North Carolina supports a lot of biodiversity because of the state's variety of ecosystems. There are mountains, shorelines and temperate forests available to provide homes for a variety of different animals. Owls are nocturnal birds of prey, and occupy most of these ecosystems, except for some near the ocean. There are four common species of owls found in North Carolina, all mainly living in forested areas.
The four most common species of owls found in North Carolina are the great horned owl, the barred owl, the barn owl and the screech owl. The great horned owl is widely distributed across the state, mainly inhabiting fields and forests. The barn owl is named for its interest in living in barn-like enclosures and nest boxes. Barred owls like hardwood forests near water. Screech owls may be found in any of these areas. The prey that they eat depends on the owl's size, but it includes a variety of rodents, small reptiles and occasionally fish.
The great horned owl is the largest owl found in North Carolina. They are known by the tufts on the top of their heads that resemble horns or ears. They actually do not help with hearing at all, but change orientation based on the mood of the owl. They have a wingspan of over 4 feet wide, and have tufts of feathers on their feet. They are powerful hunters, and have made enemies with poultry farmers as they've been known to take fowl for prey. They have also taken domestic cats as prey.
The screech owl is one of the smallest owls in North Carolina at only about 9 inches in length. They look similar to the great horned owl, mainly due to their ear tufts. People commonly think that a screech owl is a baby great horned owl. Screech owls are found in two distinct morphs--red and gray. They make a notable cooing sound that differs from the common hooting people associate with owls.
Barred owls are large, but not as large as great horned owls. They are gray and white, with stripes, which is where their name comes from. They do not have ear tufts. These owls are found in the moist humid environments in North Carolina, including swamps and river bottoms. They are often seen by humans, because they have adapted to live near cities and towns. They nest high in trees, and often will take over old abandoned hawks' nests as their own.
Barn owls have a distinct look about them. Their faces are heart-shaped with no ear tufts, giving them the nickname monkey-faced owl. They have long exposed legs. The call of a barn owl is a loud hiss and shriek, again different from the typical hooting associated with owls. Barn owls are known for nesting in barns, silos and other man-made structures. The nests are reused by different barn owls every season.