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All 10 Owl Species Found in Alaska (With Pictures & Info)

Alaska, known for its vast wilderness and staggering natural beauty, is a paradise for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. Among its diverse wildlife, Alaska hosts a variety of intriguing owl species, each with its own unique traits and behaviors. From the Boreal forests to the arctic tundra, these masters of the night sky play a critical role in maintaining the ecological balance.

In this article, we will explore ten owl species found in the Land of the Midnight Sun, uncovering their scientific names, sizes, weights, wingspans, and the best times to spot them. Let’s dive into the mysterious and captivating world of Alaska’s owls.

Owl Species Found in Alaska

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 46-63 cm (18-25 inches)
  • Weight: 910-2500 grams (2-5.5 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 91-153 cm (36-60 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Great Horned Owl, a year-round resident of Alaska, is one of the most recognizable owl species due to its prominent ear tufts that give it a “horned” appearance. This owl is a versatile bird of prey that inhabits various ecosystems, including forests, grasslands, wetlands, deserts, and even urban areas. Known for their adaptability, they are equally at home in the dense Boreal forests of interior Alaska as they are in the coastal rainforests of the Southeast. Their distinct hoot, echoing through the quiet wilderness, is a classic sound of the wild in Alaska.

Great Horned Owls are opportunistic hunters, and their diet includes a wide variety of prey, from small rodents to larger mammals and other birds. Their incredible strength, combined with a large size, allows them to take down prey bigger than themselves.

Did you know? Despite their formidable size and prowess, Great Horned Owls are known to be quite the family birds. Both parents participate in raising their young, and the offspring often stay with their parents well into the fall, much longer than many other bird species.

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl
  • Scientific name: Surnia ulula
  • Size: 36-43 cm (14-17 inches)
  • Weight: 300-400 grams (10.6-14.1 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 69-82 cm (27-32 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Northern Hawk Owl is a medium-sized, day-flying owl that lives year-round in Alaska. It is an inhabitant of the boreal forests, primarily found in the northern and interior regions of the state. With its long tail, pointed wings, and hawk-like flight pattern, it is often mistaken for a hawk from a distance, hence its name. This owl species is uniquely adapted to life in the northern wilderness, surviving some of the coldest temperatures on earth.

Northern Hawk Owls have an exceptional hearing and vision which allows them to hunt their prey, primarily voles and other small mammals, even under a thick layer of snow or at great distances. Their day-flying habits make them one of the more visible owls in Alaska.

Did you know? The Northern Hawk Owl is one of the few owl species that is primarily diurnal, meaning it’s most active during the day. This unusual behavior is an adaptation to life in the far north, where summer days can last 24 hours.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 52-71 cm (20-28 inches)
  • Weight: 1200-2100 grams (2.6-4.6 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49-59 inches)
  • Time of the year: Primarily winter, although some might be spotted year-round

The Snowy Owl, with its brilliant white plumage and piercing yellow eyes, is an iconic symbol of the Alaskan tundra. Mostly migratory, these owls breed in the high arctic and often venture south into Alaska during the winter months. However, some individuals might be spotted in the state year-round. The treeless tundra provides a perfect habitat for these birds, where they nest on the ground and hunt in the open landscape.

Snowy Owls have a special place in the hearts of birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts. They primarily feed on lemmings and will move their breeding locations in response to lemming population cycles.

Did you know? Snowy Owls are among the heaviest of North American owls. Despite their large size, they have a high degree of sexual dimorphism, meaning males and females look different. Males are typically whiter, while females and young owls have more dark spotting.

Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl
  • Scientific name: Aegolius funereus
  • Size: 22-27 cm (8.7-10.6 inches)
  • Weight: 93-170 grams (3.3-6.0 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 55-62 cm (21.6-24.4 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Boreal Owl, also known as Tengmalm’s Owl, is a small but fierce predator that inhabits the boreal forests of Alaska. This species is a year-round resident of the state, although it is often elusive and difficult to spot due to its nocturnal habits and preference for dense forest habitats. The Boreal Owl’s diet mainly consists of small mammals, with voles being a favorite prey item.

