Common Valley Owls

Learn 100 Common Valley Birds is a photo blog series highlighting the 100 most common California Central Valley bird species.

By Jim Gain

Post #3 in the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series. (Species 5, 6 and 7/100.)

Today’s post is another three-fer offering that includes the three owls that most Central Valley Visitors are likely to encounter in an urban setting; Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl and Western Screech-Owl. There are other possible owl species that one might come across in the grasslands and foothill woodlands away from town. One of those, the Burrowing Owl, will have its own future post and the others are considerably less likely to be observed.



The Great Horned Owl is a Common Year-Round Resident in the valley. A large, powerful nocturnal predator, it is equally at home in any valley habitat taking a wide variety of prey.

Great Horned Owl, Male | Photo by Jim Gain


The Great Horned Owl is characterized by its ear tufts, white throat and barred brown tan and white body. Their hooting can be heard throughout the year mostly at night, but in the breeding season, may continue through the morning.

Great Horned Owl, Female | Photo by Jim Gain


A nighttime expedition to the riparian woodlands of any of the parks along the creeks and rivers that run through the Central Valley will likely result in an encounter with this nocturnal hunter. Careful springtime explorers may encounter a Great Horned Owl’s nest with the curious owlets peering out.

Great Horned Owlet | Photo by Jim Gain


Barn Owl | Photo by Jim Gain


The Barn Owl (Tyto Alba) is a Common Year-Round Resident in the valley and is a bit smaller than the Great Horned Owl. It is the most widely distributed species of owl in the world and one of the most cosmopolitan (widespread) of all species of birds.


Barn Owl | Photo by Jim Gain

Lanky, with a whitish face, chest, and belly, and buffy upperparts, this owl roosts in hidden, quiet places during the day.


By night, they hunt on buoyant wingbeats in open fields and meadows. You can find them by listening for their eerie, raspy calls, quite unlike the hoots of other owls. Due to the large number of rodents they eat, farmers welcome the Barn Owl and often install nest boxes on their properties.

Barn Owl | Photo by Jim Gain

Cool Fact:

The Barn Owl has excellent low-light vision, and can easily find prey at night by sight. But its ability to locate prey by sound alone is the best of any animal that has ever been tested. It can catch mice in complete darkness in the lab, or hidden by vegetation or snow out in the real world.



The Western Screech-Owl (Megascops kennicottii) is a small owl native to North and Central America and is a Fairly Common Year-Round Resident in the Central Valley. It may be encountered in urban parks with mature trees or in riparian woodlands.

Western Screech-Owl | Photo by Jim Gain

Western Screech-Owls nest in the cavities of large trees and typically lay three to five eggs in late March.

Western Screech-Owlets | Photo by Jim Gain


The Western Screech-Owl is a pint-sized, cryptically patterned gray owl with fine streaks of black and white and short ear tufts.

Western Screech-Owl | Photo by Jim Gain


Found in a variety of wooded habitats, but favors riparian and deciduous areas. Can be found in urban areas and parks. Feeds mostly on small mammals, birds, and insects. Nests in cavities. Listen for its voice at night: a series of short whistled notes that accelerates at the end.

Previous posts from the Learn 100 Common Valley Birds series,

3 thoughts on “Common Valley Owls”

  1. I learn something from every well written post and also wonder why my camera doesn’t take beautiful images like yours? Oh no, we use the same camera:-)


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