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All 12 Owl Species Found in Minnesota (With Pictures & Info)

Minnesota, known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” is a vast state with a rich and diverse array of wildlife. This includes a splendid collection of owl species that inhabit its forests, grasslands, and even suburban neighborhoods.

The state’s climate, natural resources, and varied landscapes provide suitable habitats for these magnificent creatures, each with their unique characteristics and behaviors.

In this article, we will delve into the different owl species you can find in Minnesota, providing essential details and fascinating facts about each of them.

Owl Species Found in Minnesota

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 46-63 cm (18-24.8 inches)
  • Weight: 910-2500 g (2-5.5 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 91-153 cm (36-60.2 inches)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Great Horned Owl, also known as the Tiger of the Skies, is the most common owl species in Minnesota. This versatile bird has adapted to a variety of habitats, from dense forests to open farmlands.

The owl is known for its tufted ears, large yellow eyes, and deep hooting voice. These formidable hunters have a varied diet and are known to take down prey larger than themselves, including rabbits and other owls.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl is one of the earliest nesting birds in North America, often laying eggs weeks or even months before other raptorial birds.

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl
  • Scientific name: Megascops asio
  • Size: 16-25 cm (6.3-9.8 inches)
  • Weight: 121-244 g (4.3-8.6 ounces)
  • Wingspan: 46-61 cm (18.1-24 inches)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Eastern Screech Owl is a master of disguise. Its grey or reddish-brown plumage allows it to blend seamlessly into the bark of trees. These owls, despite their name, don’t actually screech. Their voice is a series of soft, melodious hoots.

They are commonly found in woodlands and forests, as well as suburban and urban areas throughout Minnesota.

Did you know? The Eastern Screech Owl is known to be an opportunistic feeder, consuming a wide range of prey, from insects and small rodents to birds and reptiles. They are one of the few animals that will eat Eastern tent caterpillars, which many birds avoid due to their unpleasant taste and the hairs on their bodies.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl
  • Scientific name: Strix varia
  • Size: 40-63 cm (15.7-24.8 inches)
  • Weight: 500-1050 g (1.1-2.3 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 96-125 cm (37.8-49.2 inches)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Barred Owl, an intriguing species that prefers deep woods and swampy forests, is notable for its dark eyes set against its pale face. The streaks running down its chest form a pattern that resembles bars, hence the name “Barred Owl”.

Their hooting call is distinctive and often described as sounding like they’re saying, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” These owls are sedentary, meaning they remain in their territory all year long.

They roost during the day in tree cavities or on branches and are most active during the night when they hunt for a wide range of small animals. Observing their behavior and trying to spot them can be a joy for bird watchers in Minnesota throughout the year.

Did you know? In contrast to many owl species, the Barred Owl will occasionally venture out to hunt during the day, particularly when it’s overcast or during nesting season when the demand for food is high.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 52-71 cm (20.5-28 inches)
  • Weight: 1040-2950 g (2.3-6.5 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49.2-59.1 inches)
  • Time of the Year: Winter

The Snowy Owl, an iconic species native to the Arctic, is a stately figure in the winter landscapes of Minnesota. They’re instantly recognizable by their white plumage, which provides excellent camouflage in their snowy habitat, and piercing yellow eyes.

During the colder months, these birds will migrate south to escape the harshest Arctic conditions. In Minnesota, they favor open fields and marshes where they perch on fence posts or on the ground while hunting for rodents.

They’re larger than most other owl species, and their unique appearance, characterized by a rounded head with no ear tufts, sets them apart. Despite their serene demeanor, these owls are skilled hunters, capable of capturing sizable prey including lemmings, rabbits, and waterfowl.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, Snowy Owls are diurnal, meaning they’re active during the day. This behavior is likely an adaptation to the long summer days in the Arctic, where the sun barely sets.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 32-40 cm (13-15.7 inches)
  • Weight: 224-710 g (0.49-1.56 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 80-95 cm (31.5-37.4 inches)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

Easily recognized by its heart-shaped facial disc, the Barn Owl is an iconic species that inhabits agricultural lands and open country. The pale, buff color of their plumage and their eerie, raspy calls have earned them nicknames such as “ghost owl” or “demon owl”.

In Minnesota, these birds are residents throughout the year, often nesting in old buildings, church steeples, and, of course, barns – hence their name.

Barn Owls are supreme hunters, using their incredible hearing to locate rodents in complete darkness. They’re largely nocturnal, venturing out at night to hunt for small mammals like mice and voles.

Did you know? The Barn Owl doesn’t hoot like most owl species. Instead, it emits a drawn-out, eerie screech, often startling those unfamiliar with this call.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl
  • Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
  • Size: 19-28 cm (7.5-11 inches)
  • Weight: 140-240 g (0.3-0.5 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 50-61 cm (19.7-24 inches)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Burrowing Owl is a small, long-legged species found in grasslands, deserts, and other open habitats. It gets its name from its unique nesting behavior – unlike most owls, it lives in burrows in the ground, often those abandoned by prairie dogs or ground squirrels.

Their bright yellow eyes, white eyebrows, and speckled brown plumage make them distinctive. During the day, you might spot them standing upright near their burrow or perched on a fence post. Their diet consists mainly of insects and small rodents.

Unfortunately, the Burrowing Owl is endangered in Minnesota, primarily due to habitat loss, but conservation efforts are ongoing to protect these captivating creatures.

Did you know? The Burrowing Owl often collects mammal dung and places it around its burrow. This dung attracts beetles, which the owl then catches and eats. Talk about using your surroundings to your advantage!

