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All 14 Owl Species Found in Idaho (With Pictures & Info)

Known for its mountains, wilderness, and outdoor recreation opportunities, Idaho also boasts a rich variety of birdlife. This includes an impressive array of owl species, the silent nocturnal hunters that play a vital role in maintaining the ecological balance.

From the depths of dense forests to the edges of sparkling rivers, Idaho is home to a fascinating array of these majestic birds. This guide will introduce you to the different species of owls found in Idaho and provide you with some useful tips to spot them in their natural habitat.

Owl Species Found in Idaho

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: 101-145 cm (40-57 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Great Horned Owl, known for its iconic ear tufts, is a year-round resident of Idaho. This owl species boasts a diverse habitat range, from forests and deserts to city parks. Their large size and bright yellow eyes, coupled with their deep hoot, make them easily distinguishable.

These versatile predators are known for their broad diet, which includes rodents, birds, and even larger prey such as ducks and rabbits. Their adaptability to different environments contributes to their widespread distribution across the state.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl is also known as the “Tiger Owl” due to its aggressive hunting style and striped plumage.

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: 38-41 cm (15-16 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Northern Pygmy Owl is a small, compact owl found throughout Idaho. Unlike many owl species, it can be spotted during the day, especially in the early morning or late afternoon.

Favoring mountainous woodlands and forest edges, this owl species is often heard before it’s seen. Its diet includes small mammals, birds, and insects. The Northern Pygmy Owl is often noted for its surprising fierceness and its ability to prey on animals larger than itself.

Did you know? Despite their small size, Northern Pygmy Owls are known to be quite fierce and are often seen carrying prey that’s nearly as big as they are!

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 17-22 cm (7-8.7 inches)
  • Weight: 75-110 grams (2.6-3.9 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 42-56.3 cm (16.5-22.2 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

One of the smallest owls in Idaho, the Northern Saw-whet Owl, is a permanent resident. These tiny owls prefer dense coniferous or mixed forests, often near water bodies. Their brown plumage with white streaks allows them to blend seamlessly into their forested habitats, making them somewhat tricky to spot.

Feasting primarily on small mammals like mice and voles, they are known for their monotonous, high-pitched too-too-too call that can continue without pause for several minutes.

Did you know? The Northern Saw-whet Owl gets its unusual name from one of its calls, which was said to resemble a saw being sharpened on a “whetting” stone.

Western Screech Owl

Western Screech Owl
  • Scientific name: Megascops kennicottii
  • Size: 22-24 cm (8.5-9.5 inches)
  • Weight: 140-240 grams (4.9-8.5 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 54-61 cm (21.3-24 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Western Screech Owl is another owl species that calls Idaho home all year round. These medium-sized owls are found in a variety of habitats, from lowland deserts and riparian woods to suburban gardens. They’re known for their varied diet, which includes insects, small mammals, birds, and even crayfish.

With greyish-brown feathers, white streaks, and yellow eyes, they can blend well into the tree bark, making them a challenge to spot. Despite the name, this owl doesn’t screech; instead, it makes a series of whistles and hoots.

Did you know? Western Screech Owls are known to be highly territorial, and pairs often stay in the same territory all year round, often using the same nest site year after year.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 33-39 cm (13-15.5 inches)
  • Weight: 430-620 grams (0.95-1.37 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 80-95 cm (31.5-37.4 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Barn Owl is a distinctive and widespread species, known for its ghostly, heart-shaped face. As their name suggests, they are comfortable in human-altered landscapes and frequently nest in barns, old buildings, or specially designed owl boxes.

In Idaho, these owls can be found in grasslands, farmlands, and open country. They are nocturnal hunters, using their acute hearing to locate mice and other small mammals in the dark. Their soft feathers allow them to fly almost silently, making them efficient, stealthy hunters.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, Barn Owls don’t hoot but emit a long, harsh screech, contributing to their spooky reputation in folklore.

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: 50-61 cm (20-24 inches)
  • Time of the year: Spring to Fall

The Burrowing Owl is a small, long-legged owl found in grasslands, rangelands, agricultural areas, deserts, or any other open dry area with low vegetation. They are unique among owls for living and nesting in burrows on the ground, often using holes dug by prairie dogs or other burrowing animals.

In Idaho, these owls are migratory and are primarily seen during the warmer months from spring to fall. Their diet consists of insects, rodents, and small birds.

Did you know? Burrowing Owls have bright yellow eyes, and when threatened, they will bob up and down and make a hissing noise, which sounds like a rattlesnake to ward off predators.

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 with a rounded head and no ear tufts. It is named for the bars of brown and white across its chest. Barred Owls inhabit mature forests, often near water bodies, and are known for their distinctive hoot.

These owls have adapted well to human presence and can also be found in suburban areas or parks. In Idaho, they are permanent residents and are most active during the night. They feed on a wide range of small animals, including squirrels, birds, and even reptiles and amphibians.

Did you know? Barred Owls have a call that sounds like they’re saying “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” It’s one of the most recognizable owl calls in North America.

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: 35-40 cm (14-16 inches)
  • Time of the year: Spring to Fall

The Flammulated Owl is a small owl with dark eyes and short ear tufts. The name comes from its flame-like markings. This species prefers open forests with old trees, where it nests in cavities.

In Idaho, these owls are summer residents and migrate to Central and South America for the winter. They are nocturnal and feed mainly on insects, including beetles, moths, and crickets.

Did you know? Despite being small in size, Flammulated Owls have a low, deep hoot that can often fool people into thinking they’re hearing a much larger species.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 53-65 cm (20.9-25.6 inches)
  • Weight: 1.6-2.9 kg (3.5-6.4 pounds)
  • Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49.2-59.1 inches)
  • Time of the year: Winter

The Snowy Owl is a beautiful, large owl with a rounded head, yellow eyes, and strikingly white plumage that provides excellent camouflage in snowy environments. Males can be almost pure white, while females and younger owls have some dark scalloping.

