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

New Jersey, a state known for its diverse landscapes, boasts a variety of wildlife, including a spectacular variety of owls. The state is home to several species, each with their unique characteristics and behaviors, and they all contribute to making the New Jersey outdoors a bird watcher’s paradise.

This article will take you through the different species of owls found in the state, offering fascinating details about each and tips on where and when you can spot them.

Owl Species Found in New Jersey

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

Known as the tiger of the air, the Great Horned Owl is one of the most common owls found in New Jersey. This versatile species can adapt to a wide variety of habitats, including mixed forests, grasslands, deserts, wetlands, and even suburban areas. It gets its name from the tufts of feathers on its head that resemble horns.

The Great Horned Owl is an apex predator and has a broad diet that includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Its hunting skills are enhanced by its exceptional hearing and eyesight, which allow it to locate and catch prey even under cover of darkness.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl is one of the earliest breeding birds in North America. In fact, its deep hooting call can often be heard during mid-winter, which is its breeding season.

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

One of the smaller species on this list, the Eastern Screech Owl is a master of camouflage. Available in both gray and red morphs, this owl’s plumage helps it blend in perfectly with tree bark, making it hard to spot.

The Eastern Screech Owl is a permanent resident of New Jersey and can be found in a variety of woodland habitats, parks, and gardens.

This owl’s diet consists of a variety of small creatures such as insects, small birds, and even small mammals. They hunt primarily at night, using their keen sense of hearing to locate their prey.

Did you know? The Eastern Screech Owl doesn’t screech at all. Its call is a series of soft, melodious trills and whinnies.

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 is an intriguing owl species found in the forests of New Jersey. It is known for its striking appearance, featuring dark brown eyes and a pale face framed by dark rings, along with horizontal barring on the chest and vertical streaks on the belly.

Preferring to inhabit dense forests near water bodies, the Barred Owl’s diet primarily consists of small mammals, but they can also eat birds, amphibians, and invertebrates. Like many other owl species, Barred Owls are nocturnal and rely heavily on their keen hearing to locate their prey under the cover of darkness.

Did you know? The Barred Owl’s hoot is a distinctive “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” sound, which is often heard throughout the forest at night.

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

The Barn Owl, a sight to behold, is undoubtedly a favorite amongst bird enthusiasts due to its heart-shaped face and ghostly pale coloring.

This owl is known to take up residence in a variety of structures, including barns and other abandoned buildings, hence its common name. A widespread species, the Barn Owl can be found in agricultural areas and open country, including marshes and grasslands across New Jersey.

Barn Owls primarily feed on small mammals, notably voles, mice, and shrews. They hunt at night, using their exceptional hearing to locate prey in complete darkness. These owls are silent predators, with their flight feathers specially adapted to muffle sound.

Did you know? The Barn Owl doesn’t hoot like many other owl species. Instead, it emits a chilling, raspy screech.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 17-22 cm (6.7-8.7 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, but easier to spot in the winter

One of the smallest owl species in North America, the Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a tiny bird with a cat-like face, oversized head, and bright yellow eyes. Its name derives from one of its calls that is reminiscent of the sound a saw makes when being sharpened. These owls inhabit forested environments, where they are well-camouflaged by their brown, spotted feathers.

Northern Saw-Whet Owls primarily feed on small rodents, but they’re known to prey upon small birds and large insects when given the opportunity. Despite their small size, they are fierce hunters.

Did you know? Northern Saw-Whet Owls migrate at night, but they’re very secretive about it, making it a challenge to track their movements.

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

Inhabiting the dense forests and woodlands of New Jersey, the Long-Eared Owl is a medium-sized species known for its distinctive ear tufts that resemble mammalian ears.

Despite their appearance, these “ears” are not for hearing; instead, they are tufts of feathers that can be raised or lowered to communicate a mood or blend into their surroundings.

Long-Eared Owls are nocturnal birds that remain hidden during the day, coming out at night to hunt small mammals and birds. Their diet consists mostly of voles and mice. They have an interesting communal roosting behavior during non-breeding periods, often found roosting together in groups, especially in the winter.

