“What types of owls can you see in the United States?”

 

The above question is common, so I thought I’d help by making a list of all the individual owl species that live in the United States.

united states owls

 

The temptation to intersperse this entire article with puns is almost overwhelming.  I could just wing it and beak-off about these birds all day long, but I really do give a hoot, and soon you would be talon me to stop it. Ok, settle down because that is owl you get. 🙂

 

Below is a list of the 18 owl species you can find in the United States.

 

Make sure to pay attention to the range maps to see which owls live near you! For each species, I have tried to include some photographs, along with their most common sounds, to help you identify any owls that appear near your home.

 

Do you need help identifying owls?

 

Here are a few books and resources you can purchase that will provide assistance! (Links below take you to Amazon)

 

At the bottom, please let me know which owls you have spotted in the “Comments” section!

 

Owls That Live in the United States (18)

 


#1. American Barn Owl (Tyto furcata)

common owls in the united states

 

Barn Owls (aka Church Owl, Ghost Owl, and Monkey-faced Owl) have a heart-shaped face, that is sandy-colored with a dark brown edge.  Interestingly, the shape of an owl’s face steers sound to their ears, which helps make them the most efficient hunter-by-sound ever tested.  Their hearing is so good, they can locate small animals under dense bush or snow with ease, and they even hunt bats!

 

Barn Owls average about 11–17 inches (29–44 cm) in length and have a wingspan of 39–49 inches (1–1.25 meters). There are more than 40 unique varieties of Barn Owls. The American (Tyto furcata) version is the largest (555 grams/1 lb. 4 oz.), with the smallest species living on the Galapagos Islands (260 grams/9.2 oz.).

barn owl range map

 

Barn Owls are non-migratory and are found in almost every state, and parts of southern Canada.

 

These nocturnal creatures tend to inhabit abandoned barns (hence the name). Though seriously endangered in many parts of their range, farmers love them because they keep surrounding property fairly rodent-free, protecting other animals from the diseases that mice and rats carry.

 

They do not “hoot” in the classical fashion of other owls.  Their unique screechy-sound is far more reminiscent of a red-tailed hawk.  When showing-off for a female, males will sometimes clap their wings together a couple of times while flying.

 


#2. Barred Owl (Strix varia)

common owls in the united states

 

Barred Owls (aka the Hoot Owl), are an unthreatened, nocturnal species found in Western Canada, all of the Prairie Provinces, the Pacific Northwest, southeastern Canada, and all of the eastern United States.  The name “barred” derives from the horizontal stripes of alternating light brown and dark brown on the wings, back, and tail.

 

Barred Owls are common in the United States, and they are the species that I have observed the most in the wild. They are incredibly curious and inquisitive, and many times will watch as you walk past them. Even if they get nervous as you approach, typically they just fly off a bit to another tree to continue observing.

barred owl range map

These owls are relatively large, weighing roughly 1–2.75 pounds (500–1250 gr) and being about 16–25 inches (40–63 cm) tall. Their wingspan ranges between 38–49 inches (96–125 cm).  Their only predator is the Great Horned Owl and bad humans!

 

Barred Owls rely on mice and other small rodents, but eat just about anything made of meat! They will readily grab rats, rabbits, bats, squirrels, moles, minks, weasels, opossums, a variety of birds, frogs, snakes, fish, turtles, and will even hunt around your nightly campfire to catch some sweet, juicy insects.

 

And speaking of classical noises, their hoots are the classic sounds featured in movies and scary Halloween tales. It’s easy to recognize their call as it sounds like they are asking, “Who cooks for you?Barred Owls will sound off during daylight hours too, and they mate for life.

