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

Oklahoma, known for its expansive prairies and wooded hills, is home to a rich variety of wildlife, including several species of owls. These nocturnal birds of prey hold a special fascination for bird-watchers and nature enthusiasts alike with their ethereal calls, haunting eyes, and secretive habits.

This guide will take you on a journey through the diverse owl species of Oklahoma, from the ubiquitous Great Horned Owl to the elusive Snowy Owl. Read on to explore the fascinating world of Oklahoma’s owls and learn where and how to spot them.

Owl Species Found in Oklahoma

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 46-63.5 cm (18-25 in)
  • Weight: 910-2500 g (2-5.5 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 101-145 cm (40-57 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

Great Horned Owls, also known as the “tiger of the woods,” are among the most common and widespread owls in North America, and Oklahoma is no exception. This species is notable for its large size, ear tufts, and piercing yellow eyes. These owls thrive in a wide range of habitats, from dense forests to city parks.

In Oklahoma, Great Horned Owls can be found throughout the state, making their nests in tree cavities, cliffs, or even taking over the abandoned nests of other large birds. Their diet is diverse, including rodents, rabbits, birds, and even larger prey like ducks and geese.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl has one of the most diverse diets of all North American raptors. Its prey range in size from tiny rodents and scorpions to hares, skunks, geese, and raptors, including other owls.

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: 46-61 cm (18-24 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

The Eastern Screech Owl is a petite and endearing species, known for its captivating trilling call. Despite their name, screech owls do not actually screech.

Their call is more of a soft, mournful trilling or whinnying sound. They have a compact size and sport ear tufts when in a defensive pose. In Oklahoma, they are more often heard than seen due to their excellent camouflage that matches tree bark.

These owls are extremely versatile and can be found in a variety of habitats, from forests and woodlands to suburban parks and gardens. Eastern Screech Owls feed on a range of smaller prey such as insects, rodents, and small birds.

Did you know? Eastern Screech Owls come in two different color morphs: red and gray. Both are common, and their color seems to be linked to climate. Generally, red owls live in the South, where it’s humid, and gray ones where it’s dry.

Western Screech Owl

Western Screech Owl
  • Scientific Name: Megascops kennicottii
  • Size: 22-24 cm (8.5-9.5 in)
  • Weight: 140-340 g (4.9-12 oz)
  • Wingspan: 55-61 cm (21.5-24 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

The Western Screech Owl is another small owl that can be found in Oklahoma, specifically in the western part of the state. This owl has large yellow eyes, a broad head with ear tufts, and grey-brown plumage. Its song is a series of hollow toots that increase in tempo.

Western Screech Owls are often found in a variety of habitats, including deserts, forests, and suburban areas. They’re versatile eaters and will consume a variety of prey, such as insects, small mammals, birds, and reptiles.

Did you know? Like their eastern counterparts, Western Screech Owls are exceptional at camouflage. When threatened, they stretch their bodies and tighten their feathers to look like a branch or tree trunk, a behavior called “catalepsy”.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 33-39 cm (13-15.4 in)
  • Weight: 224-710 g (7.9-25 oz)
  • Wingspan: 80-95 cm (31.5-37.4 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

The Barn Owl is a distinctive and beloved species found throughout Oklahoma. With a heart-shaped face, long legs, and powerful talons, these owls are excellent hunters, primarily preying on rodents. They have a soft, eerie call that’s often described as a shriek or snore.

Favoring open habitats like grasslands, farmlands, and marshes, Barn Owls are commonly found nesting in barns, church steeples, and other man-made structures. They are mostly nocturnal and tend to be incredibly secretive, which can make them somewhat challenging to spot.

Did you know? Unlike many other owl species, Barn Owls don’t hoot. Instead, they emit a long, harsh scream that lasts about 2 seconds. It’s among the creepiest sounds in nature!

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl
  • Scientific Name: Athene cunicularia
  • Size: 19-28 cm (7.5-11 in)
  • Weight: 140-240 g (4.9-8.5 oz)
  • Wingspan: 50.8-61 cm (20-24 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round in the southwestern part of the state; summer in other parts

The Burrowing Owl, as its name suggests, is unique among owls for its tendency to reside in burrows, often those abandoned by prairie dogs or ground squirrels.

It’s a small, long-legged species with bright yellow eyes and a white eyebrow. Unlike most owls, Burrowing Owls are often active during the day, although they do most of their hunting from dusk until dawn.

