Unveiling a world of enchantment and mystique, owls are remarkable creatures that captivate the human imagination. Nestled in the New England region, Vermont is a paradise for birdwatchers, offering the chance to spot several fascinating owl species.
From dense forests to open farmlands and serene wetlands, the diverse ecosystems of the Green Mountain State create a perfect home for these nocturnal raptors. Join us on a magical journey as we explore the majestic owls that inhabit Vermont.
Owl Species Found in Vermont
Great Horned Owl
- Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
- Size: 45-63 cm (18-25 in) tall
- Weight: 910-2500 g (2-5.5 lbs)
- Wingspan: 91-153 cm (36-60 in)
- When to Spot: Year-round
The Great Horned Owl, named for the feathery tufts that resemble horns on its head, is a common resident of Vermont. Its wide-eyed gaze, coupled with a deep, resonating hooting sound, has earned it a prominent place in many Native American cultural stories.
The Great Horned Owl is a force to be reckoned with, known for its powerful hunting skills and wide diet, feasting on everything from small mammals to other birds and even reptiles.
Did you know? The Great Horned Owl is a fearsome predator, and not just in the owl world. It’s one of the few creatures known to regularly eat skunks! Its sense of smell isn’t as developed as that of humans, so it doesn’t mind the infamous skunk odor.
Eastern Screech Owl
- Scientific Name: Megascops asio
- Size: 16-25 cm (6.3-9.8 in) tall
- Weight: 121-244 g (4.3-8.6 oz)
- Wingspan: 46-61 cm (18-24 in)
- When to Spot: Year-round
An inconspicuous yet common inhabitant of Vermont, the Eastern Screech Owl is a petite creature with an outsized personality. Despite its name, it doesn’t screech but emits soft, mournful whinnies and trills that echo through the night.
Available in two colors, gray or rufous, it seamlessly blends into the tree bark, making it a master of disguise. Their diet is quite versatile, ranging from small rodents and birds to invertebrates like insects and worms.
The Eastern Screech Owl has a fascinating nesting behavior. Rather than building its own nest, it repurposes abandoned woodpecker holes or natural tree cavities, contributing to the ecosystem’s natural recycling process.
Did you know? The Eastern Screech Owl is among the smallest owl species, but don’t let its size fool you. They are aggressive hunters and aren’t above taking prey larger than themselves, including cottontail rabbits and game birds!
- Scientific Name: Strix varia
- Size: 40-63 cm (16-25 in) tall
- Weight: 500-1050 g (1.1-2.3 lbs)
- Wingspan: 96-125 cm (38-49 in)
- When to Spot: Year-round
Known for their distinctive “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” call, the Barred Owls are quite a delight to encounter. These birds have an almost human-like face with dark, soulful eyes surrounded by concentric rings of brown and white feathers, and they lack the ear tufts seen in many owl species.
They are primarily nocturnal, but sometimes venture out during the day, particularly on cloudy, overcast days. Their diet consists of a variety of small animals including squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, rabbits, birds (up to the size of grouse), amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates.
The Barred Owl is quite adaptable and can inhabit various types of forests but is most commonly found in large, mature forests near water bodies, where they spend their days quietly perched on tree branches.
Did you know? The Barred Owl is known to stay in its territory all year round. Some Barred Owls have even been found to stay in the same area for several years, providing birdwatchers ample opportunities to spot them.
- Scientific Name: Tyto alba
- Size: 32-40 cm (13-16 in) tall
- Weight: 224-710 g (7.9-25 oz)
- Wingspan: 107-110 cm (42-43 in)
- When to Spot: Year-round
One of the most widespread of all birds, the Barn Owl is a beloved part of Vermont’s natural landscape. Known for their heart-shaped face, dark eyes, and light, golden-brown coloration, they are a unique species among owls. They make their homes in barns, church steeples, and other man-made structures, hence the name.
Barn Owls are stealthy hunters, using their excellent hearing to locate rodents like mice and voles, even under snow or in tall grass. They are primarily nocturnal and are seldom seen during the day unless disturbed. They often become more active and vocal in late evening, making this the best time to spot or hear them.
Did you know? Unlike most owls, which have a hooting call, Barn Owls emit a chilling, raspy screech. The call, along with their ghostly appearance, has earned them nicknames like “ghost owl” and “death owl” in folklore.
Northern Saw-Whet Owl
- Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
- Size: 17-22 cm (6.7-8.7 in) tall
- Weight: 54-151 g (1.9-5.3 oz)
- Wingspan: 42-56.3 cm (16.5-22.2 in)
- When to Spot: Year-round
The Northern Saw-Whet Owl, a small and elusive owl species, is a hidden gem of Vermont’s wilderness. Despite their small size, they are fierce and capable hunters, specializing in catching small mammals like mice and voles, as well as small birds. They get their unique name from their call, which sounds similar to a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone.
The Northern Saw-Whet Owl prefers dense coniferous or mixed forests and is often found near bodies of water. They roost during the day, often close to the trunk in dense foliage, making them difficult to spot despite their relatively common occurrence.
Did you know? Northern Saw-Whet Owls have an interesting migration pattern. In some years, large numbers of these owls may move southward in the fall, an event known as an “irruption.” The exact cause of these irruptions is still a mystery to scientists!
- Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
- Size: 52-71 cm (20-28 in) tall
- Weight: 1.6-3 kg (3.5-6.6 lbs)
- Wingspan: 125-150 cm (49-59 in)
- When to Spot: Winter (they breed in the Arctic and only visit Vermont in the colder months)
Snowy Owls are one of the most recognizable owl species, largely due to their stunning white plumage that helps them blend into their Arctic breeding grounds.
These large owls are not common in Vermont, but during some winters, they “irrupt” southward into the state, providing birdwatchers with a rare treat.
They are diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, unlike most other owls. Open fields, airports, and beaches are the best places to look for Snowy Owls because these locations resemble their natural tundra habitat.
The Snowy Owl’s diet primarily consists of small mammals, particularly lemmings, but they are known to catch birds as well.
Did you know? Snowy Owls have been popularized by the Harry Potter series, where Harry’s pet owl, Hedwig, is a Snowy Owl.
Great Gray Owl
- Scientific Name: Strix nebulosa
- Size: 61-84 cm (24-33 in) tall
- Weight: 790-1450 g (1.7-3.2 lbs)
- Wingspan: 142 cm (56 in)
- When to Spot: Winter (occasional visitors during irruptive years)
With a disc face framed by a dark “moustache” that accentuates its yellow eyes, the Great Gray Owl is an iconic species. As their name suggests, these owls have beautiful, silvery-gray plumage.
Despite their large size, they are not often seen in Vermont, but during some winters, they irrupt southward into the state, which is always a notable event for bird enthusiasts.
They prefer dense coniferous forests, often near open meadows or bogs, and can be incredibly difficult to spot due to their camouflage. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, which they locate beneath the snow using their exceptional hearing.
Did you know? The Great Gray Owl is the tallest owl in North America, but much of its size is deceptive, as it has very fluffy plumage, a long tail, and a large head. The much smaller Snowy Owl and Great Horned Owl actually outweigh the Great Gray Owl.
- Scientific Name: Asio otus
- Size: 31-40 cm (12-16 in) tall
- Weight: 200-435 g (7-15 oz)
- Wingspan: 90-100 cm (35-39 in)
- When to Spot: Winter (they breed north of Vermont but can be found in the state during the colder months)
Long-Eared Owls are medium-sized owls characterized by their distinct ear tufts that sit close together on the top of their head, giving the appearance of long ears.
They are secretive and nocturnal, spending their days in dense foliage where their cryptic plumage provides excellent camouflage. Their preferred habitats are mixed forests and woodlands, and they’re especially fond of old orchards.
In terms of diet, these owls feed primarily on small mammals, but will also take birds when available. Long-Eared Owls have an incredibly silent flight, making them efficient hunters of the night.
Did you know? The ear tufts of the Long-Eared Owl are not actually ears but tufts of feathers. The owl’s real ears are on the sides of its head, and are different sizes to help the owl triangulate the location of sounds in the environment.
- Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
- Size: 34-43 cm (13-17 in) tall
- Weight: 206-475 g (7.3-16.8 oz)
- Wingspan: 95-110 cm (37-43 in)
- When to Spot: Late fall to early spring
Short-Eared Owls are medium-sized owls with mottled brown bodies, pale under-wings, and yellow eyes. They get their name from the small ear tufts that are often hard to see, as they are the same color as their body. Unlike most owl species, Short-Eared Owls are diurnal and can often be seen hunting during daylight hours.
They favor open areas such as marshes, grasslands, and agricultural fields. Their diet mainly consists of rodents and other small mammals. These owls are skilled hunters and are known to cover large territories in search of food.
Did you know? Short-Eared Owls are one of the most widely distributed birds, found on all continents except Antarctica and Australia. They are also highly nomadic, often relocating in response to fluctuations in prey populations.
Where & How to Observe Owls in Vermont
Finding owls in Vermont can be an adventure, and there are several spots throughout the state where you can get started.
- The Green Mountain National Forest: This large forested area is a great place to see many of Vermont’s owl species, including the Great Horned Owl and the Eastern Screech Owl.
- Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge: Located on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain, this refuge provides an excellent habitat for many species of owls, including the Barred Owl and Short-Eared Owl.
- The Northeast Kingdom: This sparsely populated region in the northeastern corner of the state offers extensive forested areas where Northern Saw-Whet Owls and Snowy Owls can be seen during the winter months.
- Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area: This area in Addison County is a fantastic place for bird-watching, including spotting the elusive Barn Owl.
Owls in Vermont can be found in a variety of habitats including forests, grasslands, marshes, and even residential areas. For example, the Great Horned Owl prefers large forested areas while the Barn Owl is often found in open farmlands and marshes.
Quick Tips For Owl Spotting
- Timing is Key: Many owls are nocturnal, so your best chance to see them is during the early evening or before dawn. However, some species like the Short-Eared Owl can be active during the day.
- Quiet is Essential: Owls have excellent hearing, so try to be as quiet as possible while searching for them. Avoid sudden movements that may scare them away.
- Use Your Ears: Often, you’ll hear an owl before you see it. Learn the calls of the different species to help identify them.
- Bring the Right Equipment: A good pair of binoculars or a spotting scope can be invaluable when trying to spot owls.
- Respect Their Space: Keep a respectful distance from any owls you see. Getting too close can stress the bird and disrupt their hunting and resting.
Happy owl spotting in the beautiful state of Vermont!
Owls in Other States
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia