Michigan is a haven for bird lovers, and the state’s varied ecosystems make it home to a number of owl species. With its dense forests, sprawling wetlands, and rolling meadows, the landscape provides ideal habitats for these captivating birds.
This article aims to provide an in-depth exploration of the owl species that call Michigan their home, along with key information on where and how to spot them.
Owl Species Found in Michigan
Great Horned Owl
- Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
- Size: 45-63 cm (18-25 inches)
- Weight: 910-2500 g (2-5.5 lbs)
- Wingspan: 91-153 cm (36-60 inches)
- Time of the year: Year-round
Known as the tiger of the sky, the Great Horned Owl is the most common owl species in North America and is well-distributed throughout Michigan.
These owls are instantly recognizable by their large size and prominent ear tufts, or “horns,” which are not related to hearing. They have a cryptic coloration that helps them blend into their surroundings, making them harder to spot despite their size.
Great Horned Owls are adaptable and can inhabit a variety of ecosystems, including deciduous and evergreen forests, swamps, deserts, tundra edges, and even city parks. These predators are at the top of the food chain and have a diverse diet, which includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, and even other owls.
In Michigan, Great Horned Owls start breeding early in the year, often laying eggs when snow is still on the ground. They usually take over the nests of other large birds instead of building their own.
Did you know? Great Horned Owls have extremely strong talons, and their grip is estimated to be about 500 psi, which is comparable to the bite of a large guard dog. This strength allows them to capture and carry off prey much heavier than themselves.
Eastern Screech Owl
- Scientific name: Megascops asio
- Size: 16-25 cm (6.3-9.8 inches)
- Weight: 121-244 g (4.3-8.6 oz)
- Wingspan: 46-61 cm (18-24 inches)
- Time of the year: Year-round
Eastern Screech Owls are one of the smallest owl species, yet they are known for their distinct trilling call. In Michigan, these owls are year-round residents, although they are not as widely distributed as the Great Horned Owl. Eastern Screech Owls are masters of disguise. Their grey or red-brown feathers blend perfectly with the bark of the trees where they roost during the day.
The Eastern Screech Owl’s habitat is versatile, spanning wooded suburbs, orchards, woodlots, and forests. The diet of these owls is quite varied, ranging from small mammals and birds to insects and earthworms.
During the breeding season, Eastern Screech Owls nest in tree cavities, often using old woodpecker holes. In urban and suburban areas, they readily accept nest boxes.
Did you know? Eastern Screech Owls are known for their eerie, descending whinny call and a long, monotone trill. The sounds of these calls can help birdwatchers locate these small and elusive owls in the wild.
- Scientific name: Strix varia
- Size: 40-63 cm (16-25 inches)
- Weight: 500-1050 g (1.1-2.3 lbs)
- Wingspan: 96-125 cm (38-49 inches)
- Time of the year: Year-round
Barred Owls are known for their unique “Who cooks for you?” call, a vocalization that echoes through the forests of Michigan. These mid-sized owls have rounded heads without ear tufts, dark eyes, and a pattern of vertical brown bars on the chest contrasted by horizontal white bars on the belly, hence their name.
They inhabit dense, mature forests, especially near water. Their preferred habitats also extend to swamps and woodlands near rivers and lakes in Michigan. A perch-and-pounce predator, the Barred Owl’s diet consists primarily of small mammals, but they are also known to eat amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates.
Nesting occurs in tree cavities, although they occasionally utilize old nests of other bird species. Once paired, Barred Owls remain with the same mate for life.
Did you know? Unlike many other owl species that have yellow eyes, Barred Owls have dark brown to black eyes, which is one of their most distinctive features.
- Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
- Size: 53-65 cm (20.9-25.6 inches)
- Weight: 1.6-3 kg (3.5-6.6 lbs)
- Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49-59 inches)
- Time of the year: Primarily winter, though occasional sightings occur year-round
The Snowy Owl, famous for its representation in the Harry Potter series as Hedwig, is an enchanting sight for many birdwatchers in Michigan. Primarily seen in the winter months, these large, almost completely white owls migrate south from their Arctic breeding grounds.
Snowy Owls prefer open landscapes, mimicking the tundra environment of their breeding grounds. Thus, they are often seen perched on the ground or on low posts in open areas. This owl’s diet consists mainly of lemmings and other small mammals, but they also eat a variety of birds.
Despite their serene appearance, Snowy Owls are skilled predators. Using their keen sense of hearing and excellent daytime and nighttime vision, they can find and capture prey beneath thick vegetation and even snow.
Did you know? Unlike most owls, Snowy Owls are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, particularly at dawn and dusk.
- Scientific name: Tyto alba
- Size: 33-40 cm (13-15.7 inches)
- Weight: 430-620 g (15.2-21.9 oz)
- Wingspan: 80-95 cm (31.5-37.4 inches)
- Time of the year: Year-round, though more commonly spotted during the breeding season (spring to late summer)
Barn Owls are one of the most widespread owls globally, including in Michigan. Known for their distinctive heart-shaped facial disk and lack of ear tufts, they are among the most easily recognizable owl species.
Barn Owls prefer open habitats, such as fields, marshes, and meadows, where they can use their acute hearing to locate small mammal prey. They typically nest in cavities, such as tree hollows or, as their name suggests, in barns and other abandoned buildings.
The diet of a Barn Owl primarily includes small mammals, notably rodents, making them valuable for natural pest control. They hunt at night, using their exceptional hearing to locate their prey from above.
Did you know? When a Barn Owl locates its prey, it flies silently toward it, keeping its head in line with the target until the very last moment, when it uses its talons to strike.
- Scientific name: Asio flammeus
- Size: 34-43 cm (13.4-16.9 inches)
- Weight: 206-475 g (7.3-16.8 oz)
- Wingspan: 85-110 cm (33.5-43.3 inches)
- Time of the year: Year-round, but more prevalent during the winter months
Short-Eared Owls are one of the most widespread owl species in the world, found in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and many Pacific islands. These owls are medium-sized with mottled brown bodies, pale underparts, and yellow eyes. True to their name, they have short ear tufts that are often difficult to see.
In Michigan, these owls are often found in open, treeless areas such as grasslands and marshes. They roost on the ground during the day, becoming more active at dusk and dawn when they hunt for rodents and other small mammals.
Short-Eared Owls have a notable flight pattern that is buoyant and moth-like. This, combined with their habitat preferences, makes them one of the easier owl species to spot in the wild.
Did you know? The Short-Eared Owl is one of the few owl species that construct their own nests, usually on the ground in tall grass.
- Scientific name: Asio otus
- Size: 31-40 cm (12.2-15.7 inches)
- Weight: 178-435 g (6.3-15.3 oz)
- Wingspan: 90-100 cm (35.4-39.4 inches)
- Time of the year: Mostly in the winter months, though sightings can occur year-round
Long-Eared Owls, named for their prominent ear tufts, are medium-sized owls with an orange-brown facial disk and dark eye patches that give them an intense stare. They have long, rounded wings and a long tail.
In Michigan, they’re primarily winter residents, although some may reside year-round. They prefer dense stands of trees for roosting during the day, often communal roosts in the winter. At night, they venture out to open lands and fields to hunt for rodents and other small mammals.
These secretive owls are nocturnal and not often seen. Their cat-like ear tufts, which they erect when alarmed, help them blend in with the tree branches while they rest during the day.
Did you know? When a Long-Eared Owl feels threatened, it elongates its body and tightens its plumage to appear like a branch of a tree, which is an effective camouflage against potential threats.
Great Gray Owl
- Scientific name: Strix nebulosa
- Size: 61-84 cm (24-33 inches)
- Weight: 790-1450 g (1.7-3.2 lbs)
- Wingspan: 142-152 cm (56-60 inches)
- Time of the year: Mainly in the winter months
Great Gray Owls are the largest owl by length in North America and are distinguished by their large rounded head with no ear tufts, yellow eyes, and a gray face with white “bow tie” markings.
They prefer coniferous forests and other wooded areas where they hunt primarily small mammals such as voles and pocket gophers.
Great Gray Owls are not common in Michigan, but they do venture into the state, particularly the Upper Peninsula, during the winter months. These elusive birds are most active during the early morning and late evening hours.
Did you know? Despite being the largest owl by length, the Great Gray Owl is surprisingly light for its size due to its fluffy feathers. This lightness helps it to fly silently and catch prey unaware.