 


#3. Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus)

types of owls in the united states of america

 

The Boreal Owl is small, weighing in at just 3.2–7 oz. (90-200 gr), being only 9–10.5 inches (22–27 cm) long, and having a 20–24 inches (50–62 cm) wingspan.  This owl is found in a variety of colors (from reddish-brown to gray) and patterns, even though it is genetically the same animal.  They can possess either dots or streaks, and sometimes both on either the top or bottom of the body.

boreal owl range map

 

Essentially, their range seems like someone took a paintbrush and placed Boreal Owls from Alaska through Canada. Although there is a narrow corridor these owls inhabit that follows the Rockies down from Canada, almost to Mexico.

 

Boreal Owls live in the enormous boreal forests of Canada and can be seen in stands of aspen, poplar, spruce, fir, and birch trees. Because of their remote locations, these owls are relatively uncommon and hard to study and see, and not much is known about their population trends. 

 

These owls like to perch low in coniferous forests and alpine areas and tilt their heads back and forth to scan for prey-sounds with their extremely directional hearing.  Once they have a target, they swoop in, and dinner is served.  Since Boreal Owls are small, voles, bats, frogs, beetles, birds, and baby squirrels are their primary foods.

 

Their call is a small series of whistled toots that gets progressively louder. Males typically only hoot during the breeding season to attract a female.

 


#4. Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)

types of owls in the usa

 

The Burrowing Owl weighs in at only 5–8.5 oz. (147–240 gr), stands a surprising 7.5–11.0 in (19–28 cm) tall, and has a 20–24 inch (51–61 cm) wingspan.  They usually have distinctive white eyebrows.  Their wings are a deeper brown with lighter spotting, but their chest can be plain light tan with bars, stripes, or spots.

 

These owls have comparatively long legs since they spend a lot of time navigating on the ground.

burrowing owl range map

 

Burrowing Owls are mostly found in the western U.S., down through Mexico and Central America. Surprisingly, they are also found in Florida, where they can be seen through much of that state. Look for them in open grasslands and deserts.

 

Unlike most other owl species that spend their time in trees, Burrowing Owls live underground! They either excavate their homes themselves or quite frequently, take over underground shelters from squirrels or prairie dogs. These underground dens provide a lot of space to gather food. They’ve been known to have hundreds of mice in storage in case of a food shortage!

 

Since Burrowing Owls are prairie dwellers and inhabit areas with little vegetation, such as pastures or deserts, they have developed one especially interesting strategy to help find food.  Believe it or not, these owls will gather the waste of other animals and spread it out like a welcome mat around the entrances to their den. 

 

Now, who shows up to collect all of that poop?

 

Dung beetles and other juicy insects! It’s just like you placing a call to the pizza shop for delivery, hot fresh, and right to the door!

 

While Burrowing Owls can make a wide variety of sounds, they are not especially vocal. The most common is a two-syllable that sounds like “who-who” or “coo-coo-roo,” which is primarily made by males during mating and defending territories.

 


#5. Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio)

usa owls

 

Screech-owls may remind you of professional wrestlers since they are short, stocky, and have no necks!  They weigh in at 4.2–8.6 oz. (120–244 g), 6.3– 9.8 in (16–25 cm) in length, and have a wingspan of 18–24 in (46–61 cm). These owls can either be grey or red, with about a third of all individuals being red.

 

Eastern Screech-owls have “fake” ear-tufts on the top of their head.

 

Fake, of course, because owls have REAL ears on the sides of their heads, below their feathers, in parallel with their eye line. The tufts may simply be camouflage to break up their silhouette, but can also be moved to communicate with other owls such as “This is a safe spot” to a mate, or “Back off!” to a competitor.

eastern screech-owl range map

 

These small owls will settle in almost any wooded area east of the Rockies from the Gulf of Mexico north to just past the Canadian border. In their range, they are common and can often be heard at night. They are one of the most common owls in the United States.

 

Screech-owls avoid areas populated by other larger owls, most notably the Great Horned Owl.  They don’t seem to mind people too much as they are comfortable nesting on top of streetlamps, next to busy roadways/highways, or inside spaces in populated buildings.

