Owl Wingspan: The Art of Flight

great horned owl with wings spread

When we think about birds with impressive wingspans, raptors such as hawks, eagles, vultures, and falcons tend to come most readily to mind. After all, they’re the types of birds we tend to see—and take notice of—soaring gracefully across the sky. If you’ve delved a little deeper into the subject of wingspans, you probably know that several species of albatross and pelicans are considered to be the largest living birds when measuring by wingspan. 

Because they do the majority of their flying at night, unseen under cover of darkness, owls might not be front of mind when we consider birds by wingspan. But the wondrousness of these unique birds is not limited to their place in lore and legend or what is most commonly found in their pellets. If you’ve ever seen one fly, you know that an owl's wingspan is a sight to behold.

Owl Wings at Work

No matter the bird, the miracle of flight is forever fascinating. Observe how a barn owl flies in this video, and how its large wingspan and small body enable its characteristically slow flight. The uniqueness of an owl wingspan does more than just keep the bird aloft, it also allows the owl to flap its wings less than other bird species and control its flight speed—handy skills to have when hunting prey at night.  

Average Owl Wingspan

All owls are not the same and neither are their wingspans. While they all share some things in common—namely a ratio of small body weight to large wingspan and wings that are aerodynamically shaped to ensure silent flight—average owl wingspan differs across species of owls. 

  • Great Grey Owl Wingspan: 4.5-5 feet. 
    • Fun fact: Also called the “Phantom of the North,” great grey owls are the world’s largest species of owl by length.
  • Great Horned Owl Wingspan: 3.3-4.75 feet. 
    • Fun fact: Though their nocturnal nature means you’re unlikely to ever see one, great horned owls are widespread throughout North America.
  • Snowy Owl Wingspan: 4-6 feet. 
    • Fun fact: Most owls prefer to perch in trees, however snowy owls are more at home on the ground or in low elevations.
  • Barn Owl Wingspan: 3.25-4 feet. 
    • Fun fact: Unlike other owl species that hoot, barn owls have a cry that is often likened to a banshee. 
  • Barred Owl Wingspan: 3-4 feet. 
    • Fun fact: barred owls have a hoot that is said to sound like “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all.”
  • Long-Eared Owl Wingspan: 3-3.25 feet. 
    • Fun fact: long-eared owls are among the speediest of owl species, flying as fast as 31 mph. 
  • Burrowing Owl Wingspan: 1.5-2 feet. 
    • Fun fact: As their name suggests, burrowing owls live underground rather than in trees and do their hunting during the day.

Largest Owl Wingspan

What owl has the largest wingspan? The answer is simple: the world’s largest owl—and it’s one impressive and intimidating creature. Called the Blakiston’s fish owl, it has a body the size of a small child and a wingspan that tops out at more than 6 feet. Native to China, Japan, and northeastern Asia, it is endangered and prefers habitat not frequented by humans and so is one of the more mysterious owl species. More common are its near relatives, Eurasian eagle owls, which are also formidable in size and appearance. The eagle owl wingspan is similar to that of the Blakiston’s fish owl, also at about 6 feet. Owing to their ability to adapt to a variety of habitats, numbers of Eurasian eagle owls are plentiful and this magnificent owl species is not in danger of being endangered.

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