Skip to content Skip to footer

All 11 Owl Species Found in Wisconsin (With Pictures & Info)

Wisconsin, known for its dairy farms, forests, and lakes, is also home to a variety of fascinating owl species. These nocturnal creatures lend an air of mystique to the state’s diverse habitats, captivating birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts alike.

In this article, we’ll delve into the world of Wisconsin’s owls, discussing where to find them, how to spot them, and some fun facts about each species.

Owl Species Found in Wisconsin

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 45–63 cm (18–25 in)
  • Weight: 910–2,500 g (2–5.5 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 101–145 cm (40–57 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Great Horned Owl, a permanent resident of Wisconsin, is the most common owl in the Americas. Its “horns” are actually tufts of feathers, called plumicorns, that serve no known purpose. These majestic birds live in a wide variety of habitats, including mixed forests, grasslands, deserts, and urban areas.

They are known for their fierce hunting skills, capturing a variety of prey from small mammals and birds to reptiles and amphibians. The Great Horned Owl’s hoot is unmistakable, consisting of a series of deep, stuttering hoots that add an eerie ambiance to the still night air.

Did you know? The Great Horned Owl is a formidable predator that can take large prey, including other raptors such as Ospreys, Peregrine Falcons, and other owls. It’s also the only animal that regularly eats skunks!

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, a year-round resident of Wisconsin, is a petite bird cloaked in grey or reddish-brown feathers. Despite its name, this owl doesn’t screech; instead, its call is an eerie trill or soft, mournful whinny. You’ll most often find these owls in forests and woodlands, as well as in suburban and urban areas.

The Eastern Screech Owl is a master of disguise. When threatened, it elongates its body and tightens its feathers, mimicking a tree branch. As small as it is, this owl is a fierce predator, catching anything from insects and small rodents to birds and reptiles.

Did you know? The Eastern Screech Owl is one of the smallest owls in North America, but it’s also one of the most common, living in every habitat from the deep woods to city parks.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix varia
  • Size: 40–63 cm (16–25 in)
  • Weight: 500–1,050 g (1.1–2.3 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 96–125 cm (38–49 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Barred Owl, also known as the hoot owl for its distinctive call, is a large, round-headed owl that inhabits Wisconsin’s forests year-round. This species favors mature forests and woodland areas near water bodies, where they nest in tree cavities.

The Barred Owl’s call is a distinctive “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” hoot that rings through the forests at night. They hunt at night, swooping down on their prey, which includes small mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, Barred Owls are known to be particularly vocal in the daytime. Their hoots are often answered by other animals, including squirrels, turkeys, and even other bird species!

Great Gray Owl

Great Grey Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix nebulosa
  • Size: 61–84 cm (24–33 in)
  • Weight: 790–1,290 g (1.7–2.8 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 142–152 cm (56–60 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Great Gray Owl, a magnificent sight in the Wisconsin wilderness, is recognized as the world’s largest species of owl by length. Although these owls are present in Wisconsin all year round, they are fairly uncommon and prefer remote northern forests.

The Great Gray Owl is known for its extraordinary hunting skills, even in the harshest of winters. This bird can detect a rodent under a layer of snow from a distance, then plunge through the snow to capture it. With their grey feathers, these owls blend in perfectly with the tree trunks, making them difficult to spot.

Did you know? Despite their great size, Great Gray Owls only weigh about 2 to 3 pounds. Their impressive size is mainly due to their long tails and a thick layer of feathers, which insulates them against the cold environments they inhabit.

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: Year-round

The Boreal Owl is a small and elusive owl species that calls the coniferous forests of Wisconsin home throughout the year. This nocturnal bird is rarely seen due to its highly secretive nature and remote habitat preferences, primarily residing in dense forests with abundant old growth for nesting.

Their diet mainly consists of voles, but they’ll also eat other small mammals and birds. Boreal Owls have exceptional hearing, and they use this sense more than their vision to locate prey in the dark.

Did you know? The Boreal Owl is also known as the Tengmalm’s owl. The alternate name comes from Swedish naturalist Peter Gustaf Tengmalm, who described the species scientifically.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 33–39 cm (13–15 in)
  • Weight: 224–710 g (0.49–1.57 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 80–95 cm (31–37 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

Barn Owls, widely distributed across Wisconsin, are famous for their heart-shaped faces, buff back and wings, and pure white underparts. You can find these owls all year round in the state, often in barns and other farm buildings, hence their common name.

Their diet primarily consists of small mammals, especially rodents, making them a beneficial presence around granaries and farmlands. Barn Owls use a keen sense of hearing to locate their prey in the dark, often taking flight from a perch to swoop down on unsuspecting prey.

Did you know? The Barn Owl does not hoot like many other owl species. Instead, it emits a chilling, raspy screech, sometimes mistaken for the call of a ghost, earning it names like “ghost owl” and “demon owl.”

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 18–21 cm (7.1–8.3 in)
  • Weight: 54–151 g (1.9–5.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 42.5–56.3 cm (16.7–22.2 in)
  • Time of the Year: Year-round

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a small, charismatic species found in forests across Wisconsin. They can be found throughout the year, but they are often elusive due to their size and nocturnal habits. Their common name, “Saw-Whet,” comes from one of this owl’s calls that is said to resemble the sound of a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone.

