Owls in Nanaimo

Jan 16, 2015

Nanaimo is home to many wild critters. Owls are one such creature that can be found in the city. From large owls like the Great Horned to the very small like the Northern Saw-whet, a variety of this fascinating species of birds can be found here.


Common Barn Owl Photo by Allison Miller

The Barn Owl is the most widely distributed owl in the world but is considered a Species at Risk in British Columbia. This is due to habitat loss to urbanization. Barn Owls are known by their white, heart-shaped face, dark eyes and long legs. Barn owls can live up to 17 years and pairs mate for life. Listen to a Barn Owl.

Did you know? Barn owls are part of the “Tytonidae” family and fossilized remains of this family of owls have been found in France dating back around 20 million years. 

BarredOwl (2)

Barred Owls are recent visitors to Vancouver Island having first being spotted in the 1960’s but have since become the most common owl on the island. Chances are if you hear an owl it is a Barred. They also have a loud and distinct call, or hoot. Barred owls are mainly solitary birds and rarely gather except for mating pairs. They are very adaptable to many habitat conditions but prefer forested areas close to an open water source or field. They can live up to 23 years. Listen to a Barred Owl.

Did you know? Their hearing is so good they can hear a mouse squeak from 46m (150ft) away.


The Great Horned Owl is named for the feather tufts that resemble horns on its head. This storied bird can be found as a character in many popular books. It may not be the largest owl in the world but with a wingspan of 1 to 1.5 m (3.3 to 4.8 ft) and a body length of 46 to 63 cm (18 to 24.8 in), the Great Horned owl is definitely in the top five. A powerful predator, it can even take down birds and mammals larger than itself. Great Horned owls prefer to dwell in semi-open habitat. They can live up to 29 years. Listen to a Great Horned Owl.

Did you know? The talons of a Great Horned Owl are really strong. They can grip up to 500 psi – that’s five times the grip of a man! 


From one of the largest to one of the smallest, the North Pygmy Owl may be tiny but it packs a mighty punch, so to speak. These pint-sized hunters measure 16 to 18 cm (7 to 8 in) in length with a wingspan of 38cm (18in). They perch in trees to hunt for small birds. Listen to a Northern Pygmy Owl.

Did you know? They may not be much larger than a House Sparrow but the Northern Pygmy Owl can take prey up to three times their own size.


Northern Saw-whet Photo by Brendan Lally

Continuing the trend of tiny owls is the Northern Saw-whet Owl. This adorable little owl measures 18 to 21 cm (7 to 8 in) in length with a wingspan of 42 to 48 cm (16.5 to 18.9 in). It is one of the few North American owl species that migrate seasonally. They are cavity nesters utilizing natural cavities and ones made by woodpeckers. Listen to a Northern Saw-whet Owl.

Did you know? Martin from the "Guardians of Ga'Hoole" novel series is a northern saw-whet owl.

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