This owl has a round head without ear tufts, and its large yellow eyes are framed by a white facial disk with a dark border, giving it a distinctive look. Its call is a series of soft, low hoots that can be heard at night in the deep forest.

Did you know? Unlike many owl species that are territorial, Boreal Owls often live in loose aggregations or colonies. This behavior is thought to be linked to the high density of their preferred prey in certain areas.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl
  • Scientific name: Strix varia
  • Size: 40-63 cm (16-25 inches)
  • Weight: 500-1050 grams (1.1-2.3 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 96-125 cm (38-49 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Barred Owl is a large, stocky owl that is found throughout Alaska’s forests year-round. Known for its distinctive call, this species is easy to identify with its dark brown eyes – unusual for owls, as most species have yellow or orange eyes. Their preferred habitats are mature forests, often near water bodies.

Barred Owls are more often heard than seen. Their hoot, sounding like “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?” carries well through their forest homes. When hunting, they sit and wait on a perch, swooping down when they spot prey. They primarily feed on small mammals, but they’re known to take small birds and even fish and amphibians.

Did you know? Barred Owls are actually non-native to Alaska. They expanded their range from the East across North America, reaching Alaska in the 1990s. Since then, they have become a common sight in many parts of the state.

Great Grey Owl

Great Grey Owl
  • Scientific name: Strix nebulosa
  • Size: 61-84 cm (24-33 inches)
  • Weight: 790-1450 grams (1.7-3.2 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 142-152 cm (56-60 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Great Grey Owl is known for being the world’s largest species of owl by length. A resident of Alaska’s boreal forests, this majestic bird has a distinctive round face, large size, and piercing yellow eyes that give it a unique appearance. They prefer dense forests interspersed with meadows or other open areas for hunting.

Despite their great size, Great Grey Owls feed mainly on small mammals, with voles being a preferred food source. Their large facial disks focus sound, allowing them to locate prey even under deep snow.

Did you know? Great Grey Owls have the largest facial disc of any raptor. These large “face circles” not only give these owls their distinctive appearance but also help funnel sound to their ears, providing them with superior hearing to locate prey.

Northern Pygmy Owl

Northern Pygmy Owl
  • Scientific name: Glaucidium gnoma
  • Size: 15-17 cm (6-7 inches)
  • Weight: 60-71 grams (2.1-2.5 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 38-41 cm (15-16 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Northern Pygmy Owl may be one of the smallest owls in Alaska, but it is also one of the fiercest. These tiny birds of prey are active during the day, unlike most owl species, and can often be spotted in forested areas across the state. Despite their small size, they are voracious predators and aren’t afraid to take on prey larger than themselves, including birds and small mammals.

The Northern Pygmy Owl is brown with white spots, with yellow eyes set in a sharply defined facial disk. Their short tail and round head give them a distinctive, almost stout appearance.

Did you know? The Northern Pygmy Owl has “false eyes” on the back of its head – spots of black and white feathers that mimic eyes. This trick of nature can confuse predators and give the owl a chance to escape when threatened.

Western Screech Owl

Western Screech Owl
  • Scientific name: Megascops kennicottii
  • Size: 19-25 cm (7.5-9.8 inches)
  • Weight: 140-305 grams (4.9-10.8 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 54-61 cm (21.3-24 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Western Screech Owl is a small, nocturnal bird that inhabits the temperate rainforests of southeastern Alaska. They are permanent residents and are often found in a variety of woodland habitats, particularly near water bodies. These owls have a stocky body, a large round head with no ear tufts, and yellow eyes surrounded by dark circles.

The Western Screech Owl’s diet consists primarily of small mammals, birds, and large insects. They hunt from a perch and drop down onto their prey, capturing it with their sharp talons.

