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All 8 Owl Species Found in Maryland (With Pictures & Info)

Maryland’s diverse landscapes, ranging from Atlantic coastlines and farmland to mountainous regions, provide an array of habitats that make it a haven for a variety of wildlife, including several species of owls. These mysterious birds of the night have fascinated us with their silent flight, echoing calls, and glaring eyes shining in the dark.

This article will guide you through an exploration of the owls native to Maryland, offering insights into their characteristics and habitats, as well as tips for spotting these enigmatic creatures in the wild.

Owl Species Found in Maryland

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 46–63 cm (18–25 in)
  • Weight: 910–2500 g (2–5.5 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 101–145 cm (40–57 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

As one of the most ubiquitous owls in North America, the Great Horned Owl is a familiar sight in Maryland. Notably large and with a set of distinct ear tufts, this owl is often one of the first species people think of when they imagine these nocturnal birds.

Sporting brilliant yellow eyes and impressive stature, the Great Horned Owl is an extraordinary hunter, able to take down prey much larger than itself, thanks to its powerful talons.

Its adaptability allows it to inhabit a range of environments, from deciduous forests and swamps to desert regions and urbanized city parks. Despite being active mainly at night, they can occasionally be spotted during the day, perched high up in the trees or on tall structures. They are not migratory, so they can be seen in Maryland throughout the year.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl’s eyes don’t move in their sockets. To look around, the owl has to move its entire head, which can turn up to 270 degrees in either direction!

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: 47–61 cm (18.5–24 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Eastern Screech Owl may be small in size, but it is formidable in its hunting skills. Its petite size and ear tufts, along with its variation in color from gray to red, make it a distinctive sight. The sounds this owl produces range from soft purrs to eerily haunting tremolos, adding to the mystique of this creature.

These owls are just as versatile as the Great Horned Owls when it comes to their habitats, residing in woodlands, forests, and even suburban and urban areas. They nest in tree cavities and adapt well to human-modified landscapes. Birdhouses often attract these owls, and they return the favor by keeping the local rodent population in check. In Maryland, the Eastern Screech Owl can be spotted throughout the year.

Did you know? Eastern Screech Owls are masters of disguise. When threatened, they elongate their bodies and compress their feathers to resemble a branch or tree stub, effectively camouflaging themselves from potential predators!

Barred Owl

Barred Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix varia
  • Size: 40–63 cm (16–25 in)
  • Weight: 500–1050 g (1.1–2.3 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 96–125 cm (38–49 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Barred Owl, named for the bar-like pattern on its chest, is a relatively large species native to the Eastern United States. With its soulful brown eyes and distinctive “Who cooks for you?” call, this owl has charmed bird watchers in Maryland and beyond.

The Barred Owl prefers wooded habitats near water and is quite adept at hunting in the dark, snagging prey from the ground, trees, or even water surfaces.

While Barred Owls are mostly nocturnal, they can sometimes be active during the day, particularly during their breeding season. Unlike many other owl species, Barred Owls are not migratory and can be seen in Maryland all year round.

Did you know? The Barred Owl’s call is one of the most recognizable of any North American owl. It sounds like they are asking “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” This call can carry quite far, especially on calm, moonlit nights!

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 33–39 cm (13–15 in)
  • Weight: 224–710 g (0.49–1.6 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 80–95 cm (31–37 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

Often referred to as the “ghost owl” due to its pale coloration and silent flight, the Barn Owl is a beloved sight in Maryland. This species is globally distributed, and its heart-shaped facial disk is unmistakable. As its name suggests, the Barn Owl often chooses man-made structures like barns and church steeples as nesting sites, although it can also be found in hollow trees and caves.

Barn Owls are superb hunters, using their incredible hearing to locate rodents in complete darkness or under heavy vegetation cover. Although they’re primarily nocturnal, Barn Owls can occasionally be seen hunting in the early morning or late afternoon. Like other owl species mentioned, Barn Owls can be spotted year-round in Maryland.

Did you know? The Barn Owl doesn’t hoot like many other owl species. Instead, it emits a chilling screech that can be quite unnerving when heard for the first time!

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 18–22 cm (7–8.7 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, a pint-sized bird, is one of the smallest owl species found in Maryland. It has a round head with no ear tufts, yellow eyes, and white facial feathers. This owl, aptly named for its alarm call that sounds like a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone, is a year-round resident of Maryland.

