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

Welcome to our guide on the owls of Nebraska! The state’s diverse landscapes, from the rolling Sandhills to the banks of the Missouri River, provide rich habitats that support a wonderful variety of owl species.

In this article, we’ll introduce you to the nine species you might encounter in Nebraska, including their unique traits, behaviors, and the best times to spot them.

Owl Species Found in Nebraska

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 45-63 cm (18-25 in) in length
  • 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, named for the tufts of feathers that resemble horns on its head, is one of the most widespread and easily recognized owls in North America. This powerful predator is known for its adaptability, able to thrive in a wide range of habitats in Nebraska, from woodlands to urban parks.

They are primarily nocturnal and are known for their deep, resonating hoot that can be heard at great distances. Their diet is varied, consisting of everything from small rodents to larger prey like ducks and even other raptors.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl doesn’t actually have horns! Those distinctive ear tufts are merely feathers set in a way to resemble horns or ears, contributing to their imposing presence. They serve various purposes, such as improving camouflage and helping communicate their mood or intentions to other owls.

Eastern Screech Owl

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

The Eastern Screech Owl is a small yet feisty nocturnal predator found throughout Nebraska. Despite its small size, this owl is a versatile hunter that takes on a wide range of prey, from insects and small mammals to birds and reptiles. The Eastern Screech Owl prefers woodland habitats but can adapt to suburban and urban areas where trees are present.

These owls are known for their distinctive trilling calls, which can send a chill down your spine if you hear them in the quiet of the night. They exhibit an interesting behavior of “wing-clapping” beneath the canopy of trees, thought to be a threat display.

Did you know? Eastern Screech Owls are masters of disguise. Their gray or red-brown feathers perfectly mimic tree bark, making them nearly invisible in their tree-hole nests during the day.

Barred Owl

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

The Barred Owl, a large, round-headed owl known for its soulful eyes and distinctive hoot, is another common resident in Nebraska. This owl prefers mature forests near water bodies but can also be found in mixed forests and wooded swamps.

They are quite sedentary, preferring to stay within a limited range. Their haunting call, which sounds like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” is a common nighttime sound in their preferred habitats. This species mainly hunts at night but can sometimes be seen hunting during the day, especially during the nesting season.

Did you know? Barred Owls are among the most vocal owls. Beyond their famous hoot, they make a wide array of other sounds, including barks, hoots, laughs, and screams, each conveying different messages to their peers.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 33-39 cm (13-15 in) in length
  • 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 one of the most distinctive and widespread owl species, gracing the night skies of Nebraska with their presence.

Named for their propensity to roost in abandoned barns and other buildings, these birds have heart-shaped, white faces and light, buff-colored bodies punctuated with spots. They prefer open habitats with scattered trees or human-made structures like barns or old buildings where they can roost and nest.

Barn Owls are silent hunters, flying low over open fields at night to catch small mammals like mice and rats. Their exceptional hearing aids them in locating prey, even under snow or in complete darkness.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, Barn Owls do not hoot. Instead, they emit a chilling, raspy screech that can be quite unnerving when heard at night.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 18-21 cm (7-8 in) in length
  • 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 diminutive bird that calls the forests of Nebraska home. Don’t let their small size fool you though, these are fierce predators, primarily feeding on small mammals, with a preference for deer mice. Saw-whets have a catlike face, oversized head, and bright yellow eyes.

They prefer dense, coniferous forests or mixed woodlands, especially near swampy areas. As cavity nesters, they often take advantage of old woodpecker holes to roost and nest.

Did you know? The Northern Saw-Whet Owl got its name from its alarm call, which sounds like the whetting (sharpening) of a saw. They’re often more heard than seen due to their preference for dense forest habitats.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl
  • Scientific Name: Athene cunicularia
  • Size: 19-28 cm (7.5-11 inches)
  • Weight: 140-240 g (4.9-8.5 oz)
  • Wingspan: 50-61 cm (19.7-24 inches)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

Unusual among owls, the Burrowing Owl is a ground-dwelling species predominantly found in prairies and open fields of Nebraska. These birds are distinguishable by their long legs, round heads with no ear tufts, and short tails. Their body is speckled with brown and white spots, providing camouflage when they stand near the entrance of their burrows.

