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

Missouri, the ‘Show Me State’, is well known for its diverse landscapes and wildlife. Among its wildlife are various owl species that call this state home. The nighttime forests, open fields, and even suburban parks in Missouri come alive with the haunting hoots of these nocturnal hunters.

This article serves as a guide to introduce you to the owls of Missouri, help you identify them, and provide tips on where to spot them.

Owl Species Found in Missouri

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 46–63 cm (18–24.8 in)
  • Weight: 910–2,500 g (2–5.5 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 101–145 cm (39.7–57 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl species commonly seen in Missouri, earning it the moniker “tiger of the skies”. Its name comes from the large ear tufts that appear like horns.

This owl species has a distinctive call, a series of deep hoots that echo through the night, making it often heard before it’s seen. The plumage varies from a reddish brown to grey or black and white.

Great Horned Owls are adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats, from dense forests to open fields and even suburban areas. They are known for their broad diet that includes rabbits, rodents, birds, and even other raptors.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl is one of the earliest nesting birds. Instead of building their own nests, they prefer to occupy nests built by other species, especially Red-tailed Hawks.

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 (18-24 inches)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Eastern Screech Owl is one of the smallest owl species found in Missouri, but don’t let its size fool you. This owl is a fierce and versatile predator, known to take a variety of prey ranging from insects and small rodents to birds and reptiles.

Eastern Screech Owls come in two primary color morphs, gray and rufous, and their intricate pattern helps them blend seamlessly into the tree bark.

Despite their name, these owls do not screech but emit a soft trill and a haunting whinny-like call. They can adapt to human-altered environments and are often found in city parks and suburban areas, making them one of the most frequently encountered owls in the region.

Did you know? Eastern Screech Owls are cavity nesters and will readily use nest boxes. This makes them a great species for backyard birders looking to attract owls to their property.

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 is another one of the more commonly seen owls in Missouri. Known for their soulful brown eyes and distinctive brown and white barred plumage, Barred Owls are a beloved species among birders.

They have a characteristic vocalization that sounds like they are saying “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” making them one of the easier owls to identify by sound.

Barred Owls are old forest species and prefer to live in mature forests with a mixture of trees and open spaces. They tend to stay near bodies of water, where they hunt a varied diet of small mammals, birds, amphibians, and invertebrates. Unlike some other owl species, Barred Owls are not migratory and will remain within their territory year-round.

Did you know? Barred Owls are known for their aggressive defense of their nests and are not afraid to dive-bomb humans who venture too close to their young!

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 32–40 cm (12.6–15.7 in)
  • Weight: 430–620 g (0.9–1.4 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 107–110 cm (42–43.3 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Barn Owl, with its distinctive heart-shaped face, pale coloration, and eerie screeching calls, is a species often associated with superstition and folklore. This silent hunter primarily feeds on small rodents, making it a great form of natural pest control for farmers.

In Missouri, Barn Owls are commonly found in open habitats like grasslands, marshes, agricultural fields, and indeed, barns, from which they get their name. Their ability to live in close proximity to humans has made them one of the world’s most widespread birds, but in some areas, their population is under threat due to changing farming practices.

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

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 17–22 cm (6.7–8.7 in)
  • Weight: 54–151 g (1.9–5.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 42–56.3 cm (16.5–22.2 in)
  • Time of the Year: Primarily spotted in the non-breeding season (fall and winter)

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl, named for its call that is similar to the sound of a saw being sharpened, is a small and secretive species. With their oversized heads, bright yellow eyes, and no ear tufts, they are as cute as they are elusive.

Despite their small size, they are mighty hunters, mainly preying on small rodents. They are nocturnal and roost during the day in dense foliage, making them quite challenging to spot.

They are found primarily in dense forests and prefer areas near water bodies. During the non-breeding season, some individuals may migrate southward, increasing their visibility in Missouri.

Did you know? The Northern Saw-Whet Owl gets its unusual name from one of its calls, which was said to sound like a saw being whet (sharpened)!

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: Year-round

The Long-Eared Owl, aptly named for its tall ear tufts, exhibits a rather shy and secretive behavior. This medium-sized owl is recognized by its long, slender body and large orange eyes. They inhabit mixed coniferous and deciduous forests, often near open country, making them fairly widespread in Missouri.

Long-Eared Owls primarily hunt at night, preferring small mammals, but will also take birds if the opportunity presents itself. During the day, they roost in dense foliage, often communal in the non-breeding season, lending them an aura of mystery that only adds to their appeal.

Did you know? Despite the name, the ear tufts of the Long-Eared Owl are not ears at all, but tufts of feathers that are raised or lowered to communicate mood or blend into their surroundings!

Short-Eared Owl

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: Mostly during winter

The Short-Eared Owl, distinguished by its rounded head and small ear tufts, is a sight to behold. This species is notable for its preference for open habitats like prairies, marshes, and agricultural fields. Missouri’s diverse landscape offers ideal environments for this species, primarily during the winter.

Short-Eared Owls are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active during the dawn and dusk. They hunt by flying low over open ground, scanning for small mammals like voles, their primary food source.

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

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 52–71 cm (20–28 in)
  • Weight: 1.6–3 kg (3.5–6.6 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 125–150 cm (49–59 in)
  • Time of the Year: Winter

One of the most iconic and easily recognizable owl species is the Snowy Owl. With their distinctive white plumage, large size, and striking yellow eyes, they’re a favorite among bird watchers and Harry Potter fans alike. In Missouri, they’re mostly winter visitors and can be seen in open habitats like fields and airports.

The diet of Snowy Owls primarily consists of lemmings, but when those are scarce, they can switch to other rodents, birds, and even fish. Unlike most owls, Snowy Owls are diurnal and can be seen hunting both day and night.

Did you know? Female Snowy Owls are slightly larger than males and have more dark spots on their plumage, which may provide better camouflage while nesting.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Missouri

Owls are truly fascinating creatures, and Missouri offers a splendid array of species for bird enthusiasts to enjoy. Some of the most fruitful places to encounter these magnificent birds are regions with diverse habitats, including forested areas, open prairies, and even city parks.

State parks and conservation areas such as the Forest Park in St. Louis, Busch Conservation Area in St. Charles, and Katy Trail State Park are excellent places to begin your owl-spotting adventures. During the winter months, the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary can offer a rare glimpse of the majestic Snowy Owl.

The species you’ll encounter will largely depend on the habitat. For instance, the Great Horned Owl and the Eastern Screech Owl can be found in wooded areas, while the Barred Owl is commonly seen in swamps and wet woodlands. The Barn Owl prefers farmland and open country, while the Northern Saw-Whet Owl inhabits dense thickets and forests.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  1. Time of Day: Owls are primarily nocturnal, so your best chance of spotting them is at dusk or dawn. However, some species like the Snowy Owl can be seen during the day as well.
  2. Listen Carefully: Owls have distinctive calls that can help identify them. Spend some time learning their different calls to increase your chances of spotting one.
  3. Bring Binoculars: Owls can be quite elusive and are often found perched high in trees or hidden among foliage. Binoculars can help you get a closer look without disturbing them.
  4. Look for Signs: Pay attention to signs of their presence such as pellets, whitewash (droppings), or feathers. These can often lead you to roosting or nesting owls.
  5. Patience is Key: Remember, spotting owls can require patience and a bit of luck. Take your time and enjoy the process of being in nature.

Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher or a casual nature enthusiast, spotting these elusive creatures in the wild can be an exciting and rewarding experience. Good luck and happy owl spotting in the beautiful state of Missouri!

Owls in Other States

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