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All 11 Owl Species Found in New Hampshire (With Pictures & Info)

Nestled in the northeastern United States, New Hampshire boasts an array of diverse ecosystems that support a rich diversity of birdlife. Particularly fascinating among them are the owls, the nocturnal birds of prey with an uncanny ability to stir human imagination.

In this guide, we’ll explore the various owl species that call New Hampshire home and provide tips on where and how to spot them.

Owl Species Found in New Hampshire

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 46-63 cm (18-25 in)
  • Weight: 910-2500 g (32.1-88.2 oz)
  • Wingspan: 101-145 cm (39.8-57.1 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Great Horned Owl, known as the “tiger of the woods,” is a familiar sight in New Hampshire. A creature of great beauty and majesty, it is recognized by its large size, ear tufts, and piercing yellow eyes. Their deep hoots are often the soundtrack of the state’s forests and woodlands.

Able to adapt to various habitats, they can be found in dense forests, suburban areas, and even city parks. They primarily hunt at night, preying on a wide range of small to medium-sized animals, including rodents, rabbits, birds, and even other raptors.

Great Horned Owls are known for their strong territorial instincts, and their fierce defense of nests often leaves little competition from other predators in their chosen habitat.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl doesn’t have horns! The ‘horns’ are actually tufts of feathers, and their function isn’t entirely understood, although they might play a role in the owl’s communication or camouflage.

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: 48-61 cm (18.9-24 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

A small and captivating owl, the Eastern Screech Owl, makes its home throughout the deciduous woodlands of New Hampshire.

Despite their petite stature, these owls have a powerful presence, with their large yellow eyes and an array of vocalizations, which can range from soft purrs to eerie screeches.

Eastern Screech Owls are masters of disguise. They primarily roost in tree cavities during the day, and their gray or red-brown plumage allows them to blend seamlessly with the tree bark. As twilight descends, they become active, hunting a varied diet that includes insects, small mammals, and even birds.

Did you know? Eastern Screech Owls are one of the few owl species that frequently utilize bird boxes, making them a great candidate for backyard bird watchers hoping to attract owls!

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 (37.8-49.2 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Barred Owl, known for its soulful, brown eyes and distinctive “Who cooks for you?” call, is a charismatic resident of New Hampshire’s dense woodlands and swampy forests.

These owls are rather large, with a rounded head, no ear tufts, and a barred pattern across the chest—hence the name.

Barred Owls tend to be quite sedentary, often occupying the same territory year after year. They’re most active at night but can sometimes be seen during the day, especially at dusk and dawn. Adept hunters, they feed on a diverse diet of small mammals, birds, amphibians, and invertebrates.

Did you know? Barred Owls are famously vocal. Their wide range of calls, hoots, and cackles can sound quite human-like, leading to spooky tales and myths in different cultures.

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: 80-95 cm (31.5-37.4 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

Aesthetically stunning and instantly recognizable, the Barn Owl’s heart-shaped, white face, and contrasting dark eyes provide a contrast to the typical owl image.

Despite their name, these owls don’t limit themselves to barns but nest in a variety of structures, including tree cavities and, notably, man-made nest boxes.

Barn Owls are among the most widely distributed birds, appearing on every continent except Antarctica. They are primarily nocturnal and known for their silent flight—a feature that aids them immensely in catching prey unaware. Their diet mainly consists of small mammals, particularly rodents.

Did you know? Unlike most owl species, Barn Owls do not hoot! Instead, they emit a long, eerie screech, and young nestlings make a rasping hiss when they feel threatened.

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: Year-round

In the dense forests of New Hampshire, you might hear a repetitive, high-pitched tooting in the night—that’s the call of the Northern Saw-Whet Owl. Named for one of their calls, which sounds like a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone, these owls are among the smallest in North America.

Northern Saw-Whet Owls are elusive, primarily nocturnal creatures that are seldom seen, mainly because of their small size and the fact they are well-camouflaged against the bark of trees. During the day, they roost in thick vegetation, becoming active at dusk to hunt small mammals like mice and voles.

Did you know? Despite their small size and somewhat cute appearance, Northern Saw-Whet Owls are fierce hunters, and they can take down prey as large or larger than themselves!

Long-Eared Owl

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

Known for its cat-like appearance and long tufts of feathers that resemble ears, the Long-Eared Owl is an elusive nocturnal bird that tends to live in deep forests, often near water. Despite their medium size, they have a large geographical range and are found in various parts of the world.

Long-Eared Owls are excellent hunters and prefer to feast on small mammals, especially rodents. However, they are not beyond consuming smaller bird species when available. Remarkably silent during their nocturnal hunts, these owls can be challenging to spot but are a joy to observe.

Did you know? Long-Eared Owls are communal roosters. In the non-breeding season, they can form large aggregations of a dozen or even several dozens of owls roosting together for warmth and safety!

Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
  • Size: 34-43 cm (13.4-16.9 in)
  • Weight: 206-475 g (7.3-16.8 oz)
  • Wingspan: 85-110 cm (33.5-43.3 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

One of the most widely distributed owls globally, the Short-Eared Owl, can be found across North America, including in the great state of New Hampshire.

It is named for its small ear tufts, which are often difficult to see. Unlike many owl species, Short-Eared Owls are often active during the day, especially in the early morning and late afternoon.