Northern Saw-Whet Owl
- Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
- Size: 18-20 cm (7.1-7.9 inches)
- Weight: 54-151 g (1.9-5.3 oz)
- Wingspan: 42-56.3 cm (16.5-22.2 inches)
- Time of the year: Year-round, but more visible during the winter
The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is one of the smallest owl species found in Michigan. These tiny owls have a round, light, white face with brown and cream streaks, large yellow eyes, and a dark bill. Their body is brown with white underparts dotted with brown streaks.
Northern Saw-Whet Owls are found in forested areas and are particularly fond of dense thickets and conifers. They are nocturnal, hunting small rodents and insects, and are seldom seen during the day.
In Michigan, these little owls can be found year-round, but they are more apparent during the winter months when they move to lower elevations.
Did you know? The Northern Saw-Whet Owl got its name from one of its calls, which was thought to sound similar to a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone.
Northern Hawk Owl
- Scientific name: Surnia ulula
- Size: 35-43 cm (13.8-16.9 inches)
- Weight: 300-400 g (10.6-14.1 oz)
- Wingspan: 69-80 cm (27.2-31.5 inches)
- Time of the year: Winter (irregularly)
The Northern Hawk Owl, true to its name, resembles a hawk in flight due to its long wings and tail. It has a round head, yellow eyes, and a streaked, white and brown belly. They are diurnal and often active during the day, which is unusual for most owl species.
These owls inhabit boreal forests and open woodland across the Northern Hemisphere. In Michigan, Northern Hawk Owls are seen primarily during the winter months, but they are not a common sight.
Did you know? Northern Hawk Owls have exceptional eyesight and can spot a mouse up to a half-mile away!
- Scientific name: Aegolius funereus
- Size: 22-27 cm (8.7-10.6 inches)
- Weight: 93-215 g (3.3-7.6 oz)
- Wingspan: 55-62 cm (21.7-24.4 inches)
- Time of the year: Year-round
The Boreal Owl, or Tengmalm’s owl, is a small and secretive owl that primarily lives in boreal forests. They have a large, round head with no ear tufts, yellow eyes, and white facial disks outlined in black, with brown upperparts and whitish underparts with dark streaks.
In Michigan, the Boreal Owl is typically found in the Upper Peninsula. They inhabit coniferous forests and are known to be quite elusive, often staying high in the tree canopy which makes them difficult to spot.
Did you know? Boreal Owls do not construct their own nests. Instead, they often use cavities created by other birds, such as woodpeckers, for nesting.
Where & How to Observe Owls in Michigan
Michigan, with its diverse landscapes ranging from dense forests to extensive wetlands, provides ample habitat for various owl species. Some of the best locations to spot these majestic creatures include:
- Isle Royale National Park: Known for its wilderness and biodiversity, this park located in Lake Superior is a great place to spot the Great Gray Owl.
- Tahquamenon Falls State Park: This park in the Upper Peninsula is ideal for seeing the Northern Hawk Owl, especially in winter.
- Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: This area provides excellent opportunities to observe the Eastern Screech Owl and the Great Horned Owl.
- Hartwick Pines State Park: Nestled in the Lower Peninsula, this park’s old-growth pine forest is a haven for the Barred Owl.
- Seney National Wildlife Refuge: Located in the Upper Peninsula, this refuge is a good spot to watch for the Short-Eared Owl.
Owls in Michigan can be found in various types of habitats including dense forests, open woodlands, wetlands, and even suburban areas.
For example, Great Horned Owls and Eastern Screech Owls can be found throughout the state in a variety of habitats, while species like the Boreal Owl and Northern Hawk Owl are more specific to the coniferous forests in the Upper Peninsula.
Quick Tips For Owl Spotting
- Listen for Owl Calls: Often, the first clue that an owl is near is its call. Learn the calls of different owl species to better identify them.
- Look for Owl Pellets: These clumps of indigestible material, such as bones and fur, are regurgitated by owls and can often be found beneath roosting spots.
- Watch at Dusk and Dawn: Many owls are most active during these times, which can increase your chances of spotting one.
- Patience and Silence: Owls can be elusive. Sit quietly and watch for any movement in the trees.
- Use a Flashlight: A flashlight can help spot owls in the dark. However, avoid shining it directly at the owl as it can disturb the bird.
- Join a Birdwatching Group or Guided Tour: Experienced guides can help you locate and identify local owl species.
Remember to respect nature and maintain a safe distance when observing these magnificent birds to ensure their habitats remain undisturbed.
Owls in Other States
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia