Pretty specific, I know. But what's the difference? Are there different connotations?
5Chouette is used as "cool" before the word cool was used in France (or perhaps Belgium).– user1880Feb 13, 2013 at 8:23
Both are usually translated in English as "owls". They are subcategories of the strigidae family (birds of prey), set apart based on their appearance. Both encompass many species and even genera. It is actually fairly easy to see the difference between the two.
A "hibou" is what most people will translate "owl" as. A lot of people will also usually call a "chouette" a "hibou", sometimes thinking the former is the female of the latter. It is not the case.
Taken from the French Wikipedia entry on "chouette": "La chouette se distingue du hibou par l'absence d'aigrettes sur la tête".
So "hiboux" are the ones which have egrets on their heads, such as this:
And "chouettes" are the ones that don't, like this:
On a side note, "chouette" is also often used as an interjection or an adjective, to express feelings of awesomeness, joy, or overall approval.
It can also be used (mostly in Quebec) as a term of endearment for a girl or woman, be it girlfriend/wife, daughter or friend.
11A better answer is hard to imagine... Clear, complete, concise, and illustrated. Wow. Jun 19, 2012 at 23:24
6I will add to this, that at least a large minority of contemporary French speakers can't tell the difference either... one of my daughter's books is about some baby "chouettes". The illustrations depict a family of "hiboux". This might be similar to the way that most anglophones don't have a clue about the difference between a hare and a rabbit. Jun 20, 2012 at 13:46
4Not sure I'd call anyone "chouette". Is that more local to Quebec? I'd use it as an adjective, though, mostly to refer to things, as being nice.– BrunoJun 20, 2012 at 22:33
5@SamuelLisi, I don't think you'd find many francophones being able to tell the difference between a "lièvre" and a "lapin" either (apart from the taste perhaps :-) ). Here the distinction is that they are the same word in English, so confusion is inevitable unless you talk about a specific type of owl. The distinction between turtles and tortoises would be a fairer comparison in French perhaps.– BrunoJun 20, 2012 at 22:44
2@Kareen that first picture is actually really quite funny. Dec 5, 2015 at 18:44