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All 14 Owl Species Found in Utah (With Pictures & Info)

Utah, known as the Beehive State, is an alluring playground for nature enthusiasts and birdwatchers alike. With its diverse landscapes ranging from arid deserts to lush forests and snow-capped mountains, it offers a multitude of habitats for various species.

Among its feathered inhabitants, owls hold a unique charm for many, enchanting with their piercing eyes, stealthy hunting skills, and haunting calls. This article takes a closer look at the species of owls you can find in Utah.

Owl Species Found in Utah

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 46–63 cm (18–24.8 in)
  • Weight: 1.4–2.3 kg (3.1–5.1 lb)
  • Wingspan: 101–145 cm (39.8–57.1 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Great Horned Owl is the most common owl found throughout North America, including Utah. They are easily recognizable with their tufted ears, hence their name. Their deep hoots resonate through the woods, adding a touch of mystery to the nighttime ambiance.

These owls are highly adaptable and can inhabit various environments, from deserts to forests and even suburban areas. They are very efficient hunters, and their prey includes rabbits, squirrels, other owls, and even skunks. Their strong grip and sharp talons make them one of the top predators in their habitats.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl is one of the earliest nesting birds in North America. They often take over nests built by other bird species instead of building their own.

Western Screech Owl

Western Screech Owl
  • Scientific Name: Megascops kennicottii
  • Size: 22–24 cm (8.5–9.5 in)
  • Weight: 141–244 g (5–8.6 oz)
  • Wingspan: 54–61 cm (21–24 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Western Screech Owl, a resident of the American west, including Utah, is a small yet formidable predator. Known for its stocky figure and distinctive ear tufts, this owl exhibits a mix of gray, brown, and white in its plumage, perfect for blending into tree trunks during the day.

Western Screech Owls tend to reside in various types of habitats, from open woodlands, forest edges, to suburban gardens. Despite their name, their call is more like a series of soft hoots rather than a screech. They are nocturnal creatures, emerging at dusk to hunt for a diet consisting of small mammals, birds, and insects.

Did you know? Unlike many other owl species, Western Screech Owls are known to be quite tolerant of human activity and often inhabit parks and gardens.

Northern Pygmy Owl

Northern Pygmy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Glaucidium gnoma
  • Size: 16–18 cm (6.3–7.1 in)
  • Weight: 62–73 g (2.2–2.6 oz)
  • Wingspan: 38–41 cm (15–16 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Northern Pygmy Owl is a tiny bird with a round head and no ear tufts. Despite its small size, it’s a fierce hunter known to take on prey larger than itself. It can be spotted in the montane forests of Utah.

The Northern Pygmy Owl is diurnal, meaning it’s active during the day, unlike many other owl species. It usually hunts in the early morning or late afternoon, feeding on small mammals, birds, and insects.

Did you know? The Northern Pygmy Owl has two black patches on the back of its head, which look like eyes. These “false eyes” are thought to trick predators into thinking the owl is watching them, even when it’s looking the other way.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 33-39 cm (13-15 in)
  • 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, known for its eerie screech and ghost-like appearance, is a common resident of Utah. This nocturnal bird of prey is easy to identify by its heart-shaped face, buff back and wings, and pure white underparts. Unlike other owls, the Barn Owl does not hoot, instead, it emits a spine-chilling scream that has earned it many frightening folk tales.

Barn Owls prefer to inhabit open areas like grasslands, deserts, or agricultural fields, where they hunt for small mammals, primarily rodents. Old buildings, barns, and deserted structures serve as ideal nesting spots for these owls.

Did you know? The Barn Owl’s sensitive hearing allows it to locate even the smallest prey, like mice, in complete darkness.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 18-20 cm (7-8 in)
  • Weight: 54-151 g (1.9-5.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 42-56.3 cm (16.5-22 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a small, nocturnal owl with a cat-like face, oversized head, and bright yellow eyes. Their distinct call, which sounds like a saw being sharpened, gives them their unique name. You can find them in dense thickets or coniferous forests throughout Utah.

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl feeds primarily on small mammals, particularly deer mice, voles, and shrews. These tiny owls have a big appetite and have been known to take down prey almost as big as they are!

Did you know? Despite their cute appearance, Northern Saw-Whet Owls are fearsome hunters. They often catch more prey than they can eat and store the extra food in a tree crevice for later!

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 the Year: March to October

In stark contrast to the typical tree-dwelling owls, Burrowing Owls inhabit the ground, making their nests in burrows, often those abandoned by prairie dogs.

