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All 9 Owl Species Found in Kansas (With Pictures & Info)

Kansas, located in the center of the United States, offers exceptional habitat for a variety of bird species due to its diverse ecosystems, ranging from tallgrass prairies in the east to shortgrass prairies in the west, and mixed forests in between.

Among these feathered inhabitants, owls hold a special place. Their nocturnal habits and mysterious behaviors have captivated the human imagination for centuries.

In this article, we’ll introduce you to the nine owl species that call Kansas home, discuss their unique traits, and guide you on where and how to spot these fascinating birds in the Sunflower State.

Owl Species Found in Kansas

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 46-63 cm (18-24.8 in)
  • Weight: 910-2500 g (2-5.5 lb)
  • Wingspan: 101-145 cm (40-57 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Great Horned Owl, also known as the tiger owl, is one of the most familiar owls due to its wide distribution across North America. It is the heaviest owl species in Kansas. With its large size, prominent ear tufts, and striking yellow eyes, this owl is unmistakable. These birds favor a wide range of habitats, from mixed forests and woodlands to prairies and desert regions.

Known for their powerful hunting abilities, Great Horned Owls feed on a diverse diet that includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, and even other raptors. Their deep hooting call, which carries far in the still night, often consists of a series of four to five hoots: “hoo-hoo hoo hoo”.

Did you know? Despite their name, Great Horned Owls don’t have horns! The ‘horns’ are actually tufts of feathers, known as plumicorns, and their function is still a topic of debate among scientists.

Eastern Screech Owl

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

Eastern Screech Owls, despite their name, do not truly ‘screech.’ Instead, their voice includes a horse-like whinny and a long trill. They’re native to Kansas and are the state’s most common small owl species. Their small size and cryptic plumage make them challenging to spot, but their distinctive calls are often heard at night in forested areas and suburban regions alike.

These birds are supremely adaptable, occupying a variety of habitats, including deciduous forests and city parks. They primarily feed on small mammals and insects but can take prey larger than themselves when given the opportunity.

Did you know? Eastern Screech Owls come in two distinct color morphs: a reddish-brown form and a gray form. This color variation helps them blend seamlessly into their surroundings when they roost in tree cavities during the day.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl
  • Scientific name: Strix varia
  • Size: 40-63 cm (15.7-24.8 in)
  • Weight: 470-1050 g (1-2.3 lb)
  • Wingspan: 96-125 cm (38-49 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Barred Owl is a large, round-headed owl known for its soulful eyes and distinctive “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” hoot. They are year-round residents in Kansas, predominantly found in mature forests with large trees, particularly near water bodies.

Barred Owls are relatively sedentary birds that often stay in the same home range for many years. They are excellent hunters, preying mainly on small mammals, but are known to eat birds, reptiles, and invertebrates as well. The owls’ camouflaged plumage makes them blend in perfectly with their woodland habitats.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, which are primarily nocturnal, Barred Owls are often active during the day, particularly during dawn and dusk.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 32-40 cm (12.6-15.7 in)
  • Weight: 224-710 g (7.9-25.0 oz)
  • Wingspan: 80-95 cm (31-37 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

Barn Owls are distinguished by their heart-shaped facial discs and absence of ear tufts. These owls have a ghostly appearance, with a pale face and underside contrasting against darker back and wings. Found year-round in Kansas, they are highly adaptable birds occupying a range of open habitats, including farmland and grasslands.

They are proficient hunters that specialize in catching small rodents in their strong talons. Barn Owls are one of the most widespread of all birds, occurring in every continent except Antarctica.

Did you know? Barn Owls swallow their prey whole—skin, bones, and all, and they later regurgitate the indigestible parts in a tightly packed pellet.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 18-20 cm (7.1-7.9 in)
  • Weight: 54-151 g (1.9-5.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 42-56.3 cm (16.5-22.2 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a tiny owl with a catlike face, oversized head, and bright yellow eyes. Their high-pitched too-too-too call, similar to a saw being sharpened, is where they get their unique name. In Kansas, they can be found in coniferous forests and mixed woodlands, often near bodies of water.

Despite their small size, Saw-Whet Owls are fierce predators that feed on small rodents and birds. They’re notoriously elusive and can be challenging to spot due to their nocturnal habits and preference for dense foliage.

Did you know? The Northern Saw-Whet Owl got its unique name from one of its calls that was said to resemble the sound of a whetstone sharpening a saw.

Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
  • Size: 34-42 cm (13.4-16.5 in)
  • Weight: 206-475 g (7.3-16.8 oz)
  • Wingspan: 85-110 cm (33.5-43.3 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

Short-Eared Owls are medium-sized owls with unique hunting patterns. Unlike many other owl species, they are diurnal, hunting mostly in the early morning and late afternoon. In Kansas, they inhabit open country, including grasslands, prairies, agricultural fields, salt marshes, and tundra.

They have a unique buffy coloration and prominent black patches on the wings. The term “short-eared” refers to tiny ear tufts on their heads, which are often challenging to see. The owls primarily feed on small mammals, especially voles, but will also take birds.

Did you know? Short-Eared Owls are one of the most widely distributed birds in the world, found on all continents except Australia and Antarctica.

Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio otus
  • Size: 31-40 cm (12.2-15.7 in)
  • Weight: 178-435 g (6.3-15.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 86-100 cm (33.9-39.4 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

Long-Eared Owls, true to their name, have tufts of feathers that resemble ears, giving them a cat-like appearance. They are slim, medium-sized owls, predominantly brown and gray, with a distinct facial disc. In Kansas, they prefer dense woodlands, especially those adjacent to open grasslands or fields, as these environments are ideal for hunting.

These owls are strictly nocturnal and spend most of their day roosting in the thick foliage of trees, making them tough to spot. They primarily feed on small mammals, like mice and voles, but will also eat birds and insects.

Did you know? Despite their name, the Long-Eared Owl’s “ears” are actually feather tufts that help camouflage the owl by breaking up its silhouette.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl
  • Scientific Name: Athene cunicularia
  • Size: 19-28 cm (7.5-11.0 in)
  • Weight: 140-240 g (4.9-8.5 oz)
  • Wingspan: 50-61 cm (19.7-24.0 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Burrowing Owl is a small, long-legged owl found throughout open landscapes of North and South America. In Kansas, these owls are year-round residents and can often be found in grasslands, agricultural fields, and desert habitats. As their name suggests, Burrowing Owls nest in the ground, often in burrows dug by prairie dogs or other burrowing mammals.

Their diet primarily consists of insects and small mammals, but they have been known to eat small birds and reptiles as well. Unlike most owls, they are active during both the day and night.

Did you know? Burrowing Owls are one of the few owls who are active during the day, especially in the morning and late afternoon!

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 52-71 cm (20.5-28.0 in)
  • Weight: 1.6-2.9 kg (3.5-6.4 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49.2-59.1 in)
  • Time of the Year: Winter months

The Snowy Owl is a visitor to Kansas during the winter months. These large owls are one of the most recognizable species, with their snow-white plumage, bright yellow eyes, and massive size. They are birds of the Arctic tundra, migrating south during harsh winters when food is scarce.

In Kansas, they can be seen in open, treeless areas mimicking their tundra homes. They are known to hunt during the day, capturing prey ranging from small mammals, such as rodents, to large birds.

Did you know? Unlike most other owl species, male Snowy Owls are almost entirely white, while females and young owls have more flecks of black in their plumage.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Kansas

Kansas’s diverse range of habitats makes it a fantastic place to observe a variety of owl species. Here are some places and tips on how to spot these magnificent creatures:

  1. Great Plains Nature Center, Wichita: This area is an excellent location to see a variety of birds, including the Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl. Nature trails and a visitor center provide great opportunities for wildlife viewing.
  2. Clinton State Park, Lawrence: Nestled around Clinton Lake, this park’s varied habitats can host different owl species. Listen for the distinctive calls of the Eastern Screech Owl or the Northern Saw-whet Owl after sunset.
  3. Konza Prairie Biological Station, Manhattan: This tallgrass prairie preserve is a good spot to find the Burrowing Owl, particularly around prairie dog towns.
  4. Cheyenne Bottoms Wildlife Area, Great Bend: This important wetland is known for its waterfowl but also serves as a habitat for Short-Eared Owls.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Listen Carefully: Owls are most active during dusk and dawn, and listening for their calls can be the easiest way to find them.
  • Look for Owl Pellets: Owls regurgitate undigestible parts of their prey. Finding these ‘pellets’ can be a sign that owls are nearby.
  • Go with a Guide: If you’re new to birdwatching, consider joining an organized birdwatching tour or hiring a local guide. They can help you identify different species and understand more about their behaviors.
  • Respect their space: Keep a respectful distance, do not disturb the owls or their habitats, and avoid using flash photography, which can disorient and scare them.
  • Patience is key: Sometimes, finding owls can take time. Be patient and enjoy the experience of being in nature. Remember, the thrill of the search is part of the fun!

Happy birdwatching in Kansas! With a bit of patience and a keen eye, you’re sure to spot these remarkable birds of prey.

Owls in Other States

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