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All 13 Owl Species Found in Arizona (With Pictures & Info)

Arizona, a state known for its unique desert landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and vibrant birdlife, is home to an impressive variety of owls. From the diminutive Elf Owl to the iconic Great Horned Owl, these nocturnal raptors capture our imagination with their haunting calls and remarkable adaptations.

In this article, we’ll explore 13 owl species that call Arizona home, delving into their characteristics, behaviors, and the best times and places to spot them. Prepare to embark on a nocturnal journey through the eyes of Arizona’s owls.

Owl Species Found in Arizona

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

Among the largest owl species found in Arizona, the Great Horned Owl is renowned for its piercing yellow eyes and distinctive ear tufts.

This year-round resident inhabits various ecosystems, from desert regions to forests, making its home in everything from cacti to tree nests.

Great Horned Owls are excellent hunters, using their strong talons to capture a range of prey, including rodents, birds, and even skunks. The deep hoot of a Great Horned Owl resonating through the desert night is a sound to remember.

Did you know? Great Horned Owls are known to take over nests from other bird species, including hawks, herons, and crows. Rather than building their own, they’ll use the unoccupied nests for their brooding and nesting purposes.

Elf Owl

Elf Owl
  • Scientific name: Micrathene whitneyi
  • Size: 12.5-14.5 cm (5-6 inches)
  • Weight: 40-55 grams (1.4-1.9 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 27 cm (10.6 inches)
  • Time of the year: Spring and Summer

The Elf Owl, the world’s lightest owl, is a diminutive yet enchanting presence in Arizona’s desert regions. This tiny owl migrates to Arizona in the spring and summer to breed, commonly found nesting in woodpecker holes in saguaro cacti or trees.

Despite their small size, they’re fierce hunters, primarily feeding on insects, scorpions, and spiders. These owls have a soft, high-pitched call that echoes through the night, adding a touch of magic to the desert soundscape.

Did you know? Elf Owls are known to play dead when threatened by predators. This behavior, known as thanatosis, is a fascinating survival strategy where the owl drops to the ground and remains still, fooling predators into thinking it’s no longer a viable prey.

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

Western Screech Owls are year-round residents of Arizona, preferring semi-open habitats near water bodies like riparian woods and desert oases. They’re small owls with yellow eyes and conspicuous ear tufts, cloaked in grey-brown feathers that help them blend into tree bark. While their name suggests a loud call, their most common vocalization is a series of soft hoots.

Western Screech Owls primarily hunt small mammals, birds, and large insects. They tend to be monogamous, often staying with the same mate for life and using the same nesting site year after year.

Did you know? Despite being known as nocturnal predators, Western Screech Owls have been known to hunt during the day when they have hungry chicks to feed.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl
  • Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
  • Size: 19-28 cm (7.5-11 inches)
  • Weight: 140-240 grams (4.9-8.5 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 50.8-61 cm (20-24 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Burrowing Owl, a small owl with long legs and bright yellow eyes, is a distinctive sight in the desert scrublands of Arizona. They are unique among owls for their terrestrial, burrowing lifestyle, often making their homes in abandoned prairie dog or ground squirrel burrows. Burrowing Owls are often active during the day, though they tend to avoid the midday heat.

These owls mainly eat large insects and small mammals, and are known for their fascinating behavior of collecting mammal dung and placing it around their nests. This unusual habit is thought to help attract dung beetles, one of their preferred food sources.

Did you know? When a predator approaches a Burrowing Owl’s nest, the owls can produce a hissing call that closely resembles the sound of a rattlesnake’s rattle, a clever trick to deter potential threats.

Spotted Owl

Northern Spotted Owl
  • Scientific name: Strix occidentalis
  • Size: 43-50 cm (16.9-19.7 inches)
  • Weight: 600-750 grams (1.3-1.65 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 114-124 cm (44.9-48.8 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Spotted Owl, a resident of Arizona’s mature forests, is a large, dark-eyed owl with white spots on its head, chest, and belly. This owl prefers old-growth or mature forests with a dense canopy, making its home in deep, shady gorges known as “canyon forests”. They are known for their soft hooting calls that resonate through the forest.

Spotted Owls are primarily nocturnal, hunting at night for small mammals, birds, and reptiles. However, they can occasionally be seen hunting during the day. They’re relatively sedentary, usually staying in the same area year-round.

Did you know? The Spotted Owl is one of the most-studied and best-known owl species in the U.S. due to its status as a “threatened” species under the Endangered Species Act. Much of its habitat has been lost to logging, leading to significant conservation efforts to protect this owl and its environment.

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 cooler months, but can be spotted year-round

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is one of the smallest owls found in Arizona. This owl is named for its call, which resembles the sound of a saw being sharpened. They prefer dense, coniferous forests, often near bodies of water. Despite their small size, they’re fierce hunters, primarily feeding on small rodents.

Northern Saw-Whet Owls are relatively common but hard to spot due to their small size and camouflaging plumage. They’re often easier to locate by their repetitive, whistled tooting calls that can carry long distances.

Did you know? The Northern Saw-Whet Owl has a surprising method of dealing with leftover food. If they catch a large meal, they’ll often eat part of it and then stash the rest in a tree crevice to eat later when food is scarce.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 33-40 cm (13-15.7 inches)
  • Weight: 430-620 grams (0.94-1.36 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 80-95 cm (31.5-37.4 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Barn Owl, characterized by its heart-shaped facial disk and pale, ghostly appearance, is a year-round resident of Arizona. These owls favor open habitats like farmland, desert, and grasslands, often making their nests in barns, tree cavities, or artificial nest boxes. They are silent hunters, using their exceptional hearing to locate rodents and other small mammals in the dark.

Barn Owls are often heard more than seen, their chilling, raspy screeches piercing the night air. They are most active at night but can also be seen hunting at dusk and dawn.

Did you know? Barn Owls are one of the most widespread owl species, found on every continent except Antarctica. They’ve been of great benefit to farmers historically, controlling rodent populations in agricultural fields.

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 is a small, daytime hunter with a surprising appetite. Despite their diminutive size, these owls are bold and often take prey larger than themselves. Found in the forests and woodlands of Arizona, they feed on a variety of small mammals, birds, and insects.

These owls are active during the day, especially around dawn and dusk. They are 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 a pair of dark patches on the back of its head, which look like eyes. This adaptation may fool predators into thinking the owl is watching them, providing the owl with a chance to escape.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

Ferruginous Pygmy-OwlSource: Wikimedia Commons
  • Scientific name: Glaucidium brasilianum
  • Size: 15-20 cm (6-8 inches)
  • Weight: 50-70 grams (1.8-2.5 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, found primarily in the southern regions of Arizona, is a small owl with a relatively long tail. Despite its small stature, this owl is a fierce hunter, known to take on prey larger than itself, including birds and small mammals. It prefers semi-open habitats like riparian woodlands, mesquite scrub, and saguaro desert.

Unlike many owls, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls are often active during the day, especially in the morning and late afternoon. They can often be spotted by their distinctive call, a series of monotonous whistles that can carry a long distance.

Did you know? Similar to the Northern Pygmy-Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls also have ‘false eyes’ on the back of their heads. These eye-like spots can trick potential predators into thinking the owl is always watching.

Flammulated Owl

Flammulated Owl
  • Scientific name: Psiloscops flammeolus
  • Size: 15-16 cm (5.9-6.3 inches)
  • Weight: 45-65 grams (1.6-2.3 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 34-40 cm (13.4-15.7 inches)
  • Time of the year: Spring and Summer

The Flammulated Owl is a small, migratory owl that travels to Arizona during the spring and summer to breed. This elusive owl prefers mature, open forests, especially with a high abundance of old, hollow trees for nesting. They’re highly adapted for a diet of insects, which they catch in flight or glean from foliage.

Flammulated Owls are a muted gray and red-brown color, which gives them excellent camouflage against the bark of trees. They are most easily detected by their low, short hoots, which can carry over long distances on calm, moonlit nights.

Did you know? The name “Flammulated” refers to the flame-like markings on the owl’s face and underparts. This species is one of the smallest and most migratory owls in North America, wintering in Mexico and Central America.

Whiskered Screech Owl

Whiskered Screech Owl
  • Scientific name: Megascops trichopsis
  • Size: 22-23 cm (8.7-9.1 inches)
  • Weight: 80-140 grams (2.8-4.9 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 45-50 cm (17.7-19.7 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Whiskered Screech Owl, a small owl found in Arizona’s mountain canyons, has a distinctive facial appearance due to the tufts of feathers around its beak, which resemble whiskers. This species favors mature, higher-elevation forests, particularly near water bodies.

These owls are active at night, feeding on a variety of insects and small mammals. They have a unique trilling call, which can vary in speed and tone, making them relatively easy to identify audibly, if not visually.

Did you know? Despite their name, Whiskered Screech Owls do not screech. Their most common vocalizations are a series of low, soft hoots or rapid trills.

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 in the winter

The Short-Eared Owl, often seen hunting in open fields and grasslands, is a regular winter visitor to Arizona. Their preference for open habitats and tendency to hunt during the day makes them one of the more visible owl species. They’re known for their distinctive floppy flight pattern and their piercing yellow eyes.

Short-Eared Owls feed mostly on small mammals, particularly voles, which they often catch in flight. While not residents, their seasonal presence provides a special treat for birdwatchers in Arizona.

Did you know? Short-Eared Owls are well adapted to a nomadic lifestyle. Their distribution and movements are closely tied to the abundance of their prey, leading to large seasonal shifts in their population distribution.

Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl
  • Scientific name: Asio otus
  • Size: 31-40 cm (12.2-15.7 inches)
  • Weight: 178-435 grams (6.3-15.3 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 90-100 cm (35.4-39.4 inches)
  • Time of the year: Primarily in the winter

The Long-Eared Owl, named for its long feather tufts that resemble ears, is a winter visitor in Arizona. These secretive owls prefer dense stands of trees, often in riparian areas, for roosting during the day. They become more active at night, when they hunt for small mammals and birds in nearby open habitats.

Long-Eared Owls have distinctive facial disks, bright yellow eyes, and streaked brown and white feathers, which provide excellent camouflage in their preferred wooded habitats.

Did you know? Long-Eared Owls are known for their communal roosting habits during the non-breeding season. In some cases, dozens or even hundreds of owls may roost together in a small area.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Arizona

Arizona’s diverse habitats make it an excellent state for spotting a variety of owl species. Here are a few key locations:

  1. Saguaro National Park: This iconic desert park is a great location to spot Elf Owls, Western Screech Owls, and Great Horned Owls.
  2. Madera Canyon: Located in the Santa Rita Mountains, Madera Canyon is a world-renowned location for bird watching and is a prime spot for seeing Whiskered Screech Owls and Northern Pygmy-Owls.
  3. Chiricahua National Monument: Nestled in the Chiricahua Mountains, this area is home to the Spotted Owl and Whiskered Screech Owl.
  4. San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area: This conservation area provides suitable habitat for Barn Owls and Short-Eared Owls, especially during the winter months.
  5. Mount Lemmon: Part of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Mount Lemmon is a good spot for Northern Saw-Whet Owls and Flammulated Owls.

In Arizona, you can find owls in a variety of habitats, from the saguaro-dominated desert to riparian woodlands and high-elevation forests.

Some Quick Tips to Aid Your Owl-Spotting Endeavors

  • Listen carefully: Owls are more often heard than seen. Learn their calls to help identify them, especially in the dark.
  • Look for signs: Check for signs like owl pellets at the base of trees or whitewash (droppings) on the trees or ground.
  • Be patient: Owls are often secretive and camouflaged. You may need to wait quietly and watch carefully.
  • Respect the owls: Do not disturb owls or their nests. Use binoculars or a telescope for a close-up view and keep noise to a minimum.
  • Night hikes or tours: Join a guided night hike or birding tour. Local guides know the best spots and can improve your chances of seeing owls.

Whether you’re a seasoned birder or just a casual observer, spotting an owl in the wild is always an exciting experience. Happy birding in Arizona!

Owls in Other States

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