Snowy Owls are not regular visitors to Idaho, but they may be spotted during the winter months in open, treeless areas where they hunt for rodents and birds. Sightings are more likely following population surges of lemmings, their primary food source, in the Arctic.

Did you know? Snowy Owls, made famous by Harry Potter’s pet, Hedwig, are one of the heaviest owl species in North America.

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl
  • Scientific name: Surnia ulula
  • Size: 35-43 cm (13.8-16.9 inches)
  • Weight: 300-400 grams (10.6-14.1 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 69-82 cm (27.2-32.3 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round, but more common in winter

The Northern Hawk Owl, as its name suggests, has some hawk-like characteristics, such as a long tail and a relatively small head. It’s an unusual owl in many ways, being active during the day and often perching prominently like a hawk.

While they are not typically found in Idaho, Northern Hawk Owls may venture south during irruption years, particularly during harsh winters. These owls prefer boreal forests and tundra, where they hunt small mammals and birds.

Did you know? Northern Hawk Owls have fantastic eyesight and can spot prey at a distance of up to half a mile away!

Great Gray 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

One of the tallest owls in North America, the Great Gray Owl is a majestic sight in Idaho’s forests. Despite their size, these owls weigh less than some smaller species due to their fluffy feathers. They have distinctive facial discs, a bow tie-shaped white patch on their throat, and no ear tufts.

Great Gray Owls are mostly found in dense coniferous forests near meadows or bogs. They are typically quiet and elusive, often hunting at night or near dawn and dusk. Their diet primarily consists of small rodents, which they locate under the snow using their exceptional hearing.

Did you know? The Great Gray Owl is the state bird of Minnesota, but Idaho is one of the few places in the U.S. where you have a decent chance of seeing one.

Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl
  • Scientific name: Asio otus
  • Size: 31-40 cm (12-16 inches)
  • Weight: 200-435 grams (7-15.3 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 90-100 cm (35.4-39.4 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

With its long ear tufts, orange facial disk, and yellow eyes, the Long-eared Owl is an easily recognizable species. They prefer dense forests near open fields, often nesting in the old stick nests of other bird species.

Long-eared Owls are year-round residents in Idaho. They’re mostly nocturnal, hunting for small mammals, particularly voles, at night. However, they may be challenging to spot due to their excellent camouflage and tendency to roost in dense foliage during the day.

Did you know? Despite their name, the “ears” of Long-eared Owls are not ears at all but tufts of feathers. Their actual ears are located on the sides of their heads, hidden by feathers.

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: Year-round, more common in winter

Short-Eared Owls are medium-sized owls with buff-colored bodies and rounded wings. They are one of the most cosmopolitan owl species, found in open habitats like marshes, grasslands, and tundra worldwide. In Idaho, they can be seen throughout the year but are more common in winter.

They are most active during dawn and dusk, a behavior known as being crepuscular, but are often seen in broad daylight as well. Their diet is primarily small mammals, particularly voles and mice.

Did you know? Short-Eared Owls are one of the few owl species that build their own nests, usually a shallow scrape on the ground hidden in vegetation.

Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl
  • Scientific name: Aegolius funereus
  • Size: 22-27 cm (8.7-10.6 inches)
  • Weight: 93-215 grams (3.3-7.6 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 55-62 cm (21.7-24.4 inches)
  • Time of the year: Year-round

The Boreal Owl, also known as Tengmalm’s Owl, is a small, secretive owl that prefers the solitude of northern boreal forests, hence the name. They are generally brown with white spots, round heads, and no ear tufts.

These owls are present in Idaho year-round, often found in dense, mature forests with a mix of deciduous trees and conifers. They are highly nocturnal and feed mainly on small mammals such as voles and shrews.

Did you know? Unlike many other owl species, Boreal Owls are not very vocal. They only make sounds during the breeding season or on particularly dark and moonless nights.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Idaho

Idaho offers a rich and diverse array of habitats for bird enthusiasts. From its dense forests and high mountains to the sprawling desert plains, the state is a sanctuary for a variety of owl species. Here are a few places you might want to explore:

  1. Farragut State Park: This park in the northern part of the state offers an excellent chance to spot Great Gray Owls, Barred Owls, and Northern Pygmy Owls.
  2. Birds of Prey National Conservation Area: South of Boise, this area is home to Burrowing Owls.
  3. Sawtooth National Forest: This forest is a good place to look for Boreal Owls.
  4. Craters of the Moon National Monument: Great place to spot Short-eared Owls in the wide-open lava fields.
  5. Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge: Located near Bonners Ferry, this refuge offers an opportunity to see a variety of owls, including Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, and Northern Pygmy Owls.
  6. Hell’s Canyon Recreation Area: This canyon is known for its Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Bring Binoculars: Owls can be hard to spot due to their size and tendency to blend in with their environment.
  • Go at Dusk or Dawn: Many owls are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dusk and dawn.
  • Be Patient and Quiet: Owls are more likely to appear in calm and quiet environments. Make sure to keep noise to a minimum.
  • Know Their Calls: Familiarize yourself with the calls of different owl species. This can help identify the owls even if they are not visible.
  • Look for Nests or Droppings: Signs of owls include nests in tree holes or on the ground (for Burrowing Owls) and droppings at the base of trees.
  • Respect Their Habitat: Remember not to disturb the owls or their habitat. If you find a nest, observe it from a distance.

Remember, seeing an owl in the wild is always a privilege. It requires a combination of patience, silence, and a bit of luck. Happy owl-watching in Idaho!

Owls in Other States

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