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All 10 Owl Species Found in New York (With Pictures & Info)

New York State, known for its bustling cities and enchanting upstate landscapes, is a true haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Its diverse habitats range from dense forests to serene wetlands, providing perfect sanctuaries for a variety of bird species, including several species of owls.

From the dense heart of Adirondack Park to the quieter corners of Long Island, join us as we explore the owl species that call the Empire State home.

Owl Species Found in New York

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, often referred to as the “tiger of the skies,” is an icon of New York’s nocturnal wildlife. Its vast range extends throughout the state, from the wild expanse of the Catskills to the quieter corners of Central Park. Known for their striking yellow-eyed stare and deep hooting call, these formidable birds are one of the heaviest owl species in North America.

Renowned for their strength and hunting prowess, Great Horned Owls feed on a variety of prey, from small rodents to larger mammals like skunks and raccoons. These owls are adaptable and resilient, able to make their homes in various environments, from dense forests to city parks.

The Great Horned Owl, with its iconic tufted ears and deep resonating call, adds a touch of mystery and wilderness to the New York night, reminding us that even in the heart of the city, nature is never far away.

Did you know? Great Horned Owls are powerful predators that can take down birds and mammals larger than themselves, but they also eat much smaller fare such as rodents, frogs, and scorpions.

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

Eastern Screech Owls are one of the smallest owls you’ll encounter in New York. Despite their small size, they are known for their distinct call that can range from a soft trill to an eerie whinny, filling the night with haunting melodies. Their feathers exhibit a complex gray and brown pattern, providing them with perfect camouflage against tree barks.

Eastern Screech Owls are highly adaptable and can thrive in a wide array of environments including forests, suburbs, and even city parks. They nest in tree cavities and are known to readily take to nest boxes. These owls primarily feed on small creatures like mice, insects, and small birds.

Although elusive, you might get lucky to spot this little owl sitting quietly in a tree hole, especially during the twilight hours.

Did you know? Despite their name, Eastern Screech Owls do not actually screech. Their calls are more likely to resemble soft trills or haunting 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

Barred Owls are instantly recognizable for their rounded heads, large, soulful eyes, and distinctive “Who cooks for you?” call. These owls prefer deep, old forests, especially those near water. However, they can also be found in wooded suburban areas and are known for their comfort around humans, often allowing close approach.

Barred Owls are mostly nocturnal, spending their days roosting in trees or cavities and coming out at dusk to hunt. Their diet is diverse, including small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.

Seeing a Barred Owl in the wild is always a treat. They’re one of the most personable owls in New York, often reacting to human imitations of their calls and sometimes even seeming to enjoy a good conversation!

Did you know? Barred Owls are very vocal, particularly in late winter during mating season. Their distinctive call of “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” can carry long distances through their preferred mature forest habitats.

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, with its distinctive heart-shaped face, is an iconic species in New York. These owls prefer open country-like farmland, marshes, and grasslands, where they hunt small mammals, primarily rodents. Interestingly, a single Barn Owl family can consume more than a thousand rodents in a year.

Their coloring—golden-brown on their upper body and grayish-white below—helps them blend in when roosting during the day in barn lofts, church steeples, or old buildings. At night, their ghostly form can be seen floating silently over open fields, hunting for food.

Did you know? Barn Owls have incredible hearing, and can catch prey in complete darkness using their auditory senses alone.

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: Fall and winter for migration; year-round in suitable habitats

Northern Saw-Whet Owls are one of the smallest and most adorable owl species you can encounter in New York. Named for their call which is reminiscent of a saw being sharpened, these petite owls are nocturnal, elusive, and can be tough to spot due to their small size and superb camouflage.

Northern Saw-Whet Owls prefer dense forests, especially coniferous woods, although they will also use mixed or deciduous woods. Their diet consists mostly of small mammals, particularly deer mice. During the day, they roost in dense vegetation, often close to the ground, and can be remarkably bold if undisturbed, allowing close approach by birdwatchers.

Did you know? Despite their tiny size, Northern Saw-Whet Owls are fierce hunters, often catching prey larger than themselves. They are known to decapitate their meals before eating or storing them for later.

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, but more often spotted during winter months

The Long-Eared Owl is an elongated, medium-sized owl species named for its distinct feather tufts that appear like ears. Although they have a wide distribution range, these owls are not often seen in New York due to their secretive nature and their preference for dense forests for roosting during the day.

They tend to be most active at dusk and dawn, and their diet is mainly small mammals, especially rodents. During winter, Long-Eared Owls can roost in communal groups, which can sometimes include a dozen or more individuals. Their haunting hoots add an eerie ambiance to the winter woods.

Did you know? Despite their name, the “ears” of Long-Eared Owls are not ears at all but tufts of feathers called plumicorns. Their actual ears are located on the sides of their head, hidden under their feathers.