These secretive birds prefer dense thickets and forested habitats and can often be found in both coniferous and mixed woodlands. Even though they’re quite common, their size and quiet behavior make them challenging to spot. At night, they’re active hunters, and their diet mainly consists of small mammals, particularly mice.

Did you know? Despite their small size, Northern Saw-Whet Owls can catch prey larger than themselves. They’ll eat what they can and save the rest for later!

Short-Eared Owls

Short-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
  • Size: 34–43 cm (13–17 in)
  • Weight: 206–475 g (7.3–16.8 oz)
  • Wingspan: 85–110 cm (33–43 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Short-Eared Owl, a medium-sized owl with a broad wingspan, is known for its distinctive ear tufts that are often tough to see, hence the name “short-eared”. This owl has a cosmopolitan distribution, meaning it can be found all around the world. In Maryland, they’re most commonly spotted in the winter months.

Short-Eared Owls prefer open fields and marshes where they hunt mostly during the early morning and late evening hours. They’re known to put on quite a show when they’re courting, with a variety of aerial displays. Their diet primarily consists of small mammals, but they’ve also been known to eat birds.

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

Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio otus
  • Size: 31–40 cm (12–16 in)
  • Weight: 178–435 g (6.3–15.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 86–100 cm (34–39 in)
  • Time of the Year: Winter

The Long-Eared Owl, true to its name, is distinguished by its long ear tufts that stick straight up like antennae. This medium-sized owl can be found in Maryland during the winter months, mainly in dense forests or wooded areas near open fields.

This species is primarily nocturnal, resting by day in well-hidden areas, and its superb camouflage allows it to blend in with tree bark. It hunts at night for small mammals, particularly voles, and birds, often swooping down from a low perch to capture its prey.

Did you know? The Long-Eared Owl’s ear tufts are not ears at all, but just feathers that help them blend in with their surroundings and communicate with other owls.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 53–65 cm (21–26 in)
  • Weight: 1.6–2.9 kg (3.5–6.4 lb)
  • Wingspan: 125–150 cm (49–59 in)
  • Time of the Year: Winter

Snowy Owls are easy to identify thanks to their stunning white plumage. Native to the Arctic tundra, these large, charismatic owls are not commonly seen in Maryland but may appear during the winter in open fields, beaches, or airports, particularly during irruption years when their population in the north exceeds the food supply.

These owls are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, especially at dawn and dusk. They mainly eat small mammals, with lemmings being their favorite, but they’re also known to hunt medium-sized mammals and birds.

Did you know? In Harry Potter, Hedwig, Harry’s loyal pet and companion, is a Snowy Owl. This led to an increase in the popularity of these birds as pets, even though they’re not suitable for most people to keep due to their specialized needs.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Maryland

Maryland’s varied landscapes provide suitable habitats for a number of owl species. The Great Horned Owl and Eastern Screech Owl can be found throughout the state in woods and forests. On the other hand, the Barred Owl prefers older forests with a mixture of deciduous trees and conifers near water.

Open agricultural areas, old fields, and marshes are the preferred habitats of the Short-Eared Owl, while the Barn Owl is usually found in open grasslands and marshes.

The Snowy Owl is more elusive, but during the winter, it can sometimes be spotted in open areas, such as fields or along the coast. Northern Saw-Whet Owls are found in dense thickets or conifers, often at eye level, although they’re more often heard than seen.

You can potentially spot owls in several locations, including:

  • Catoctin Mountain Park
  • Assateague Island National Seashore
  • Patapsco Valley State Park
  • Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge
  • Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Time of day: Owls are primarily nocturnal, but some species, like the Snowy Owl, are active during the day, especially at dawn and dusk.
  • Listen: Many owls have distinctive calls that can carry over long distances. Learning these sounds can help you locate these birds.
  • Look up: Owls often roost in trees during the day. Look for signs like pellets and white-wash under trees, which might indicate a roosting spot above.
  • Patience is key: Owls are well-camouflaged and can remain still for long periods of time.
  • Respect their space: If an owl is disturbed and flies away when you approach, you’re too close. Give them plenty of space to ensure their comfort and safety.
  • Use a guide: Consider using a guided tour or a local birding group, as experienced guides know where owls are likely to be seen.

Remember that while spotting these magnificent creatures can be an exhilarating experience, it’s essential to observe them from a distance and respect their habitats. Happy birdwatching!

Owls in Other States

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