Did you know? Long-Eared Owls have asymmetrical ear placements which allow them to pinpoint the location of sounds in multiple dimensions, which is particularly helpful during hunts.

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: More common during the winter months, but some individuals may stay year-round

The Short-Eared Owl is another resident of New Jersey, characterized by its round head, yellow eyes, and the small ear tufts it’s named for.

Preferring open fields and wetlands, this owl species is unique among North American owls for its diurnal and crepuscular habits, meaning it’s often active during the day and at twilight.

Their diet primarily consists of small mammals, particularly voles, but it also includes birds and insects. Short-Eared Owls are known for their dramatic hunting style, flying low over open fields in search of prey, often hovering before making a sudden dive.

Did you know? Despite their name, the Short-Eared Owl’s ears aren’t really short. The tufts are often so small they’re invisible, giving the impression of a lack of ears.

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl
  • Scientific Name: Surnia ulula
  • Size: 36-42.5 cm (14-16.7 in) in length
  • Weight: 300-400 g (10.6-14.1 oz)
  • Wingspan: 69-82 cm (27-32 in)
  • Time of the year: Occasionally seen during the winter months

The Northern Hawk Owl, a rare visitor to New Jersey, is a unique owl species that behaves much like a hawk. This medium-sized bird is named for its elongated body and pointed wings, attributes that bear a strong resemblance to those of a hawk.

They are typically found in the northern boreal forests but can sometimes drift south during the winter, which is when sightings in New Jersey occur.

Northern Hawk Owls are active during the day, hunting primarily for small mammals, and are well-adapted to life in the cold with their thick plumage. Unlike most owls, they prefer to perch in the open on the tops of trees, scanning for prey.

Did you know? The Northern Hawk Owl has exceptional eyesight and can spot its prey from a distance of up to 800 meters (half a mile) away!

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 53-65 cm (20.9-25.6 in) in length
  • Weight: 1.6-2.9 kg (3.5-6.4 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49-59 in)
  • Time of the year: Occasional winter visitor

The Snowy Owl is an occasional visitor to New Jersey during the winter months. Known for their stunning white plumage, these large birds inhabit the arctic tundra during the summer and fly south when food becomes scarce in their native habitats.

Snowy Owls are diurnal, active both day and night. Their diet consists mostly of lemmings and other small mammals, but they can take down larger prey, including birds. When in New Jersey, they can often be spotted sitting on or near the ground in open areas, like fields and airports.

Did you know? The Snowy Owl is the heaviest owl species in North America, and it was also the emblem of Hedwig, the owl in the Harry Potter series.

Where & How to Observe Owls in New Jersey

Owls in New Jersey can be found in various locations across the state, ranging from deep forests to wide-open fields and even in suburban neighborhoods. Here are some of the best places to look for owls in New Jersey:

  • Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge: This extensive wetland habitat is home to several species of owls, including the Eastern Screech Owl and the Barred Owl.
  • Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge: This large refuge, particularly known for its wealth of bird species, is a good spot to see Short-Eared Owls and occasionally, Snowy Owls in the winter.
  • Kittatinny Valley State Park: Known for its diverse birdlife, this park offers a chance to see Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls, among others.

Different owl species inhabit different types of environments. For instance, the Barn Owl is typically found in open habitats such as marshes and fields, while the Northern Saw-Whet Owl prefers dense forests. Understanding each species’ preferred habitat will greatly enhance your chances of spotting them.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  1. Be patient and quiet: Owls are elusive creatures, and it can take time and a lot of patience to spot them. Always try to be as quiet as possible to avoid disturbing them.
  2. Go at the right time: While some owl species are active during the day, most are nocturnal and are therefore easier to spot at dusk and dawn.
  3. Look for signs: Besides direct sightings, look for other signs of owls such as pellets, whitewash (owl droppings), and distinct vocalizations.
  4. Use binoculars: A good pair of binoculars can be very useful in spotting owls from a distance.
  5. Respect wildlife: Always keep a respectful distance and avoid causing any disturbance to the owls or their habitats.

Remember, the goal is to observe these magnificent creatures without disturbing their natural behavior or causing them any stress. Happy owl spotting!

Owls in Other States

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