 

They’re opportunistic and are known to eat frogs, lizards, tadpoles, earthworms, crayfish, insects, rats, mice, squirrels, and many species of small birds.

 

Eastern Screech-owls make a variety of hoots, calls, and songs, but their most popular is an even pitched trill, often called a tremolo. The tremolo is used by pairs to keep in contact with each other and lasts between 3 to 6 seconds. I think this tremolo call sounds a lot like mating toads, and I sometimes get the two confused!

 


#6. Western Screech-Owl (Megascops kennicottii)

owl species that live in the united states

 

Once upon a time, Western Screech-owls were thought to be the same bird as the Eastern Screech-owl, but research has determined that they are both distinct species.  The Western variety ranges in weight from 3.5–11 oz. (100–300 grams), with a body length of 7.5–10 inches (19–28 cm), and a wingspan of 22–24 inches (55–62 cm).

 

These owls have an almost bluish-gray, gray, or dark brown feathering, depending on locale.  Females are generally larger, and birds from southern areas are markedly smaller than those from the north.

western screech-owl range map

 

Western Screech-owls can be found from the Alaskan Panhandle, in a relatively straight line down to the northern reaches of Central America.  They prefer temperate, sub-tropical, and tropical high-altitude forests as a favorite spot, but you’ll also find them in suburban parkland, deserts, farm fields, and any basic shrubland. They are a relatively common owl in the United States.

 

The primary foods of a Western Screech-owl include rats, mice, and birds.  But they are opportunistic hunters and will also eat fish, amphibians, and invertebrates, such as crayfish, insects, earthworms, and slugs. Interestingly, they have been known to occasionally pluck a trout out of the water at night, or take on something as large as a duck or rabbit.

 

Like their eastern cousins, Western Screech-owl calls are not “screechy,” either.  The most common sound is a rather quiet, pleasant trill (“hoo-hoo-hoo” or “cr-r-oo-oo-oo”), which speeds up at the end but maintains a constant pitch.

 


#7. Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi)

owl species that live in the usa

 

One of the smallest owls at only 1.4 oz. (40 grams), the Elf Owl is pretty uniformly gray-brown with white eyebrows, but a lighter colored chest. It will grow to 4.9–5.7 in (12.5–14.5 cm) and has a wingspan of just 10½ inches (27 cm).

 

This sparrow-sized owl likes to raise their young in old woodpecker nests located in cacti and poplars. Building a nest in a cactus makes it more difficult for predators such as the ringtail, bobcat, or coyote to reach them. Unfortunately, bigger owls are one of the biggest dangers to the Elf Owl.

elf owl range map

 

It is mostly found in central Mexico and the Baja Peninsula but can be seen in parts of the southwestern U.S.

 

Since it ONLY hunts bugs, the Elf Owl doesn’t need to be silent when it flys. This trait is extremely rare among owl species.

 

These small owls subsist almost exclusively on insects, such as moths, centipedes, and beetles. Interestingly, they will also eat scorpions, but they make sure to remove the stinger before eating.  Elf Owls have adapted to humans by hunting clouds of bugs that have been attracted to bright, artificial lights!

 

 

Elf Owls have a song that mated pairs will sing together. When trying to attract a mate, males produce a call that is a high-pitched yip. On spring nights, the calling becomes most intense right after the sun sets and before sunrise.

 

Lastly, a fun fact about Elf Owls is they have stolen a trick from opossums! If threatened, the owl will play dead rather than fight!

 


#8. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum)

ferruginous owl

 

For this particular species, the coloration ranges from grey-brown with a black-and-white barred tail to a vibrant rust color with a uniform rusty tail. Interestingly, “ferruginous” actually means “rust-colored.”  These owls are generally 6 inches (15cm) tall and weight between  2.2–2.7 oz. (62–77 gr). The wingspan measures 14½–16 inches (37–41 cm).

 

These owls also have two black spots on the back of their head/neck called “false eyes” that function to discourage some birds from attacking from behind.

 

Why is this important?

 

This owl raids the nests and tree holes of many songbirds.  Many of these species have learned to recognize its call, and when that happens, many of these small birds will try to attack the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl to drive it out of the area. The “false eyes” help scare any birds that try to sneak up from behind!

 

But despite the hate from other birds, the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl thrives, being one of the most populous owls in their habitat!

 

The call of a Ferruginous Owl is a rapid, repeated, and monotonous hooting, which sounds like it’s saying “puk-puk-puk.” It’s not uncommon to hear the sounds repeated as many as 100 times without a pause!

 

Their habitat includes semi-open wooded areas, such as mesquite thickets, which make it easier it hunt. These owls also prefer lowlands instead of higher altitudes.

ferruginous pygmy owl range map

 

This bird’s range extends from Arizona and Texas, down to South America.  Any tree or cactus cavity will do for nesting.

 


#9. Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium californicum)

northern pygmy owl

 

This compact daytime (diurnal) bird is about 6½ inches (16cm) long, weighing 2.2-2.5 ounces(62–72 gr), with a wingspan of 15 inches (38 cm). Like the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, the Northern Pygmy-owl has two false eyes on the back of the head to dissuade attacks from behind.  Its chest is white with vertical black stripes, while the remainder is medium to dark brown with spots.

northern pygmy owl range map

 

You’ll find this little bird from southern Alaska to Central America.  This owl generally prefers an open coniferous forest or mixed forests at higher altitudes, primarily of pine with a few deciduous trees.

 

When food is in short supply, they will fly down the mountain to hunt before returning. The diet of a Northern Pygmy-owl consists of voles, mice, and songbirds, but they’ll eat insects, amphibians, and reptiles, too.

 

 

The bird’s call is rather plain.  It sounds a lot like a one-note tin whistle (“too-too-too”)!

 

But don’t let the unimpressive hoots fool you, because the Northern Pygmy-owl is a mean and powerful little raptor. It will take on birds that are more than twice its size. Believe it or not, it has even been known to feast on chickens!

 


#10. Flammulated Owl (Psiloscops flammeolus)

flammulated owl

 

A bird is called “Flammulated” when it has flame-shaped markings.  If you look closely at the Flammulated Owl, you can see where it gets its name. The feathering looks like an ash-covered log in a campfire where flecks of ember show through. It’s a beautiful coloration, but it also makes this owl particularly hard to spot in the forest.

 

Flammulated Owls are quite small, weighing only 1.8–2.3 oz. (50–65 grams) and roughly 6 inches (15 cm.) tall. Even for their tiny stature, they are fast flyers, thanks to their relatively broad wings, which stretch about 14 inches (36 cm).

 

This owl lives at the very top of the forest, specifically coniferous forests.  They will also nest in deciduous forests, as long as there are some conifers as part of the mix. Tree cavities are always used for nesting, with no lining materials, which must be pretty uncomfortable for their babies!

 

 

Flammulated Owls have a very large windpipe. This adaptation allows them to make a deep base hoot that sounds like a much larger bird. People seldom see these owls, but you can hear its strangely deep call from among the treetops.

 

Because of their small size, Flammulated Owls hunt almost exclusively for insects (butterflies, moths, crickets, and beetles) and invertebrates.  But occasionally, small rodents are taken and eaten.

flammulated owl range map

 

These owls are seen in central Mexico and several sizable enclaves in the U.S along the west coast, up into southern British Columbia.

 


#11. Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa)

great gray owl

 

The Great Gray Owl is also known by many alternate names.  How about Bearded Owl, Cinereous Owl, Lapland Owl, Phantom of the North, Sooty Owl, Spectral Owl, or Spruce Owl?

 

Whatever you call it, this species is (lengthwise) the largest owl in North America at 24–33 inches (61–84 cm) tall, with a wingspan of 5 feet (1.5 meters), and weighing in somewhere between 1½–4 lb (580–1,900 grams).  As you’ve probably guessed, this owl is predominantly grey colored with alternating light and dark stripes.

great gray owl range map

 

The Great Gray Owl’s range extends from Alaska, sweeping across to Hudson’s Bay’s southern edge and all along the 49th parallel and over to Northern Ontario, stopping just short of Quebec.

 

These owls cover a lot of territory for their range, but they prefer to live in a forest near a clearing. It’s especially useful in the wintertime to have a lot of area for listening to rodents running beneath the snow so they can crash through and catch lunch!

 

In Canada, Great Grey Owls eat lemmings primarily; in California, it’s pocket gophers; elsewhere, it is whatever is most plentiful.  Depending on where they live, their diet includes such things as voles, moles, assorted songbirds, ducks, quail, and even small hawks.

 

Their call is reasonably distinctive, bold, and deep, which sounds like “whooooo, woo, woo, woo.” They also have a soft double hoot that is used when providing food to their babies or defending a territory.

 

Grey Gray Owls NEVER build nests.  They just use ones that were made by other big birds. Talk about being efficient! However, once they claim a used nest, these owls will defend it courageously, even against black bears!

 


#12. Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

great horned owl

 

The Great Horned Owl is often colored with an orangey face with black and white contrasting lines that resemble a tiger. Since the objective of most predators is not to be seen, it has horizontal bars on its underside to look like tree branches when you’re looking up, and mottles of “tree colors” on top to look “leafy” if you’re looking from above.

 

These owls are quite large and look fierce! To identify, look for their long, tufts of feathers that resemble ears on their head. Also, check out their intimidating eyes. I know I would not want to have a staring contest with one!

 

They are usually between 17-25 inches (43 – 64cm) long and have a wingspan of 3 – 5 feet (91-153cm). Most individuals weigh between 2.5 to 4 pounds (1134 – 1814 grams), with females, typically being larger than males.

great horned owl range map

 

Great Horned Owls are common owls in the United States.

 

In fact, these raptors can actually be found almost anywhere in North America from the Arctic south to the tropics.

 

Its habitat is practically unlimited as long as there are trees and rocky nesting sites available.  They can manage in desert fringes, prairies, rainforests, tundra, swamps, and even in urban areas.  It is hard to find a bird that is more habitat-adaptable than a Great Horned Owl.

 

 

Both sexes hoot, but males are lower-pitched than females. Males give territorial calls that can be heard a few miles away at night. I don’t think there is another owl species that does hooting better than a Great Horned Owl!

 

Generally speaking, these owls tend to eat larger animals to sustain their bigger bodies.  They seek rabbits, geese, groundhogs, many species of birds, rats, and even other raptors! These owls have no problem eating small prey as well, such as frogs, insects, invertebrates, reptiles, mice, and scorpions. The diet of a Great Horned Owl is unique to the habitat in which they live.

 

A Great Horned Owls’ sense of smell is so weak that they even attack and eat skunks. It’s not uncommon for them, along with their nests and pellets, to smell of skunk.

 

A group of crows or ravens will often attack the Great Horned Owl after they have assembled their forces.  Crows are Corvids, which are among the smartest of all birds, and recognize this large owl as a predator and chase it away. Sometimes crows even manage to kill the owl with their vastly superior numbers.

 


#13. Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)

long eared owl

 

These owls are also known as the Northern Long-Eared Owl, Lesser Horned Owl, or Cat Owl because of its catlike facial features. Long-eared Owls are secretive and roost in very dense foliage. Combined with their excellent camouflage, they are EXTREMELY hard to spot!

 

As you can see, these owls get their name from the long tufts of feathers on their heads. Thanks to their ear tufts which resemble exclamation points, Long-eared Owls often seem like they have a surprised look on their face.

long eared owl range map

 

Their range consists of almost all of North America below Hudson Bay, down to the top of Mexico. These birds like the fringe of mixed forests so they have access to open land for hunting, with groves of conifers and woodlands for nesting areas.

