Owls In Parks - Species

Moonwatch - Great Horned owl Family

Owls In Parks - Species

Described below are the species most likely to be seen around British Columbia's Lower Mainland and Southern Vancouver Island.


Barred Owl
Strix varia

Weight: 800 g. (female). 630 g. (male)
Length: 51 cm. (female). 48 cm (male)
Wingspan: 107 - 111 cm.
Longevity: maximum 18 years in the wild.

Our most common owl - seen in parks and the surrounding urban areas.

The Barred Owl has been blamed for the decline of the Spotted Owl. However that is only part of the story - human modification of the landscape has favoured the more adaptable Barred Owl.

Centuries ago the Barn Owl learnt to adapt to our agrarian modifications of the landscape and found ideal nesting conditions in our ancestor's barns. Now the Barred Owl may be doing something similar in adapting to our cities - using parks for nesting locations and finding good hunting in the squirrels, rodents and other creatures that we bring with us.

For additional information and range, also visit Owling.com (Barred Owl).



Great Horned Owl
Bubo virginianus

Weight: 1000 - 2500 g. (female). 680 - 1450 g. (male)
Length: 60 cm. (female). 51 cm. (male)
Wingspan: 143 cm. (female). 134 cm. (male)
Longevity: longest recorded in the wild is 28 years, 50 in captivity.

Canada's most common owl.

I have had about a dozen encounters with Great Horned Owls in Stanley park over my time in Vancouver, with more encounters in other parks.

For more information and range, etc. I suggest a visit to Owling.com (Great Horned Owl).



Great Grey Owl
Strix nebulosa

Weight: 925 - 1700 g. (female). 800 - 1175 g. (male)
Length: 59 - 69 cm.
Wingspan: 130 cm.
Longevity: maximum 16 years in the wild.

A rare visitor to the Lower Mainland - in irruption years.

The photo at left is of a captive bird, undergoing rehabilitation at O.W.L.

During an irruption, many years ago now, one was present in the park over the Christmas - New Year period. I just happened to be away and missed it completely!

For more information and range, etc. I suggest a visit to Owling.com (Great Grey Owl).



Long-Eared Owl
Asio otus

Weight: 260 - 435 g. (female). 220 - 305 g. (male)
Length: 37 - 40 cm. (female). 35 - 38 cm. (male)
Wingspan: 110 cm.
Longevity: longest known in North America is 9 years in the wild. Elsewhere the record is 27 years.

A rare and secretive winter visitor - post breeding dispersal?

This photograph was taken at Reifel Bird Sanctuary.

I know of only one possible sighting of this species in Stanley park and that was from 2005 (?) when I just missed an encounter. Soon after leaving a naturalist/photographer near Prospect Point when he encountered a probable Long-Eared Owl. I have seen it in the Boundary Bay area.

For more information and range, etc. I suggest a visit to Owling.com (Long-Eared Owl).




Short-Eared Owl
Asio flammeus

Weight: 280 - 500 g. (female). 200 - 450 g. (male)
Length: 38 cm. (female). 37 cm. (male)
Wingspan: 95 -105 cm.
Longevity: maximum recorded in North America is 4 years in the wild. Elsewhere the record is 20 years.

Declining numbers - most often seen wintering in the Boundary Bay area.

This photo was taken at Boundary Bay, Delta.

For more information and range, etc. I suggest a visit to Owling.com (Short-Eared Owl).



Barn  Owl
Tyto alba

Weight: 400 - 700 g.
Length: 29 - 44 cm.
Wingspan: 110 cm.
Longevity:  I have seen good authorities quote 8 and 17 years maximum in the wild. However, most adults live only a few years. At the extreme of their northern range here. Extreme winters (AKA normal Canadian winters outside the Lower Mainland) claim many. Over 30 years in captivity.

Most likely to be seen in the area bordering Boundary Bay or similar habitat on Vancouver Island.

This photo was taken near Boundary Bay in Delta (2016).

The Barn Owl is at the northern limit of its range in our area. It is able to survive at such latitudes because of its habit of nesting in barns and other enclosed spaces. These provide warmer locations for roosting and rearing their young. This ability to adapt to human agriculture has made it one of the most widespread birds in the world. However, changes in our agricultural practices have lead to declines in many areas, but now many localities are putting up dedicated "mini-barn" nest boxes to encourage their return.

For more information and range, etc. I suggest a visit to Owling.com (Barn Owl).



Snowy Owl
Bubo scandiacus (Nyctea scandiaca)

Weight: 780 - 2950 g. (female). 700 - 2500 g. (male)
Length: 60 - 70 cm (female). 55 - 64 cm. (male)
Wingspan: 132  cm.
Longevity: maximum 10-11 years in the wild, 28-35 in captivity.

A rare visitor - in irruption years - most likely to be seen in the Boundary Bay area. I observed one in February-March of 2001 on Sunset Beach (near Stanley Park).

The photo above was taken in 2001 on Sunset Beach.

For more information and range, etc. I suggest a visit to Owling.com (Snowy Owl).



Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Aegolius acadicus

Weight: 100 g. (female).  75 g. (male)
Length: 20 - 21.5 cm. (female).  18 - 20 cm. (male)
Wingspan: 43 cm.
Longevity: maximum 10 years in the wild.

Probably a year-round resident in the Lower Mainland, but because it is small and almost exclusively nocturnal it is hard to find.