These distinctive owls are found in open landscapes of Utah – from deserts to grasslands. Their diet consists of insects, small rodents, reptiles, and even birds.

One of the smaller owl species, the Burrowing Owl has a rounded head with no ear tufts, bright yellow eyes, and lengthy, feathered legs. During the day, they are often seen standing erect at the burrow’s entrance, keeping a watchful eye on the surroundings.

Did you know? To scare away potential predators, Burrowing Owls mimic the rattling sound of a dangerous rattlesnake.

Flammulated Owl

Flammulated Owl
  • Scientific Name: Psiloscops flammeolus
  • Size: 15-17 cm (5.9-6.7 in)
  • Weight: 45-65 g (1.6-2.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 35-40 cm (13.8-15.7 in)
  • Time of the Year: April to September

The Flammulated Owl is a small, nocturnal bird with short ear tufts. Their name comes from the flame-like markings on their feathers. Preferring high-elevation forests, they are most commonly found in the mountainous regions of Utah.

This owl feeds primarily on insects, with a particular liking for moths and beetles. An interesting feature about Flammulated Owls is that they have dark eyes, unlike most other owl species which have yellow or orange eyes.

Did you know? Flammulated Owls migrate each winter to Central America, one of the longest migration distances of any North American owl species. They return to the same nesting areas each spring.

Spotted Owl

Northern Spotted Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix occidentalis
  • Size: 43-50 cm (16.9-19.7 in)
  • Weight: 540-850 g (1.19-1.87 lb)
  • Wingspan: 114-124 cm (45-49 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

Spotted Owls, as their name suggests, have unique spotted patterns across their brownish bodies, and dark brown eyes that starkly contrast their pale faces. In Utah, they are usually found in mature, mixed-conifer forests and steep, shady canyons.

These nocturnal creatures have a highly specific diet, feeding almost exclusively on small mammals like woodrats, mice, and voles. During the breeding season, a mated pair establishes a territory and remains there year-round, defending it against intruding owls.

Did you know? Unlike many owls, Spotted Owls don’t build their own nests. Instead, they typically use tree cavities, old nests from other bird species, or natural platforms on trees.

Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio otus
  • Size: 31-40 cm (12.2-15.7 in)
  • Weight: 200-435 g (7.1-15.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 86-100 cm (34-39 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

Long-Eared Owls get their name from the tufts of feathers on their head that resemble ears. They have a preference for dense woods or forests near open country. In Utah, they can be found in woodland edges and thickets near meadows, marshes, and agricultural fields.

Their diet consists mostly of small mammals, but they occasionally catch birds as well. Long-Eared Owls are night hunters and are most active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk.

Did you know? Long-Eared Owls are one of the most sociable species of owls, often roosting communally during non-breeding season, sometimes in groups of a dozen or more.

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

Short-Eared Owls are medium-sized owls with mottled brown bodies, pale underparts, and yellow eyes. Unlike their long-eared counterparts, they don’t have prominent ear tufts. They are one of the most widespread owls globally and are adaptable to various habitats, including marshes, grasslands, and tundra in Utah.

They are most active at dusk and dawn when they can be seen hunting low over the ground in open fields and grasslands, catching rodents and small birds. Despite their global presence, these owls are often overlooked because of their crepuscular (active during twilight) habits and unobtrusive behavior.

Did you know? Short-Eared Owls have a unique, barking call which, combined with their erratic, moth-like flight, has earned them many nicknames such as “Barking Owl” and “Flying Ghost.”

Great Gray Owl (Accidental)

Great Grey Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix nebulosa
  • Size: 61-84 cm (24-33 in)
  • Weight: 790-1450 g (1.74-3.20 lb)
  • Wingspan: 142 cm (56 in)
  • Time of the Year: Occasional sightings, mostly in winter

Great Gray Owls are among the tallest owls, but much of their size is deceptive, owing to their long tails, bulky heads with large facial disks, and a thick layer of feather insulation. They have a unique “bow-tie” shaped white patch on their throats. Despite their size, they are not as heavy as other large owls, and their diet mainly consists of small mammals such as voles.

In Utah, these owls are accidental visitors, typically spotted in winter months. They usually prefer dense coniferous forests with adjacent meadows or wetlands, away from human habitation.

Did you know? The Great Gray Owl is the provincial bird of Manitoba, Canada, and it is considered one of the most iconic birds of the North American boreal forests.