They are primarily mouse hunters, but can take prey larger than themselves, including voles and shrews. During the day, Northern Saw-Whet Owls roost in dense foliage, sometimes just above eye level, making them a delightful find for patient bird watchers.

Did you know? Despite their small size and seemingly cute appearance, Northern Saw-Whet Owls are fierce hunters. They often decapitate their prey before eating and save uneaten parts for later meals.

Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio otus
  • Size: 31–40 cm (12–16 in)
  • Weight: 178–435 g (0.39–0.96 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 86–100 cm (34–39 in)
  • Time of the Year: Winter

Long-Eared Owls, or Asio otus, are medium-sized owls with an elongated facial disk and, as their name suggests, notable long ears. In Wisconsin, these migratory birds are most often sighted in winter when they form communal roosts.

These secretive birds favor dense stands of conifers or mixed woodlands for their roosts, especially near open fields or marshes. At night, they hunt for small mammals, especially voles, in nearby open areas. Due to their secretive nature and nocturnal habits, they can be challenging to spot but are a special find for any birdwatcher.

Did you know? The Long-Eared Owl’s “ears” are not ears at all, but tufts of feathers called plumicorns. They can raise or lower these tufts to communicate their mood or blend in with their surroundings.

Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
  • Size: 34–43 cm (13–17 in)
  • Weight: 206–475 g (0.45–1.05 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 85–110 cm (33–43 in)
  • Time of the Year: Winter

Short-Eared Owls are medium-sized owls recognized for their small ear tufts, yellow eyes, and round, buff-colored faces. These owls prefer open country and are more likely to be seen in flight during daylight hours than other owl species, especially at dawn and dusk.

Unlike most owls, Short-Eared Owls often make their nests on the ground in open fields, marshlands, or grasslands. They feed primarily on small mammals and occasionally on small birds. In Wisconsin, they are most commonly seen during the winter months.

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

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl
  • Scientific Name: Surnia ulula
  • Size: 36–42.5 cm (14.2–16.7 in)
  • Weight: 300–400 g (0.66–0.88 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 69–82 cm (27–32 in)
  • Time of the Year: Winter (Irregular, usually not every year)

The Northern Hawk Owl, or Surnia ulula, is a non-migratory owl native to the northernmost regions of North America, Europe, and Asia. It is an irregular visitor in Wisconsin, making appearances mainly during the winter.

This species boasts a long, cylindrical body, a small round head without ear tufts, and yellow eyes. Its name is derived from its hawk-like behavior of hunting during the day and its tendency to perch openly on the tops of trees. It has a varied diet, consuming small mammals and birds.

Did you know? Unlike most owls, the Northern Hawk Owl has eyes set at the front of its face, providing better depth perception for hunting at high speeds during the day.

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 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 125–150 cm (49–59 in)
  • Time of the Year: Winter (Irregular, usually not every year)

The Snowy Owl, or Bubo scandiacus, is one of the most recognizable owl species, particularly for its starring role in the Harry Potter series as Hedwig. It is one of the heaviest owls found in North America, distinguished by its rounded head without ear tufts, yellow eyes, and pure white feathers.

Snowy Owls breed in the Arctic tundra and are only occasional visitors to Wisconsin during the winter. They prefer open landscapes like fields or beaches, where they feed mainly on small mammals, especially lemmings and rabbits.

Did you know? Female Snowy Owls are not entirely white. They have dark barring on their feathers, while the males become whiter as they age.

Where & How to Observe Owls in Wisconsin

Owls are widespread throughout Wisconsin, and you might spot them in a variety of habitats. Great Horned Owls, for instance, are prevalent in woodlands, city parks, and even suburban areas. Northern Saw-Whet Owls prefer dense thickets and coniferous forests.

For those willing to venture further, the state’s parks and nature reserves are fantastic places to go owl-spotting. Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, in Grantsburg, is home to a large number of Barred Owls. In the winter, Buena Vista Wildlife Area, near Stevens Point, becomes a haven for Short-Eared Owls.

Northern Hawk Owls and Snowy Owls are more elusive and irregular winter visitors, but keen birders may spot them in open areas like agricultural fields and grasslands.

Quick Tips For Owl Spotting

  • Timing is everything: Owls are mostly nocturnal, but some species, like the Northern Hawk Owl, are active during the day. Twilight hours—dawn and dusk—are often the best times to spot these raptors.
  • Be quiet: Owls have keen hearing and will likely detect you before you see them. Move slowly and quietly to avoid scaring them away.
  • Look for signs: Look out for “whitewash” (owl droppings) on the ground or the tree trunk, and pellet remains—these are good indicators that an owl might be nearby.
  • Use binoculars: A good pair of binoculars can help you spot owls perched in trees or flying in the distance.
  • Respect their space: If an owl appears agitated or tries to fly away, you are likely too close. Step back and give the owl its space.

Remember, patience is key when it comes to bird watching. With a bit of perseverance and a lot of quiet, you’re sure to spot some of Wisconsin’s fascinating owls.

Owls in Other States

Leave a Comment