The photo above was taken in 2006 - October 17th. My friend Jerry located it roosting in late afternoon on the edge of the wetland. This photo was taken just after sunset when it became active.

My second "sighting" was for the release of a rehabilitated bird in 2008 - December 3rd.

My third and final (Stanley Park) sighting was also of a rehabilitated bird released near the first location and also alerted to by Jerry, in 2009 - March 21st. Also seen at Maplewood Flats in North Vancouver.

I know of other daylight sightings where people have come across an owl on the ground or roosting - including my own experience with one at the Inukshuk. The species is not timid - it does not take immediate flight once located - so if you are lucky enough to find one just stay quietly and enjoy! Oh, and don't forget to tell me about it :)

For more information and range, etc. I suggest a visit to Owling.com (Saw-whet Owl).



Northern Pygmy Owl
Glaucidium gnoma

Weight: 73 g. (female). 62 g. (male)
Length: 16 - 18 cm.
Wingspan: 30 cm.
Longevity: unknown.

Uncertain - during migration? Winters on the North Shore.
During the Stanley Park call-out survey of March 2009 one member of the team heard a Pygmy Owl call.

This photo was taken on Cypress Mountain, West Vancouver, in 2014.

Also seen some winters at Maplewood Flats, North Vancouver.

For more information and range, etc. I suggest a visit to Owling.com (Northern Pygmy Owl).




Northern Hawk Owl
Surnia ulula

Weight: 320 - 345 g. (female). 270 - 314 g. (male)
Length: 36 - 39 cm.
Wingspan: 74 - 81 cm.
Longevity: maximum 10 years in the wild, North America. Elsewhere maximum recorded is 16 years.

Very rare visitor to the Lower mainland.

This photograph was taken on Westham Island, Delta, December 2010.

The winter of 2010-11 was the only time I experienced such a visitor to the Lower Mainland. There was another in 2017-2018 but I didn't get to see it - no transportation and too many people!

For more information and range, etc. I suggest a visit to Owling.com (Northern Hawk Owl).



Western Screech-Owl
Megascops kennicottii

Weight: 157 - 250 g. (female). 131 - 210 g. (male)
Length: 21 - 24 cm.
Wingspan: 51 cm.
Longevity: maximum recorded is 13 years in the wild, up to 19 in captivity. Average is just a few years.

30 or 40 years ago this would have been the resident owl for many of our parks (especially around Victoria), but now we have only rare reports of this species.

The photo above is of a captive bird, undergoing rehabilitation at O.W.L.

During the Stanley Park call-out survey in March 2008 there was a response from a Screech-owl in the area south of Beaver Lake. Later in the year there was a possible sighting north of Beaver Lake.

In September 1999, when I was far less familiar with the different Owl species, I recorded seeing an eared owl, with yellow eyes in the same area. I referenced the size in relation to the small bird box on which it was perched - approximately the same height. For some reason I assumed it to be Great Horned Owl - possibly because that species was known to frequent the park at that time. Later re-examination of the bird box revealed it to be 21 cm high - a much closer match to the Western Screech-owl!

For more information and range, etc. I suggest a visit to Owling.com (Western Screech-Owl).






Spotted Owl
Strix occidentalis

Weight: 550 - 760 g. (female). 520 - 700 g. (male)
Length: 41 - 48 cm.
Wingspan: 100 cm.
Longevity: maximum 17 years in the wild.


This is a species that should be present in our area. Unfortunately human devastation of the coastal old-growth forests has driven it to extirpation. It is similar in size and hunting methods to the Barred Owl, but requires undisturbed habitat. We (humans) are simply replacing Spotted Owl habitat with that more suited to the Barred Owl.

In the 1990's the Spotted Owl made headlines in the western United States when it became listed under their Endangered Species Act. That required extensive protection of habitat. Various negotiations with the logging industry have since lessened the protection, but at least some protection has been afforded. In Canada we have no effective legislation for protecting such habitat. Some protection of breeding areas is in effect, but those areas are so isolated as to be ineffective in providing sufficient contact between the surviving individuals.

In the spring of 2009 I happened to meet a naturalist who had been involved in surveying the Canadian sites a decade earlier. At that time there were estimated to be only 22 pairs. By 2009 he estimated only 17 individuals remained.

There are also some issues with the surveying methods. These rely largely upon call-outs - playing the sound of owl calls and waiting for a response from a resident owl. Great care has to be taken in using this technique - one species my not respond to its own species call if another (threat) species is present. In this case the Spotted Owl may not respond if there are Barred Owls in the vicinity. Under normal circumstances this may not be an issue, but with so few Spotted Owls it could result in their territory not obtaining what limited protection Canadian regulations may provide.

There is also a general feeling that Canadian officials have "given up" on the Spotted Owl and are just waiting for confirmation of its extirpation from our country.

For more information and range, etc. I suggest a visit to Owling.com (Spotted Owl).






Burrowing Owl
Athene cunicularia

Weight: 120 - 250 g. (female). 130 - 185 g. (male)
Length: 19 - 25 cm.
Wingspan: 53 cm.
Longevity: maximum recorded 11 years in the wild. One banded bird at 8 years (differing authorities).

Extremely rare in this area.

A single bird was sighted in 2017 not far from Iona, but was harassed by the birding paparazzi and had to be relocated by Wildlife Officers. I believe this species was resident in the Lower Mainland until the early '70s.

For more information and range, etc. I suggest a visit to Owling.com (Burrowing Owl).