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

Colorado, home to an abundance of natural beauty and wildlife, is also host to a diverse array of owl species. From the Eastern Plains to the Rocky Mountains, the state offers a myriad of habitats that attract thirteen unique owl species.

This guide will help you learn more about these fascinating birds of the night, their habits, characteristics, and the best ways to spot them in the Centennial State.

Owl Species Found in Colorado

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, Colorado’s most common owl, is found in habitats ranging from dense forests to suburban parks and city outskirts. Recognizable by its large size and tufts of feathers resembling horns or ears, this versatile raptor is an accomplished hunter known to take a diverse range of prey.

The Great Horned Owl has an enduring presence in the folklore and mythology of various cultures, often symbolizing wisdom or knowledge. Despite this, they are primarily known for their hunting prowess, with an impressive array of prey that includes rodents, birds, and even other raptors.

Did you know? Great Horned Owls are fearless defenders of their nests and are one of the few animals that will take on a skunk!

Northern Pygmy Owl

Northern Pygmy Owl
  • Scientific name: Glaucidium gnoma
  • Size: 16-18 cm (6.3-7.1 inches)
  • Weight: 60-70 grams (2.1-2.5 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 38 cm (15 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Northern Pygmy Owl, one of the smallest owl species, can be spotted year-round in Colorado’s coniferous forests. Despite their diminutive size, these owls are bold predators, often tackling prey as large or larger than themselves, including small mammals and birds.

The Northern Pygmy Owl is active during the day, especially around dawn and dusk. Known for their feisty demeanor and “false eyes” on the back of their head, these owls can be identified by their distinctive tooting call.

Did you know? Unlike many other owl species that are strictly nocturnal, Northern Pygmy Owls can often be seen hunting during the daytime, especially in the early morning and late afternoon.

Flammulated Owl

Flammulated Owl
  • Scientific name: Psiloscops flammeolus
  • Size: 15-17 cm (5.9-6.7 inches)
  • Weight: 45-63 grams (1.6-2.2 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 34-40 cm (13.4-15.7 inches)
  • Time of the year: Spring and summer

The Flammulated Owl, aptly named for its flame-like markings, is a small owl species that migrates to Colorado in the spring and summer months for breeding. Preferring old-growth ponderosa pine and high-elevation forests, these tiny owls are elusive and challenging to spot due to their nocturnal habits and excellent camouflage.

Flammulated Owls are primarily insectivorous, hunting for beetles, moths, and other insects. They are known for their unique, low-pitched hoot, which often leads birdwatchers to mistake them for toads.

Did you know? Despite their small size and lightweight, Flammulated Owls undertake an impressive migration each year. They spend their winters in Central America and return to the United States and Canada for the breeding season.

Western Screech Owl

Western Screech Owl
  • Scientific name: Megascops kennicottii
  • Size: 19-25 cm (7.5-9.8 inches)
  • Weight: 100-210 grams (3.5-7.4 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 55-61 cm (21.6-24 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Western Screech Owl, a small yet tenacious hunter, can be found year-round across Colorado’s diverse habitats, including woodlands and suburban areas. Contrary to their name, these owls don’t screech; instead, they emit a series of short whistles and hoots.

Western Screech Owls are nocturnal and become active at dusk. They hunt a variety of prey, including insects, small mammals, and occasionally, small birds. Their cryptic plumage offers excellent camouflage against tree bark, aiding them in staying undetected during daylight hours.

Did you know? Western Screech Owls often take over the abandoned nests of other birds, such as Northern Flickers and American Kestrels, for their own use.

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl
  • Scientific name: Megascops asio
  • Size: 16-25 cm (6.3-9.8 inches)
  • Weight: 121-244 grams (4.3-8.6 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 46-61 cm (18-24 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Eastern Screech Owl, often found in urban and suburban areas, is a small yet formidable predator. These owls are year-round residents of eastern Colorado, and despite their name, they do not screech but instead make a mournful, descending whinny.

Eastern Screech Owls are highly adaptable, residing in various habitats ranging from deciduous forests to parks and gardens. Their diet consists of a wide variety of small creatures, including rodents, insects, and small birds.

Did you know? Eastern Screech Owls come in two different color morphs: gray and rufous. This variance in color helps them blend into their surroundings and avoid predators.

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: Spring to late fall

The Burrowing Owl, unlike most other owl species, is a ground dweller. These owls can be found in the prairies and open areas of Colorado, especially in the eastern plains, from spring to late fall.

Unlike most owl species, Burrowing Owls are diurnal, making them easier to spot during daylight hours. They inhabit burrows often made by prairie dogs, and their diet consists primarily of insects and small rodents.

Did you know? Burrowing Owls have long legs that help them sprint to their burrows when a predator is in sight. They also use these long legs to kick out intruders from their burrows.

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, known for its ghostly pale color and distinctive heart-shaped face, can be found throughout Colorado. They are adaptable birds that inhabit a wide range of environments, including farmlands, woodlands, and even suburban areas. You might spot them in barns, silos, and other structures.

Barn Owls are superb hunters, often hunting small rodents in their territory. They have an exceptional hearing ability, which aids them in locating prey in the darkness. The presence of Barn Owls is often welcomed by farmers as they help in controlling pest populations.

