Black-and-white Owl is resident from central Mexico south through Central America to northwestern South America, including northern and western Colombia, northern Venezuela, western Ecuador, and extreme northwestern Peru (Hilty and Brown 1986, Ridgely and Gwynne 1989, Stiles and Skutch 1989, Howell and Webb 1995, Ridgely and Tudor 2001a, Hilty 2003, Schulenberg et al. 2010). In Mexico it primarily occurs on the Atlantic slope. It long has been known to occur on the Pacific slope of Mexico north to eastern Oaxaca (Binford 1989), but recently a very disjunct population was discovered in Nayarit.
The elevational range of Black-and-white Owl in Mexico is from sea level up to 1200 m (Howell and Webb 1995); up to 1500 m in Costa Rica (Stiles and Skutch 1989); it is found primarily in the lowlands in Panama, but has been reported up to 2100 m (Ridgely and Gwynne 1989); up to 1500 m in Colombia, with a single record as high as 2400 m (Hilty and Brown 1986); and in Ecuador it primarily occurs below 900 m, but locally up to 1400 m (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001a).