They can be spotted in grasslands, rangelands, agricultural areas, deserts, or any other open dry area with low vegetation. They feed mainly on insects and small rodents.

Did you know? When threatened, Burrowing Owls will make a hissing sound similar to a rattlesnake to deter predators. They also have been observed to mimic the sound of a burrowing rodent to lure prey within striking range.

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 Year: Year-round in the northeastern part; winter in other parts

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a small, nocturnal species known for its catlike face, oversized head, and yellow eyes. Despite their small size, they are fierce hunters, preying primarily on small mammals such as mice, voles, and shrews.

During the day, these owls roost in dense vegetation where their cryptic plumage provides excellent camouflage.

Their preferred habitats are coniferous forests and mixed woodlands. They’re named for their primary call, which sounds similar to a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone.

Did you know? Northern Saw-Whet Owls can capture prey in total darkness using their acute sense of hearing. They can take down prey that’s up to three times heavier 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: 90-100 cm (35.4-39.4 in)
  • Time of Year: Year-round

Long-Eared Owls, characterized by their long, feather-tufted “ears” (which are not actually ears at all, but rather tufts of feathers), are medium-sized owls found throughout Oklahoma.

They have large eyes that glow bright orange in the light. They are nocturnal and very secretive, spending most of the daytime roosting in dense foliage, where their brown and white mottled plumage helps them blend in perfectly.

They are found in forests near open country. Their diet mainly consists of small mammals, particularly rodents, but they are also known to prey on birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

Did you know? Unlike many owl species, Long-Eared Owls are communal roosters. In the non-breeding season, they’ve been known to roost in groups of up to 100 birds!

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 Year: Year-round in the northeastern part; winter in other parts

Short-Eared Owls are medium-sized owls with large, rounded wings. One of their most distinguishing features is their short ear tufts which are often difficult to see.

These owls prefer open country, such as grasslands, marshes, and agricultural fields, for their hunting grounds. They are most active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk, but they are known to hunt during both the day and night.

They feed primarily on small mammals, like mice and voles, but they will also eat birds. These owls are known for their spectacular aerial displays during the breeding season, which includes loops, dives, and wing-clapping.

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

Snowy Owl

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

The Snowy Owl is an iconic bird thanks to its brilliant white plumage, large size, and distinctive yellow eyes. These owls are a treat to spot in Oklahoma, where they appear only in the wintertime. They are native to the Arctic regions and migrate south during the winter in search of food.

They are found in open, treeless areas, and are known for their unusual behavior of hunting both day and night, unlike most owl species. Their diet primarily consists of small mammals, particularly lemmings, but they will also prey on larger animals like hares and birds.

Did you know? Snowy Owls were made famous by the Harry Potter series. Harry’s owl, Hedwig, is a Snowy Owl!

Where & How to Observe Owls in Oklahoma

Oklahoma is home to a diverse range of owls, from the ever-popular Great Horned Owl to the winter-visiting Snowy Owl. The vast landscapes of Oklahoma, including its forests, prairies, and wetlands, provide ample habitats for these fascinating creatures.

  • Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Home to a variety of habitats, this area is excellent for birding year-round.
  • Oklahoma City Zoo: While not in the wild, the zoo provides guaranteed owl sightings and educational opportunities.
  • Oxley Nature Center: Located in Tulsa, it provides walking trails through a variety of habitats.
  • Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge: The varied habitats in this refuge are excellent for bird watching.
  • Black Mesa State Park & Nature Preserve: Located in the Panhandle, this park is known for its unique bird species.

The Great Horned Owl and Eastern Screech Owl can be spotted year-round across the state, while the Snowy Owl is a more rare sight, typically found in winter months in open, treeless areas.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Time: Owls are generally most active at night, so dusk and dawn are the best times for spotting most species. However, remember that the Snowy Owl can also be active during the day.
  • Silence is key: Owls have sharp hearing and will likely be scared away by loud noises.
  • Look up: Owls often roost high in trees during the day. Keep an eye out for their silhouette against the sky.
  • Listen: Owls have distinctive calls. Learning these can help you identify them even when they’re out of sight.
  • Patience: Like with all wildlife, remember that it can take time to spot these elusive birds. Be patient and enjoy the experience.
  • Respect: Remember to never disturb owls, especially those nesting or with young.

Exploring Oklahoma’s beautiful landscapes can reward you with remarkable owl sightings. So, grab your binoculars and start your owl-spotting adventure today!

Owls in Other States

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