Did you know? Despite their name, Western Screech Owls do not screech often. Their most common sounds are a series of soft, low hoots and a haunting, rising wail.

Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl
  • Scientific name: Asio flammeus
  • Size: 34-43 cm (13.4-16.9 inches)
  • Weight: 206-475 grams (7.3-16.8 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 85-110 cm (33.5-43.3 inches)
  • Time of the year: Primarily winter, although some might be spotted year-round

The Short-Eared Owl, as the name suggests, is characterized by small ear tufts, which are often not visible. These medium-sized owls are found throughout Alaska, but they are primarily winter residents. They prefer open habitats like marshes, grasslands, and tundra. One of the unique characteristics of the Short-Eared Owl is its diurnal nature – these owls are often active during the day, especially at dawn and dusk.

Short-Eared Owls are nomadic, moving around in search of food, which mainly includes small mammals like voles and mice. Their flight is distinctive, with buoyant, erratic wingbeats reminiscent of a giant moth.

Did you know? Short-Eared Owls are one of the most widely distributed owls in the world, found on every continent except Antarctica. In Alaska, they are most commonly found in the Aleutian Islands, an area where few other owl species venture.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 18-20 cm (7.1-7.9 inches)
  • Weight: 54-151 grams (1.9-5.3 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 42-56.3 cm (16.5-22.2 inches)
  • Time of the year: Primarily in the warmer months, although some might be spotted year-round

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is one of the smallest owls found in Alaska. While it can sometimes be seen year-round, it is primarily present during the warmer months. Named for its call, which resembles the whetting of a saw, this owl prefers dense, coniferous forests, often near bodies of water.

Despite its small size, the Northern Saw-whet Owl is a fierce hunter, primarily preying on small mammals and insects. Its plumage provides excellent camouflage against the tree bark, making it challenging to spot unless it moves or calls.

Did you know? Northern Saw-whet Owls have a unique way of dealing with the cold Alaskan winters. They lower their body temperature and slow their metabolism to conserve energy, a process known as torpor.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Alaska

Alaska’s vast wilderness offers an array of locations for spotting owls, each providing different habitats that suit various species.

  1. Denali National Park and Preserve: This national park is home to a wide variety of owl species, including the Great Horned Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, and the Boreal Owl.
  2. Kenai National Wildlife Refuge: This refuge on the Kenai Peninsula is a great place to look for Western Screech Owls and Great Grey Owls.
  3. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve: This massive national park in eastern Alaska provides suitable habitat for Northern Saw-whet Owls.
  4. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: This remote refuge is the best place to see Snowy Owls, especially during the summer breeding season.
  5. Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge: Located in Juneau, this wetland is a good spot for spotting Short-Eared Owls.
  6. Matanuska-Susitna Valley: Known locally as Mat-Su Valley, this area north of Anchorage is a good place to see Northern Hawk Owls.

Owls can be found in a variety of habitats in Alaska, from the dense boreal forests to the open tundra. Spotting them involves a mix of patience, knowledge, and sometimes pure luck.

Some quick tips for spotting owls:

  • Listen for their calls: The hoots, screeches, or other vocalizations of owls are often the first clue to their presence.
  • Look for signs: Owl pellets or whitewash (bird droppings) on the ground can indicate that an owl is roosting overhead.
  • Dusk and dawn are best: While some owls in Alaska are active during the day, many are most active during the hours of dusk and dawn.
  • Use a good pair of binoculars: Owls can blend into their surroundings, so a good pair of binoculars will help bring these elusive birds into focus.
  • Be respectful: Always view owls from a distance to avoid disturbing them. During the nesting season, getting too close can cause owls to abandon their nests.

Exploring Alaska’s wild landscapes and seeing its owls is an unforgettable experience, offering a glimpse into a fascinating world of wilderness and wildlife. Good luck, and happy owl-spotting!

Owls in Other States

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