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 18-21 cm (7.1-8.3 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

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is one of the smallest owl species in North America, and it resides in Minnesota year-round. Despite its small size, it is quite resilient and adaptable. With its distinctive large head and yellow eyes, this bird is a sight to behold. They prefer dense forests, where their mottled brown plumage provides excellent camouflage against tree bark. They mostly feed on small mammals, especially mice. The call of the male Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a rhythmic, repetitive, tooting whistle, which carries over long distances through its woodland home.

Did you know? The Northern Saw-Whet Owl gets its name from one of its calls that supposedly sounds like a saw being whetted (sharpened).

Northern Hawk Owl

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: 70-84 cm (27.6-33.1 inches)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round, but more common in winter

The Northern Hawk Owl is a unique species with a hawk-like appearance and behavior, hence the name. These owls prefer the open landscapes of the northern boreal forest and are known for their long tails and smooth, rounded heads.

They are most active during the day (diurnal), unlike many other owls, and their diet includes small mammals and birds.

Their flight is strong and swift, resembling that of a raptor, making them quite efficient hunters. In Minnesota, these owls are more commonly seen in the winter months.

Did you know? Northern Hawk Owls have exceptional eyesight. They can spot a vole to eat up to half a mile away, even in the dim light of the boreal forest.

Long-Eared Owl

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

Named for its distinctively long ear tufts, the Long-Eared Owl is a medium-sized owl that favors dense forests for roosting and open fields for hunting. Their long wings and agile flight allow them to silently hunt for small mammals, their primary prey, in the darkness.

These owls have a fascinating communal habit, often roosting in groups of a few to a few dozen during winter. Long-Eared Owls are most commonly seen during the winter months in Minnesota, where they gather in communal roosts.

Did you know? Despite their name, the “ears” of the Long-Eared Owl are not ears at all, but rather tufts of feathers called plumicorns.

Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl
  • 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

The Short-Eared Owl, recognized by its small ear tufts, is a bird of open grasslands. This owl species is among the most widely distributed owls in the world, and it’s found in the open country of all continents except Antarctica and Australia.

They are one of the few owls that are primarily diurnal, doing most of their hunting in the early morning and late afternoon. Their diet consists of mainly small mammals. In Minnesota, Short-Eared Owls can be spotted year-round.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, Short-Eared Owls often build their own nests instead of occupying the old nests of other birds.

Great Gray Owl

Great Grey Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix nebulosa
  • Size: 61-84 cm (24-33 inches)
  • Weight: 790-1450 g (27.9-51.1 oz)
  • Wingspan: 142 cm (55.9 inches)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round, though sightings are uncommon

The Great Gray Owl is a large, imposing bird with piercing yellow eyes and a round face framed by a large facial disc. This owl, named for its greyish-brown plumage, is the largest in North America by length.

Despite its size, it preys mostly on small mammals, captured under the snow in wintertime. In Minnesota, Great Gray Owls are found mainly in the northeastern counties, especially in heavily forested areas with adjacent open spaces for hunting.

Did you know? The Great Gray Owl is more often heard than seen. Its deep, resonant hooting can travel great distances through its forest home.

Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius funereus
  • Size: 21-28 cm (8.3-11 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, but sightings are rare

The Boreal Owl is a small owl with a large head and no ear tufts. It is named for the boreal forests that are its preferred habitat. This elusive owl is most active during the night, hunting for small mammals, especially voles.

Boreal Owls are found in the northern regions of Minnesota, where their preferred boreal forest habitat is prevalent. Due to their secretive nature, sightings are infrequent, making every encounter a special treat for bird watchers.

Did you know? Boreal Owls are also known as “Tengmalm’s Owl” in Europe, named after the Swedish naturalist Peter Gustaf Tengmalm.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Minnesota

Spotting owls in Minnesota can be a thrilling experience, particularly due to the wide variety of species available throughout the state. Here are some key locations and habitats where you can find these magnificent birds:

  • Sax-Zim Bog: Located in northeastern Minnesota, the Sax-Zim Bog is a renowned birding hotspot. In the winter months, it attracts birdwatchers from around the world, hoping to catch a glimpse of Great Gray Owls, Northern Hawk Owls, and more.
  • Superior National Forest: This massive national forest in northeastern Minnesota offers ample owl-spotting opportunities, particularly for Boreal Owls, Great Horned Owls, and Northern Saw-whet Owls.
  • Carlos Avery Wildlife Management Area: This wildlife management area in Anoka County is home to a variety of owl species, including the Barred Owl and Eastern Screech Owl.
  • Minneapolis and St. Paul Metropolitan Area: Believe it or not, urban and suburban areas can also be excellent places to spot owls. Parks and green spaces within the cities can often be home to Eastern Screech Owls and Great Horned Owls.

Remember, owls can be found in a variety of habitats, from deep forests to open prairies and even urban parks. Different species prefer different habitats, so it’s essential to research the specific species you’re hoping to spot.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Time Your Visit: Owls are mostly nocturnal, so your best chance to spot them is around dusk and dawn. However, some species are crepuscular (active during twilight) or may even hunt during the day in the wintertime.
  • Move Quietly and Respectfully: Owls can be easily disturbed, so move quietly and keep a respectful distance. Use binoculars or a spotting scope for a closer view.
  • Listen for Owl Calls: Often, you’ll hear an owl before you see one. Learn the calls of different species to help identify them.
  • Look for Owl Signs: Look for signs of owl activity, such as pellets, whitewash (droppings), or feathers.
  • Join a Guided Tour: If you’re new to birdwatching or owl-spotting, consider joining a guided tour. Local birding guides know the best locations and times to find specific species.
  • Dress Appropriately: Dress for the weather, and consider wearing muted colors to blend into the surroundings.

Remember, patience is key when it comes to spotting owls. They can be elusive, but the thrill of spotting one is well worth the wait. Happy birding!

Owls in Other States

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