 

Their diet is almost exclusively voles and other small rodents, as they hunt over mostly open grasslands. When food is short, they’ll also eat little birds.

 

Since Long-eared Owls can be incredibly hard to see, the best way to locate them is to listen! During the mating season, males are quite talkative. Their typical call is repeated anywhere from 10 to 200 times and sounds like a low “hoo,” evenly spaced every few seconds.

 

Amongst owls, these guys are almost unique by being quite sociable.  They are known to live in clusters and even share roosts!

 


#14. Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

short eared owl

 

This mid-sized tawny-brown mottled owl is 13–17 inches (34–43 cm) tall, with a wingspan of 33.5-40.5 inches (85–103 cm), and weighs between 7.3–16.8 oz (206–475 grams).  Its false ears are not always visible as Short-eared Owls typically only erect them when they want to look intimidating.  Its Latin name, Asio flammeus, refers to its feathers being “flame-colored.”

short eared owl range map

 

During winter, Short-eared Owls can be found across most of North America, and even down into Mexico. But when the weather turns warm, these owls head back north to breed. There are some areas in the western United States where they live year-round. Your best chance to spot them is at dusk or dawn in open fields, grasslands, meadows, or airports.

 

These owls build their nests on the ground in open areas such as meadows, tundra, savanna, or prairies.  If obliged to flee its nest to draw off a predator, the parent will poop on the eggs so the smell will keep predators away.  Similar to a Kildeer, Short-eared Owls also lure predators away from their nest by hopping away and pretending to be crippled.

 

These birds mostly hunt in the daytime when voles, their favorite meal, are active. Short-eared Owls also hunt other rodents, small songbirds, and seabirds, if near the coast.

 

Short-eared Owls are not particularly vocal. But when they do make noises, these birds have a call, oddly enough, that sounds an awful lot like a cat looking for a mate.

 


#15. Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)

common snowy owl

 

Snowy Owls get my vote for one of the most beautiful animals on the planet! Their stunning white plumage stops almost everyone in their tracks, both birders and non-birders alike!

 

Now, this is one big bird at 20.7–25.2 inches (52.5–64 cm) tall, a wingspan of 48–60 inches (1.2–1.5 meters), and with weights in the 3.2–4 lb. (1,465–1,800 gram) range.  Snowy Owls are mostly white, but they do have horizontal dark lines all over their bodies except the face and breast. Interestingly, individuals seem to get whiter with age.

 

snowy owl range map

 

Snowy Owls migrate with the changing seasons. During summer, they mate and breed in northern Canada on the tundra. But when winter arrives, these birds come south.

 

You never know how far south Snowy Owls will travel.

 

Most years, Snowy Owls only appear as far down as the northern United States. But some years, there is an “irruption” of Snowy Owls, and many more birds than normal migrate south. These owls have been found as far as Texas and Florida!

 

Summertime food is usually lemmings and ptarmigan on the tundra.  When winter takes them south, their diet becomes more varied. Look for prey items such as small birds, seabirds, ducks, squirrels, rabbits, and rodents.

 

Adapted as it is to the environment where it lives, Snowy Owls can sense prey quite a distance under the snow and will plunge in to grab its victim.

 

When defending their territory or searching for a mate, males make a loud “hoo, hoo.” This hoot is so loud that it can be heard up to 7 miles away on the tundra! Females rarely hoot, but other noises (for both sexes) include cackles, shrieks, hissing, and bill snapping.

 


#16. Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis)

spotted owl

 

Unfortunately, the Spotted Owl continues to decline in population due to habitat loss and competition with Barred Owls. Spotted Owls only live in mature forests of the west. So when the large trees that these owls prefer are cut down, the habitat can’t be replaced for potentially hundreds of years.

