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Birds, mostly active at night, often with distinctive facial disk

Barred Owl Northern Pygmy Owl Screech Owl Great Horned Owl Short-eared Owl
Barn Owl Saw whet Owl      


Barred Owl

How to identify it:  A big owl, 20 inches tall, no visible ears, stripes on chest and spots on the back.

This is a new comer to our forests, arriving from the east coast and now has become one of the most commonly seen owls in our area.  They typically find suburban forests to suit them and can even be found in city parks. They are typically very approachable and often perch low on branches and can be easily seen, and do not seem to be disturbed when approached. They sometimes even follow people out of apparent curiosity, often cocking their heads or making a circling motion with their head.  They are sometimes active in the day time, and can be heard calling in late afternoon and in the evening anytime of year.

They eat a wide variety of prey: insects, frogs, birds, small mammals up to the size of opposums.  Nests are usually in tree cavities and eggs are laid in February, with young fledglings typically out by June.  The female often stays near the nest and when the male arrives with food he will perch a distance away from the nest and give a soft call which brings the female to collect the food and bring it back to the nest.

This owl can make a spooky collection of odd sounds such as gurgles, screams and whistles, some of which sound nothing like an owl.

Click here to hear the call of this owl.

Click here for a page of owl calls

Northern Pygmy Owl

How to Identify it:  Small owl, 7 inches tall, with long tail with narrow white bars, spots on top of head

This is our smallest owl, and it spends most of its day hiding in dense thickets away from predators.  It is an ambush predator and waits on a branch then drops on the prey from above.  They mostly hunt at night but will also hunt small birds during the late afternoon and early evening.  In addition to small mammals and birds, insects and tree frogs make up most the rest of their diet.

These small owls rely almost exclusively on woodpecker nests for their breeding although they will use hollow trees in a pinch.  The eggs are laid in mid to late April, the young fledge in mid to late June. The female stays in the nest and is fed by the male.  Both parents continue to feed and defend the fledglings for up to a month after they leave the nest.  During courtship in March and early April  this small owl makes a series of monotonous hoots, one every second often for several minutes at a time.  They are preyed upon by larger owls, such as Barred owls.

Click here to hear the call of this owl

Screech Owl

How to Identify it:  Medium sized owl with ears, much smaller than a great horned owl, often showing white markings on its wings. Sometimes the ears are flattened against the head given the bird a round headed look.

This owl comes in two different colors, it can be grayish, or very rich reddish brown.  It appears to be declining in our area due to the increase in Barred Owls, which are larger and can eat the young and even adults of this species.  It is not easily found, but does perch low on firs and in thickets, sometimes near water.  It eats a wide variety of food, small rodents are supplemented with insects and sometimes birds.  Occasionally this owl will get ambitious and take prey bigger than itself such as a rabbit.  The male begins calling in March and a pair will call back and forth to each other as part of the courtship.  The call is a rapid series of several notes which accelerates as it goes on.  It nests in hollows in snags of firs, maples or cottonwoods, the eggs are laid from early April to mid-May.  The young fledge and are fed by adults in late July and will continue to be in family groups into mid August before going their separate ways.

Click here to hear the call of this owl



Great Horned Owl

How to Identify it:  Large owl with prominent ear tufts and fine barring across the underside.

This is the largest owl in our area and it is a formidable predator taking animals as big as raccoons.  It also takes ducks, hawks and almost any other bird it finds during its night time forays.  Insects and small rodents are also readily eaten.  During the day this bird can sometimes be found by the mobs of crows or jays which dive at the perched owl  to drive it away. The males begin hooting on territories in late November and by January, eggs have been laid, often in a large crow or red-tail hawk nest.  The female does not usually leave the nest until the eggs are hatched and the young are 2 weeks old.  The young owlets can often be seen perched on branches near the nest starting in mid to late March.  These branchers often stick together as defense against other predators but mom is a fierce protector and if she is around no other hawk or owl dares approach.   The young owls stay around the nest site most of the summer and finally disperse in early Fall. 

Click here to hear the call of this owl

Short-eared Owl

How to Identify it:  Large owl with very round face found in marshlands and tidal areas.  In flight wings are long and narrow.

This is a marshland owl, and can often seen late in the afternoon in marine wetlands and short grass meadows soaring low over the logs and grass in search of voles and small rodents.  It has a very long and narrow wing and flies with a bobbing motion that is characteristic of this bird.  When it finds a victim it will suddenly turn and dive into the grass.  In late March and early April this bird engages in spectacular courtship flights with a pair soaring and chasing and sometimes clasping talons and tumbling.  Short-eared owls are ground nesters,  building nests of grass well hidden in a hollow or near a log.  Eggs are laid by the mid to the end of April and young leave the nest in May and wander about in the grass. There are often several young in a brood and many are taken by other predators before they can fly. This owl can often be found perched in grassy marine tidelands on drift logs.  The males calls are a series of deep hoots but this bird also makes a variety of creeking sounds which sound not unlike gulls.

2008 Nancy J. Wagner Photography  
Barn Owl

How to Identify it:  Very light tan/brown colored owl with broad white round face.

This is an owl of pastures and fields and grassy areas, coming out at night to hunt for small rodents.  It hunts by hovering then when it hears prey it drops on them, or by soaring low to the ground.  It uses its hearing more than any other owl to locate prey.  This bird nests in hollow trees and buildings and may have two broods in a year if there are enough mice around.  Eggs can be laid anytime from February to August, although most birds probably start nesting in April or May.  The female typically broods eggs and both adults feed the young. The eggs hatch about a month after the last one is laid and the young leave the nest about two months after they hatch and mortality of young owls is high.  This owl does not hoot, but makes a screeching sound and will also hiss if disturbed on the nest.  This owl often uses the same roosts so if you find it once in a building or hollow tree it will likely be seen there again.

Todd Entrikin shmodd_@hotmail.com  
Saw-whet Owl

How to Identify it: Small owl with no visible ears, fine white stripes on the top of the head, reddish brown and white stripes on the chest and  belly, white spots on the back and wings.

This is the smallest of our owls and has a large head in relation to its body.  It is most often found perched in dense conifer foliage, hiding from larger raptors and other owls.  It hunts for small rodents and  birds and also will take insects. Its usual hunting method is to sit on a perch then drop on the unsuspecting prey.  When mouse populations are high, this owl often just eats the head. 

These birds nest in cavities made by Pileated woodpeckers or flickers, sometimes using other hollow places that are less protected. The courtship calls start in March, a series of rapidly repeated high pitched hoophoophoophoop calls that can go on for hours.

Nesting begins in late March and the female tends the young, the male brings food. The young fledge in late May or early June.  Pairs tend to stay in the same area year after year as long as the habitat meets their needs.  They are preyed upon by larger owls and the increase of Barred owls in our area appears to be impacting this owl.