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Owls are nocturnal. They typically live in woodlands and thickets and along wooded streams. People are most likely to hear owls at night from late winter to early spring but may see them during the day. The leading edges of their feathers are serrated, which allows for silent flight. Their ears are often asymmetrical and surrounded by feathers that they can spread to form a funnel. This funnel helps the owls to focus sound toward their ears. Because of the size and tubular shape of their eyes, owls cannot move their eyes in their sockets. To compensate, owls have deceptively long, flexible necks, which enable them to turn their heads 270 degrees horizontally and over 90 degrees vertically.

Three owls live in Winnebago County year-round: the Eastern Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl. Eastern Screech Owls range from 7 to 10 inches tall. Great Horned Owls range from 17 to 25 inches tall and have two prominent tufts of feathers on their heads, which resemble horns or ears. Barred Owls are also large but have more rounded faces and no feathered tufts; their undersides are whitish with dark streaks.

Five additional species sometimes appear in Winnebago. State-endangered Short-eared Owls may seek refuge in restored forest preserve prairies and marshes, roosting on the ground or in evergreens. Long-eared Owls are more uncommon; when present, they roost in dense evergreen groves near prairies and marshes. Both species may overwinter in local grasslands and marshes, often in groups. Northern Saw-whet and Snowy Owls may also overwinter here. Northern saw-whets are quite uncommon, possibly because they are small, secretive birds that only call during the breeding season. Snowy owls are also uncommon but irruptions of sightings may occur when prey is scarce farther north.

Barred Owl
(Strix varia)

Eastern Screech Owl
(Megascops asio)

Great Horned Owl
(Bubo virginianus)

Long-Eared Owl
(Asio otus)

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
(Aegolius acadicus)


Short-Eared Owl
(Asio flammeus)


Snowy Owl
(Bubo scandiaca)