Burrowing Owls are primarily active at dusk and dawn, although they can be seen at other times too. Their diet includes insects, small mammals, and occasionally, small birds.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, the Burrowing Owl is often active during the day, although it tends to avoid the midday heat. But like many other birds, it still does most of its hunting from dusk until dawn, when it can use its night vision and hearing to its advantage.

Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio otus
  • Size: 31-40 cm (12-16 in) in length
  • Weight: 178-435 g (6.3-15.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 90-100 cm (35-39 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Long-Eared Owl is an enigmatic species that often remains concealed in the daytime. This medium-sized owl is named for its long ear tufts that resemble mammalian ears, a trait shared with only a few other owl species. Its body is mottled with different shades of brown, aiding in camouflage against the bark of trees.

Long-Eared Owls prefer dense forests interspersed with open fields for hunting. They’re primarily nocturnal, feeding mostly on small mammals.

Did you know? The Long-Eared Owl’s ear tufts are not related to hearing at all. Instead, they are thought to be used for communication and to enhance their camouflage against tree bark.

Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
  • Size: 34-43 cm (13-17 in) in length
  • 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 is a medium-sized owl known for its short ear tufts, which are often difficult to see. It is one of the most widely distributed owls, occurring on all continents except Australia and Antarctica. In Nebraska, this owl prefers open landscapes, such as grasslands and marshes.

Short-Eared Owls are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active during dawn and dusk. They feed mainly on small mammals, but will also eat birds. Their flight is characteristically floppy due to their long wings.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, which are solitary, Short-Eared Owls have been known to form communal roosts in winter, with dozens or even hundreds of individuals sharing the same area.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 52-71 cm (20.5-28 inches)
  • Weight: 1.6-2.9 kg (3.5-6.4 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49.2-59.1 inches)
  • Time of the Year: Winter

The Snowy Owl, a symbol of the far northern wilderness, makes occasional appearances in Nebraska during the winter. This large, powerful owl is white with variable amounts of black or brown markings, which provide excellent camouflage in their snowy habitat. They are well-known for their strikingly bright yellow eyes.

These owls prefer open fields and farmlands. They hunt during both day and night, feeding primarily on small mammals, especially lemmings and voles.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, Snowy Owls are diurnal and do most of their hunting in the daylight hours. This is likely an adaptation to the 24-hour daylight of their Arctic breeding grounds.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Nebraska

Nebraska, with its diverse ecosystems ranging from tallgrass prairies in the east to the Sandhills prairies and Pine Ridge forests in the west, is a haven for a variety of owl species. The state’s vast wilderness areas, rural landscapes, and numerous parks make it an excellent place for owl spotting.

Here are some top spots:

  1. Fontenelle Forest Nature Center: Located near Omaha, this nature center boasts more than 2,000 acres of forest, wetlands, and prairies. It’s a great spot for spotting the Great Horned Owl or Barred Owl.
  2. Indian Cave State Park: This state park, known for its hardwood forest and bluff-top views, is a good place to spot Eastern Screech Owls and Great Horned Owls.
  3. Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area and Nature Center: In the western part of the state, this area is known for its rugged buttes and Pine Ridge forests, an ideal habitat for Northern Saw-Whet Owls.

Owls in Nebraska can be found in a variety of habitats. Great Horned Owls, for instance, are adaptable birds that can be found everywhere from tidewater maritime to desert. Eastern Screech Owls are found in deciduous forests, and Short-Eared Owls in open landscapes, such as grasslands and marshes.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  1. Time your visit: Most owls are nocturnal, so the best time to see them is at dawn or dusk.
  2. Listen for calls: Owls are vocal, especially during the breeding season. Learning their different calls can help locate them.
  3. Look for pellets: Owls regurgitate pellets containing fur and bones. If you find these under a tree, look up – you may spot an owl.
  4. Take binoculars: A good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope can help you spot owls from a distance without disturbing them.
  5. Check cavity trees: Many owl species, like the Northern Saw-Whet Owl, nest in tree cavities. Look for them in forests with mature trees.
  6. Go with a guide: Consider joining a guided bird-watching tour. Local guides will know the best spots and can help you identify different species.

Remember, while spotting owls can be an exciting experience, it’s important to respect their space and not disturb their natural behaviors. Happy owl spotting in Nebraska!

Owls in Other States

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