Did you know? Barn Owls are sometimes called the “ghost owl” because of their silent flight and eerie, screeching call, which can be quite unnerving in the dark of the night.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl
  • Scientific name: Strix varia
  • Size: 40-63 cm (16-25 inches)
  • Weight: 470-1050 grams (1-2.3 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 96-125 cm (38-49 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Barred Owl is a large, round-headed owl known for its soulful eyes and distinctive hoots. These birds inhabit mature forests and woodlands throughout the year in Colorado, often near water bodies.

Barred Owls are nocturnal and roost during the day in dense foliage or in the cavities of trees. Their diet consists of a variety of prey, including small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Their call, described as a series of hoots sounding like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” is a common nighttime sound in their habitats.

Did you know? Barred Owls do not migrate. They establish a territory and usually stay in it their entire lives.

Spotted Owl

Northern Spotted Owl
  • Scientific name: Strix occidentalis
  • Size: 43-50 cm (16.9-19.7 inches)
  • Weight: 600-700 grams (1.3-1.5 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 114-127 cm (44.8-50 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Spotted Owl, a medium-sized owl known for its dark eyes and spotted plumage, can be found in the old-growth forests of Colorado. This species prefers deep, shady canyons, mature forests, and steep, wooded slopes. Due to habitat loss, it is now one of North America’s most endangered owls.

Spotted Owls are most active during the night but can be occasionally spotted during the day. They primarily feed on small mammals, particularly flying squirrels and woodrats.

Did you know? Unlike many other owl species, Spotted Owls do not build their own nests. They often take over the old nests of other birds or use natural structures such as tree cavities or cliff ledges.

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: Year-round, but more common in the winter

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a small, forest-dwelling owl that is found year-round in Colorado. They prefer coniferous forests and wooded riparian areas. Their presence is often betrayed by their rhythmic, too-too-too call that can continue without a break for several hours.

Despite being widespread, these owls are often overlooked due to their small size and nocturnal habits. However, they are ferocious predators, feeding on a variety of small creatures, particularly rodents.

Did you know? Northern Saw-whet Owls have a fascinating way of dealing with leftovers. They often behead their prey and store the body for later consumption, sometimes with several bodies stored at a time.

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 winter, but some year-round

Long-Eared Owls, characterized by their tall, erect ear tufts and piercing yellow eyes, are mainly winter visitors to Colorado, though some may stay year-round. These owls are nocturnal hunters, preying mainly on small mammals, especially rodents.

They are highly adaptive, often roosting in dense foliage during the day and preferring woodland areas, particularly in river valleys.

Did you know? Long-Eared Owls are very communal birds. During non-breeding times, they often roost together in groups that can number in the dozens.

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 is a medium-sized owl known for its round head with tiny ear tufts and large yellow eyes. They prefer open areas like grasslands and marshes.

Unlike most owl species, the Short-Eared Owl is active during the day, particularly around dawn and dusk. They have a unique flight style, with slow wingbeats and long glides.

Did you know? Short-Eared Owls have a fascinating defense mechanism. When threatened, they stretch their body and feathers to appear larger and more intimidating to potential predators.

Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl
  • Scientific name: Aegolius funereus
  • Size: 22-27 cm (8.7-10.6 inches)
  • Weight: 100-170 grams (3.5-6 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 owl found year-round in the boreal forests of Colorado’s high-altitude regions. These owls prefer coniferous forests and are highly nocturnal, hunting small mammals, especially voles, at night.

They are often elusive and difficult to spot due to their nocturnal habits and remote habitats.

Did you know? The Boreal Owl’s scientific name, “funereus,” means “funeral” or “death” in Latin. This ominous name likely refers to the owl’s dark, silent flight and its eerie nighttime calls.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Colorado

Colorado’s diverse landscapes offer an array of environments where owls can be spotted. Here are some top locations:

  1. Rocky Mountain National Park: Known for its high-altitude habitats, it’s a great place to spot Boreal Owls and Northern Saw-whet Owls.
  2. San Juan National Forest: Home to various owl species, including Spotted Owls and Flammulated Owls.
  3. Boulder County Open Space: You can spot Barn Owls and Great Horned Owls here.
  4. Pawnee National Grassland: Ideal for spotting Burrowing Owls and Short-Eared Owls.
  5. Comanche National Grassland: This grassland provides habitats for Burrowing Owls and Eastern Screech Owls.

Different owls prefer different types of habitats:

  • Forest and woodland habitats: Great Horned Owl, Northern Pygmy Owl, Spotted Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Boreal Owl.
  • Open and grassland habitats: Burrowing Owl, Short-Eared Owl.
  • Urban and suburban areas: Barn Owl, Eastern Screech Owl.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Understand their habits: Different owl species have different patterns of activity. Some are nocturnal (most active at night), while others can be seen during the day.
  • Listen for calls: Familiarize yourself with the calls of different owl species. This can help in identifying them, especially at night.
  • Look for pellets: Owls regurgitate pellets that contain the indigestible parts of their prey, like fur and bones. Finding these can be a sign of owls in the area.
  • Respect the wildlife: Keep a respectable distance from the owls and their nesting sites. Use binoculars or a camera with a good zoom to get a closer look.
  • Join a guided tour or a bird-watching group: These can provide valuable local knowledge and improve your chances of spotting owls.

Remember, spotting owls takes patience, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see them right away. Happy owl spotting in the beautiful state of Colorado!

Owls in Other States

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