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

Often hidden among the thickets, or silently soaring in the night sky, owls are fascinating creatures that are as beautiful as they are enigmatic. Rhode Island, the Ocean State, with its mix of forests, open spaces, and coastline, provides varied habitats that support a range of owl species.

This guide offers an overview of the owls you can spot in Rhode Island, from the majestic Great Horned Owl to the petite Northern Saw-Whet Owl.

Owl Species Found in Rhode Island

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 46-63 cm (18-25 in)
  • 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, with its large size, tufted ears, and deep hooting voice, is one of the most recognizable and widespread owls in North America. In Rhode Island, these owls can be spotted year-round in wooded areas, parks, and even suburban neighborhoods with large trees.

These owls are versatile hunters. They prey on a wide variety of animals, including rodents, rabbits, birds, and even other raptors. Great Horned Owls are known for their incredible strength and are one of the few animals that can take down a full-grown raccoon.

Their distinct “hoo-hoo-hoooooo” call, often heard at night, adds an air of mystery and intrigue to the dark forests of Rhode Island.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl is also known as the “Tiger Owl” due to its aggressive hunting style and the tiger-like stripes on its body.

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 the Year: Year-round

The Eastern Screech Owl, though smaller in size, is no less captivating. In Rhode Island, they can be found throughout the year in forested habitats, suburban parks, and gardens.

These owls are unique for their ability to camouflage themselves with tree bark, a useful trait that protects them from potential predators.

Eastern Screech Owls feed on a variety of small creatures, including insects, rodents, small birds, and even amphibians and reptiles. These adaptable birds can adjust their hunting techniques based on the prey available.

One of their most characteristic features is their haunting trilling song, which can range from a soft purr to an eerie tremolo.

Did you know? Despite their name, Eastern Screech Owls do not actually “screech”. Their song is more of a soft trill, unlike the harsh screech often associated with owls in popular culture.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix varia
  • Size: 40-63 cm (16-25 in)
  • 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 large, stocky birds with rounded heads, no ear tufts, and a pattern of bars on their chest. They reside in the dense woods and forests of Rhode Island throughout the year. The wet woods and swampy forests along the waterways of Rhode Island are particularly attractive to these owls.

Barred Owls are also versatile hunters, feeding mainly on small mammals, but also on birds, amphibians, and invertebrates. They hunt by sitting and waiting on a high perch, then swooping down to capture prey in their sharp talons.

These owls are known for their distinctive and diverse vocalizations, which include hoots, screams, and even a series of gurgles and barks. Their most recognizable call is a series of hoots sounding like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”

Did you know? Unlike most owl species, Barred Owls are known to be relatively active during the day, especially during early morning and late afternoon. This means you might have a better chance of spotting one during daylight hours compared to other owl species.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 32-40 cm (12.6-15.7 in)
  • Weight: 224-710 g (7.9-25.0 oz)
  • Wingspan: 80-95 cm (31.5-37.4 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Barn Owl is a familiar figure in the agricultural and rural areas of Rhode Island, hence the name. These pale, long-winged and long-legged owls are most often seen in flight, as they patrol open lands for small mammals at night. They are known for their ghostly appearance and eerie, raspy screeches.

Their distinctive heart-shaped face aids in amplifying sounds, allowing them to pinpoint the location of their prey with deadly accuracy, even in complete darkness. These highly beneficial predators feed primarily on rodents, making them valuable allies for farmers.

Notably, Barn Owls do not hoot. Instead, they emit a long, harsh screech, which has been likened to a shriek of terror in the night.

Did you know? Barn Owls have one of the most efficient systems for hunting. Their heart-shaped face works like a dish, collecting sounds and sending them directly to their ears, enabling them to locate prey with impressive accuracy.

Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius funereus
  • Size: 22-27 cm (8.7-10.6 in)
  • Weight: 93-170 g (3.3-6.0 oz)
  • Wingspan: 55-62 cm (21.7-24.4 in)
  • Time of the Year: Mostly spotted during the winter months

The Boreal Owl, also known as Tengmalm’s Owl, is a small yet fierce predator. Mostly observed in Rhode Island during the winter months, these owls prefer dense coniferous forests.

This nocturnal owl feeds on small mammals, primarily voles, but will also prey on birds and insects. Unlike many owl species, Boreal Owls are entirely nocturnal, meaning they do most of their hunting and activities after sunset and just before dawn.

Boreal Owls have a distinctive white face with a “spectacled” appearance, giving them a somewhat surprised expression. They are best known for their persistent tooting call, heard primarily during late winter and spring breeding seasons.