Boreal Owl (Accidental)

Boreal Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius funereus
  • Size: 22-27 cm (8.7-10.6 in)
  • Weight: 100-200 g (3.5-7.1 oz)
  • Wingspan: 55-62 cm (21.6-24.4 in)
  • Time of the Year: Occasional sightings, mostly in winter

The Boreal Owl, also known as the Tengmalm’s owl, is a small, stocky owl found in the northern hemisphere. With a deep, circular facial disc, dark brown body with white flecking, and yellow eyes, this owl is both adorable and enigmatic. This elusive, nocturnal owl is typically found in boreal forests, hence its name.

Though accidental, Boreal Owls have been spotted in Utah, particularly during the winter months. They are primarily mouse hunters but will prey on a variety of small mammals and birds.

Did you know? Boreal Owls are known to use old woodpecker holes as nesting sites. They never make their own cavities!

Snowy Owl (Accidental)

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 52-71 cm (20.5-28 in)
  • Weight: 1040-2950 g (2.3-6.5 lb)
  • Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49-59 in)
  • Time of the Year: Occasional sightings, mostly in winter

Iconic birds of the arctic tundra, Snowy Owls are large, white owls with varying amounts of black or brown markings. They have rounded heads, yellow eyes, and hefty bodies. These owls are famous for their diurnal hunting habits, often hunting in daylight.

Although they are accidental in Utah, winter sightings have been reported. These owls prefer wide, open areas like fields, marshes, or beaches, and they’re known for their dramatic, irregular movements, called “irruptions,” that sometimes take them well south of their usual range.

Did you know? The Snowy Owl was made famous by the Harry Potter series, where a female Snowy Owl named Hedwig played the role of Harry’s faithful companion.

Elf Owl (Accidental)

Elf Owl
  • Scientific Name: Micrathene whitneyi
  • Size: 12.5-14.5 cm (4.9-5.7 in)
  • Weight: 40-55 g (1.4-1.9 oz)
  • Wingspan: 27 cm (10.6 in)
  • Time of the Year: Occasional sightings

Among the smallest of owls, the Elf Owl is only about the size of a sparrow. They have a short tail, long wings, and a round head without ear tufts. These little owls have big yellow eyes in a heavily streaked, gray-brown face.

While they’re primarily a species of Mexican deserts and the U.S. Southwest, the occasional vagrant can be seen in Utah. They’re often found in saguaro deserts, riparian woodlands, and oak and sycamore canyons, and they’re known to nest in woodpecker holes in cacti and trees.

Did you know? When threatened, the Elf Owl often plays dead to avoid detection by predators. This behavior, combined with their small size, makes them incredibly elusive!

Where & How to Observe Owls in Utah

Utah is a fantastic place for birdwatching and is home to an array of owl species, from the imposing Great Horned Owl to the charming Northern Pygmy Owl. Here are some popular spots where you might be able to spot these fascinating creatures:

  1. The Great Salt Lake: A globally recognized site for birding, the Great Salt Lake and its surroundings attract numerous bird species, including owls, due to the lake’s abundant food supply.
  2. Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge: A rich habitat for many bird species, you might be able to spot Short-Eared Owls and Barn Owls here.
  3. Capitol Reef National Park: Especially for Great Horned Owls, this national park provides a perfect environment.
  4. Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge: You might spot Short-Eared Owls and Western Screech Owls in this refuge.
  5. Zion National Park: Great Horned Owls and Northern Pygmy Owls can be spotted here.

Owls in Utah are found in a variety of habitats, from dense forests to open prairies and desert landscapes. Remember, owls are most active during the night, and finding them can be a real challenge.

Species like the Great Horned Owl and Barn Owl can be spotted year-round, while others like the Flammulated Owl and Snowy Owl are more seasonal.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Timing: Most owls are nocturnal and become active at dusk. Some owls, like the Short-Eared Owl, can be active during the day, especially in the colder months.
  • Look for Signs: Look for signs like pellets, white wash, or feeding remains under trees, which might indicate an owl roost.
  • Listen: Owls have unique calls. Learning these sounds can help in identifying them, especially at night when it’s hard to see.
  • Patience and Respect: Remember to be patient and respectful. Never disturb an owl, especially during their breeding season.

Whether you’re a birding enthusiast or a casual observer, spotting owls in their natural habitat is a truly unique and rewarding experience. So grab your binoculars, field guide, and embark on an owl-spotting adventure in Utah!

Owls in Other States

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