Living in open areas like marshes, grasslands, and tundra, they are one of the few owl species that build their nests on the ground. Short-Eared Owls feed primarily on small mammals, with a particular fondness for voles.

Did you know? Short-Eared Owls have a unique defense mechanism. When a predator approaches their nest, they perform a distraction display, pretending to be injured to lure the predator away from their offspring.

Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius funereus
  • Size: 21-28 cm (8.3-11 in)
  • Weight: 93-215 g (3.3-7.6 oz)
  • Wingspan: 50-62 cm (19.7-24.4 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

With their distinctive white, brown, and black spotted plumage, Boreal Owls, also known as Tengmalm’s owls, are a delightful find for any bird enthusiast. These petite owls inhabit the boreal forests of New Hampshire, often residing in tree holes abandoned by woodpeckers.

Boreal Owls are primarily nocturnal and are highly reliant on their exceptional hearing to locate prey in their forested environments. Their diet mainly consists of small mammals, but they may also feed on birds and large insects.

Did you know? Unlike many owl species, Boreal Owls show a cyclical pattern of population growth and decline, peaking every three to five years. This pattern is closely tied to the population dynamics of their prey.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 52-71 cm (20.5-28 in)
  • Weight: 1.6-3 kg (3.5-6.6 lb)
  • Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49.2-59.1 in)
  • Time of the Year: Winter

The Snowy Owl is a spectacle to behold with its stunning white feathers that provide perfect camouflage in snowy landscapes. These large owls breed in the Arctic tundra but migrate to places like New Hampshire during the winter months.

Despite their pristine appearance, Snowy Owls are formidable predators. They primarily hunt small mammals such as lemmings and voles but can take down larger prey, including rabbits and waterfowl.

Did you know? The Snowy Owl is one of the few owl species that are not completely nocturnal. They are often active during the day, especially in summer when daylight hours are extended in their Arctic breeding grounds.

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl
  • Scientific Name: Surnia ulula
  • Size: 36-42.5 cm (14.2-16.7 in)
  • Weight: 300-400 g (10.6-14.1 oz)
  • Wingspan: 69-82 cm (27.2-32.3 in)
  • Time of the Year: Occasional, mostly in winter

The Northern Hawk Owl, true to its name, has a hawk-like shape and behavior. It can often be seen perched on the top of spruces or utility poles, scanning open areas for its next meal. Although their sightings in New Hampshire are occasional, they’re a memorable sight during the winter months.

Their diet is primarily small mammals, but birds may also form a part of their meals. Intriguingly, they can detect prey by sight at a distance of up to 800 meters.

Did you know? Unlike most owl species, Northern Hawk Owls are diurnal and do most of their hunting during the day, just like hawks.

Great Gray Owl

Great Grey Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix nebulosa
  • Size: 61-84 cm (24-33 in)
  • Weight: 790-1450 g (1.7-3.2 lb)
  • Wingspan: 142 cm (56 in)
  • Time of the Year: Occasional, mostly in winter

Great Gray Owls, one of the largest owl species in the world, are a remarkable sight. Despite their infrequent sightings in New Hampshire, these majestic birds are worth the wait. Their imposing size, large facial disks, and bright yellow eyes give them a distinctive appearance.

These owls primarily inhabit boreal forests and are expert hunters, even in deep snow. They’re known for their remarkable hearing and can accurately locate small mammals beneath a blanket of snow.

Did you know? Although Great Gray Owls are large, their weight is surprisingly low for their size. This is due to their fluffy feathers, which also insulate them in cold habitats.

Where & How to Observe Owls in New Hampshire

The diverse habitats of New Hampshire offer plenty of opportunities for owl-spotting enthusiasts. Here are some places and habitats where you can expect to encounter these remarkable birds:

  • White Mountain National Forest: This expansive forest is home to several owl species, including the Great Horned Owl and the Northern Saw-Whet Owl. Be sure to venture here in the dusk or dawn for the best sightings.
  • Monadnock Region: The varied landscape of this region, including forests, meadows, and wetlands, is ideal for owls like the Barn Owl and Barred Owl.
  • Pawtuckaway State Park: A large park with diverse habitats, Pawtuckaway is a good spot for finding Eastern Screech Owls and Northern Saw-Whet Owls.
  • Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge: This coastal refuge with wetlands and forests is a good place to spot Short-Eared Owls and Barred Owls.

As for habitats, owls in New Hampshire are found in a variety of settings, including dense forests, open meadows, wetlands, and even suburban areas.

For example, the Barn Owl prefers open countryside, while the Great Horned Owl is more likely to be found in mixed woodlands. During the harsh winters, owls like the Snowy Owl may venture into open fields and farmlands in search of prey.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Time your visit: Owls are typically most active during the dawn and dusk. Plan your visits around these times for the best chances of sightings.
  • Stay quiet: Owls have excellent hearing and can be easily spooked by loud noises. When you’re out in owl territories, try to minimize noise and movement.
  • Use binoculars: Owls can be hard to spot with the naked eye due to their camouflage and tendency to roost high in trees. Binoculars or a good camera lens can greatly help.
  • Respect their space: Keep a respectful distance if you find an owl. Getting too close can cause unnecessary stress for the bird and may also disrupt their hunting.
  • Join a birdwatching group: Local birdwatching groups often have outings and can provide valuable insight into the best places and times for spotting owls.

Owls in Other States

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