 

About 17 inches (43 cm) tall, and weighing in at around 1.3 lbs (600 grams), this owl’s chest is covered in “squares” of white against brown, while its wings and body are darker browns with small white flecks.

spotted owl range map

 

Spotted Owls are typically a resident of the west coast, with lots of small enclaves in the southwest.  It also has a narrow range down through west-central Mexico. Wherever they are, these owls like large, old-growth trees for nesting and forests with dense canopies.

 

They are ambush predators, sitting and waiting for something to come along, at which point they pounce.  Mostly they eat deer mice, pocket gophers, voles, snowshoe hares, flying squirrels, and woodrats. They’ll also eat smaller owls, bats, woodpeckers, insects, frogs, and reptiles.

 

 

The most common sound that a Spotted Owl makes is a series of four-note soft hoots. This call is given by both sexes and used to defend and mark their territory, although it can also be heard when males deliver food to females. Some other sounds you may hear include grunts, chatters, groans, and various other hooting noises.

 

Like many other owls, this species doesn’t build their nests. Instead, Spotted Owls take over other nests that were made by other birds in years past, or they just use a broken-off treetop or hollow tree cavity.  They are monogamous, but they don’t breed every year.  Like any long term couple, they are comfortable spending long periods apart and generally only meet up during the mating season.

 


#17. Northern Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula)

northern hawk owl

 

This non-migratory owl is relatively large at about 14.2–17.75 inches (36–45 cm) tall, a wingspan of 31–35 inches (77–89 cm), and weighing in at around 11–12 oz (300–340 grams).  It has a light-colored underside, so it is less obvious in the sky, but dark brown coloration with lighter spots on the back to sit unnoticed in trees.

 

The hawk portion of its name derives from the fact that it acts like a hawk! These owls will sit solitary in tall trees and hunt during the day, which are rare traits in owls.

northern hawk owl range map

 

Seldom seen in the U.S. (except Alaska), Northern Hawk Owls are primarily Canadian birds, preferring northern climates and the boreal forest. But when prey becomes scarce, these birds will venture south into the United States.

 

These owls generally prefer an open coniferous forest or mixed forests primarily of pine with some willow, birch, larch, or poplar interspersed.

 

Males make a rolling, low “hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo” sound repeated 10 to 200 times. Females have similar calls, but it’s shorter and hoarser.

 

Northern Hawk Owls commonly feed on voles, since they can be eaten whole and are generally plentiful.  They also will eat baby hares, red squirrels, mice, rats, and lemmings.  Smaller songbirds fit into their diet too, such as robins, jays, starlings, grackles, finches, and sparrows.

 


#18. Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)

northern saw whet owl

 

This species is one of the smallest owls on the planet, at just 6.5–9 inches (17–23 cm) tall, and cute as a button. They’re quite light at only 1.9–5.3 oz. (54–151 grams),  and have a wingspan of just 16.5–22.2 inches (42–56.3 cm). Northern Saw-whet Owls are typically colored in pale browns and tans.

 

Their favorite foods are deer mice, voles, and shrews.  But these owls will supplement their diet with small birds, insects, and invertebrates when necessary.

northern saw-whet owl range map

 

Their range covers almost all of the United States and southern Canada. Some individuals migrate south during winter, while others stay in one location all year.

 

Northern Saw-whet Owls seem to prefer dense coniferous or mixed hardwood forests, with a river nearby. Because of their need for mature trees, their numbers have been declining.

 

 

These owls get their name from the sound they make when alarmed, which resembles the whetting (sharpening) of a saw. But their most common call happens during the breeding season. It sounds like a “too-too-too,” emitted at about two notes per second.

 

Abandoned woodpecker holes in deciduous trees are typically used for nests, but these owls will also use artificial nesting boxes. Interestingly, females will breed indiscriminately with various males in any given season, having more than one clutch of eggs.  As soon as the chicks have feathers, she leaves to find another mate while Dad tends to this batch of chicks.

 


Which owls have you seen before in the United States?

 

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