking owl (in my opinion), the Black-and-White owl (Row 4, second from right).  They hang out near one of the lodges I visit on my Costa Rica tours, but it wasn’t until 2016 that I finally was able to see and photograph them.
  • The world’s most widespread species, the Barn owl, is one we have locally, but it still took me a long time to photograph one.  That happened to be a surprise encounter during one of my bobcat excursions in California.
Barn owl

My first Barn owl, photographed from a distance in 2015.

  • Inevitably, many of the owls species I encounter are much smaller than I expect, be it the tiny Northern saw-whet owl, or the medium sized Long- and Short-eared owls.
  • The biggest owls species I’ve seen are the Great gray, Snowy, Brown and Buffy fish owls, Spectacled, Great Horned and Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl.  The smallest are all of the pygmy species (including the variants in India and Africa, such as the Pearl-Spotted owlet, African barred owlet, Jungle owlet and Spotted owlet), as well as the tiny African scops owl, that continent’s smallest species.
  • Not all of these owls are nocturnal.  Short-eared owls are the best photo subjects, since they hunt very actively, sometimes at close range, throughout a winter day.  Great gray owls are usually seen hunting in mornings and late afternoons.  The pygmy species I mentioned above are also active daytime hunters.
  • Short-eared owls are the best subjects for birds-in-flight images, and sometimes Great grays can be too.  Mainly because these species are very tolerant and often ignore a human audience as they are hunting (actual hunting, not baited situations).
Great Gray Owl

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  • The owls that are still at the top of my wish list?  In North America, it’s probably the Boreal owl.  The rare Flammulated owl and either of North America’s screech owl species too.  Overseas, the Stygian owl of Latin America, Pel’s fishing owl (Africa) and Ural owl are all striking birds I’d love to photograph.


  1. Linda Carney August 4, 2017 Reply

    You have such a talent in finding these beautiful birds. Just added a few more to find! Thanks for sharing!

  2. Reny August 4, 2017 Reply

    Great collection of owls Max.
    I’m curious, when you see owls do you immediately know what kind of owl it is or do you have to look it up afterwards?

    Love that last shot, wow !

    • Author
      Max August 4, 2017 Reply

      Rent, I usually have a good idea, but part of that is me researching ahead of time, or a local guide might tell me the possible species beforehand.

  3. Reny August 4, 2017 Reply

    OK, got it !

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