Did you know? Despite their small size, Boreal Owls are known to be quite fearless. When they feel threatened, they will puff up their feathers and spread their wings to appear larger and more intimidating.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 53-65 cm (20.9-25.6 in)
  • Weight: 1.6-2.9 kg (3.5-6.4 lb)
  • Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49.2-59.1 in)
  • Time of the Year: Mainly in the winter

Known as the northernmost, heaviest, and most distinctively marked owl, the Snowy Owl is a sight to behold. Its snowy white plumage is ideal for blending into its wintry surroundings, making it a symbol of Arctic wildlife.

These owls are often spotted in Rhode Island during the winter months. They tend to inhabit open grasslands or agricultural fields, perching on the ground or on low posts. Renowned for their diurnal nature, Snowy Owls are one of the few owl species that hunt both day and night, making them a thrill for bird watchers.

Their diet is primarily made up of lemmings and other small mammals, but they have been known to take down larger prey, like geese, when the opportunity arises.

Did you know? In years of lemming population booms in the Arctic, Snowy Owls can lay as many as 11 eggs in a single clutch. This overproduction can lead to a southward migration of younger birds, which is why they can be spotted in places like Rhode Island.

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

One of the smallest owl species in North America, the Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a resident of Rhode Island throughout the year. Despite its size, this owl is a capable hunter, mainly targeting small rodents and occasionally small birds.

These owls are elusive and hard to spot, preferring dense forests and tending to roost in thick vegetation during the daytime. Their presence is often given away by their distinctive rhythmic tooting song that carries long distances on still nights.

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl gets its name from its call, which some say sounds like a saw being sharpened on a whetstone.

Did you know? Northern Saw-Whet Owls can swallow their prey whole and then regurgitate the indigestible parts, such as fur and bones, in a compact pellet.

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

The Long-Eared Owl, a secretive owl with long, ear-like tufts, resides in Rhode Island throughout the year. Their elongated ear tufts, which are set wide apart on the head, are only an illusion. They’re not ears at all, but merely a stunning characteristic to behold.

Preferring dense stands of trees, especially young coniferous forests, the Long-Eared Owl often takes over the old stick nests of other bird species. They’re primarily nocturnal, hunting at night in open fields or grasslands. Their diet is comprised mostly of small mammals.

Long-Eared Owls are not easily spotted because of their expert camouflage and elusive nature, but their deep hooting calls can often give away their location.

Did you know? Despite the name, the Long-Eared Owl’s “ears” are actually just tufts of feathers. The actual ears are located at the sides of their head, with one slightly higher than the other to help them locate prey by sound.

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

Distinctively recognized by their short, stubby ear tufts, the Short-Eared Owls are a fascinating species found year-round in Rhode Island. These owls prefer open areas like grasslands, marshes, or agricultural fields, where they can easily scout for their preferred diet of small mammals.

Unlike many other owl species, the Short-Eared Owl is diurnal, meaning they’re active during both the day and night. The hours around dawn and dusk are particularly active periods for them. Their flight is characteristically floppy, which combined with their habitat preference, gives the impression of a giant moth fluttering low over the fields.

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

Where & How to Observe Owls in Rhode Island

Rhode Island, though small in size, offers a diverse range of habitats that can be appealing to a variety of owl species. From the open fields and marshes preferred by Short-Eared Owls to the dense forests loved by Long-Eared Owls, this state provides ample opportunities for the avid birdwatcher.

Places to Spot Owls

  • Norman Bird Sanctuary: This refuge in Middletown offers diverse habitats including forests, fields, and marshes, which attract a variety of owl species. It is a popular location for birdwatching and nature walks.
  • Arcadia Management Area: Covering a substantial part of the state, this conservation area offers a variety of habitats including forest, wetlands, and grassland areas.
  • Fisherville Brook Wildlife Refuge: Located in Exeter, this refuge boasts a diverse habitat that includes woodlands and wetlands, perfect for spotting owls like the Barred Owl or Great Horned Owl.
  • Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge: In winter, the open fields here can be a great place to spot Snowy Owls.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Time your visit. Owls are primarily nocturnal, so dusk and dawn are the best times to spot most species. However, remember that some owls, like the Short-Eared Owl, can also be active during the day.
  • Bring binoculars. Owls can be quite elusive and often perch high in trees or hide in dense foliage. A good pair of binoculars can make spotting them much easier.
  • Be quiet and patient. Owls have keen hearing and can be easily disturbed by loud noises.
  • Listen for calls. Often, you’ll hear an owl before you see it. Learn the different calls of the owls you’re hoping to spot to increase your chances.
  • Look for signs. Owl pellets, whitewash (owl droppings), or concentrations of plucked feathers can all indicate an owl’s presence.

Remember, while it’s exciting to spot these magnificent creatures, it’s crucial to respect their habitats and not to disturb them. Happy birdwatching!

Owls in Other States

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