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 commonly spotted in winter months, but some may stay year-round

Short-Eared Owls, named for their short feather tufts, are medium-sized owls that prefer open country-like fields and marshes over forests. Unlike many owl species, these birds are diurnal and can often be seen hunting during daylight hours, particularly in the late afternoon and evening.

In New York, they are more commonly seen during the winter months when they fly south from their northern breeding grounds. During their flight displays, males make a unique “wing-clapping” sound beneath their bodies using their primary feathers. These displays can be quite a spectacle to witness!

Did you know? Short-Eared Owls are one of the most widely distributed birds, found on all continents except Antarctica and Australia. They have evolved to be flexible in their habitat and diet, which is key to their global presence.

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl
  • Scientific Name: Surnia ulula
  • Size: 35-43 cm (14-17 in)
  • Weight: 300-400 g (10.6-14.1 oz)
  • Wingspan: 70-84 cm (28-33 in)
  • Time of the year: Year-round, though rarely seen in New York

The Northern Hawk Owl, a non-migratory bird of the high northern latitudes, is named for its hawk-like behavior. These owls are most commonly found in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska, and their sightings in New York are quite rare. When they do venture this far south, it’s usually in response to fluctuations in prey populations.

These owls are adept hunters, both during the day and at night, and their prey includes a variety of small mammals and birds. Unlike most owl species, Northern Hawk Owls have a long tail that aids in maneuvering during flight, similar to that of a hawk.

Did you know? Northern Hawk Owls have an exceptional ability to detect prey by sight and sound, allowing them to locate and capture prey under a layer of snow or from great distances.

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: Rare winter visitor in New York

The Great Gray Owl, also known as the Phantom of the North, is one of the world’s largest owls, recognized by its large rounded head, yellow eyes, and distinctive “bow tie” markings. Despite its impressive size, it weighs less than other large owls because of its fluffy feathers.

These birds are rare visitors in New York, typically found in the boreal forests of Canada and the western mountains of the United States. They are often inactive during the day, perching quietly in trees and becoming more active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk.

Did you know? Great Gray Owls have the largest facial disc of any raptor. This feature channels sound waves to their ears, enabling them to locate small mammals under thick vegetation or snow.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 52-71 cm (20-28 in)
  • Weight: 1.6-2.9 kg (3.5-6.4 lb)
  • Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49-59 in)
  • Time of the year: Winter visitor in New York

Snowy Owls, famous for their stunning white plumage, are visitors to New York during the harsh winter months. Native to the Arctic tundra, these owls migrate south during the winter in search of food.

Snowy Owls have been popularized in recent years due to their association with the Harry Potter series, where a Snowy Owl named Hedwig plays a prominent role.

These owls are diurnal, hunting both day and night, and are known to be quite patient hunters, often waiting for hours in the same spot for prey to come within range.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, Snowy Owls are not entirely nocturnal. They hunt at all hours during the continuous daylight of an Arctic summer.

Where & How to Observe Owls in New York

New York’s varied ecosystems provide ideal habitats for a diverse group of owl species. Forests, marshes, and parks across the state have become home to these fascinating creatures. Here are some places where you can increase your chances of spotting an owl in the wild:

  1. Adirondack Mountains: The great expanse of wilderness is home to a variety of owl species like the Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl. In the colder months, you might even spot a rare visitor like the Snowy Owl or the Northern Hawk Owl.
  2. Central Park, New York City: Surprisingly, this urban park is a good spot to see Eastern Screech Owls and Great Horned Owls, especially in the wooded areas of the park.
  3. Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge: This area, located in the northern part of the Finger Lakes, is a haven for Short-Eared Owls and Long-Eared Owls.
  4. Fire Island National Seashore: During winter, Snowy Owls have been spotted along the seashore.
  5. Hudson Valley: This region provides ideal habitats for the Northern Saw-Whet Owl and the Barn Owl.

In terms of habitats, owls can be found in a variety of environments, from dense forests to open grasslands and marshes. For example, the Barred Owl prefers mature forests, while the Short-Eared Owl is often found in open fields and marshes.

When looking for a specific species, pay attention to the time of day and the habitat preferences of the species. Great Horned Owls, for instance, are most active at dusk and dawn, while Snowy Owls, visitors from the Arctic, can often be seen during the day.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  1. Quietness is key: Owls have an acute sense of hearing, so it’s important to remain quiet when trying to spot them.
  2. Look during the right time of day: Most owls are most active during the dawn or dusk hours.
  3. Bring binoculars: Owls can be small and well-camouflaged, making them difficult to spot without the right tools.
  4. Look for signs of their presence: Owl pellets, whitewash (owl droppings), and feathers can all indicate an owl’s presence.
  5. Patience pays off: Finding owls takes time and patience. They are elusive and well-camouflaged, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t spot one immediately.
  6. Respect their space: If you are lucky enough to find an owl, keep your distance to avoid disturbing it. Remember, they are protected by law and it’s illegal to disturb them in their natural habitat.

Owls in Other States

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