With its dramatic landscapes, varying from forested mountains to shrubland and deserts, New Mexico provides environments for a wide variety of animals. Raptors in particular find New Mexico the perfect place to winter or make a permanent home. That’s why in this article we’ll be learning about the owls in New Mexico. We’ll show you pictures, talk a little about where and when to spot them, and learn a few facts about each species.
The 13 owls in New Mexico
There are 13 species of owls who call New Mexico home for at least a portion of the year. Those owls are the Northern Saw-whet Owl, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Flammulated Owl, Whiskered Screech-owl, Western Screech-owls, Northern Pygmy Owl, Elf Owl, Burrowing Owl, Mexican Spotted Owl, and the Boreal Owl.
Keep reading to find out more facts about the owls that you might see in New Mexico.
1. Northern Saw-whet
- Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
- Length: 7.1-8.3 inches
- Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
- Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 inches
Northern is a bit of a misnomer for this owl which can be found all through the United States. Though some populations are migratory and travel south, there are Northern Saw-whet owls that call New Mexico their permanent home. Northern Saw-whet Owls can be found in the New Mexico forests.
Saw-whet owls are small and nocturnal and may be difficult to see. They live in dense vegetation and make their nests in trees above eye-level. They are not difficult to hear. The shrill cries that give them their name can be heard echoing through the woods at night. Saw-whet owls can be found by watching for groups of songbirds mobbing their nests to drive them out.
2. Barn Owl
- Scientific name: Tyto alba
- Length: 12.6-15.8 inches
- Weight: 14.1-24.7 oz
- Wingspan: 188.8.131.52 oz
Barn Owls stay in their ranges year-round and do not migrate to breed. They are a permanent resident of New Mexico. Barn Owls stay away from the mountain regions but can be found in farmland and the High Plains. They can be found nesting in abandoned buildings and other manmade structures. They also dig burrows in arroyos if there are no man-made structures present.
Barn Owl pellets are directed in science classes across the country. Barn Owls swallow their prey whole which leaves their dropping full of bones. This makes their pellets a perfect record of their diet. Nesting Barn Owls stockpile prey in their nests to have food on hand for their nestlings. They will often have dozens of small animal carcasses stored.
3. Great Horned Owl
- Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
- Length: 18.1-24.8 inches
- Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz
- Wingspan: 32.1-88.2 inch
The Great-Horned Owl can be found all across the United States and North America. Like the Barn Owl, the Great-Horned Owl is non-migratory and can be found in New Mexico year-round. They are residents of White Sands National Park, as well as Albuquerque, and other parts of the state.
Great-Horned Owls are large and will often take down other large raptors as prey. Their massive talons require 28 pounds of pressure to open once they have closed to grasp something. They use their amazing strength to break the spines of their prey.
4. Long-eared Owl
- Scientific name: Asio otus
- Length: 13.8-15.8 inches
- Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz
- Wingspan: 35.4-39.4 inches
Long-eared owls are permanent residents of New Mexico. Their preferred hunting grounds are open land, and they make their homes in dense shrubbery. Although it is wide-spread through the state, their shy nature means they are rarely spotted, and their habits are not as well known as those of other owls.
Though rarely seen, Long-eared Owls have a distinctive call that can be heard almost a half-mile away. The Long-eared Owl gets its name from the two long ear tufts that add to its look of constant surprise. Long-eared owls do not build their own nests. They make use of the abandoned nests of other birds. They will also occasionally use abandoned squirrel nests.
5. Short-eared Owl
- Scientific name: Asio flammeus
- Length: 13.4-16.9 inches
- Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz
- Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 inches
The Short-eared owl breeds in Canada and has permanent populations in the northern part of the United States. They travel south for winter. New Mexico is one of the wintering grounds for the Short-eared owl. They will be seen over flat land like farmland or open plains as they fly low to hunt.
This owl is easier to spot than some other species since it is diurnal. Short-eared owls are messy eaters. They will remove the head and eviscerate their prey before swallowing the rest whole. Their diet does not only consist of small mammals. They will also occasionally eat birds. They will remove the bird’s wings before swallowing the rest.
6. Flammulated Owl
- Scientific name: Psiloscops flammeolus
- Length: 5.9-6.7 inches
- Weight: 1.5-2.2 oz
- Wingspan: 15.9-16.1 inches
Flammulated Owls are still a mystery as fas as migration goes. However, there are a few breeding populations spread through New Mexico. There is also a known migratory path through the southwestern corner of the state. They can be found in the mountain regions, especially in pine-oak forests and aspen groves.
The Flammulated Owl has an extremely low-pitched call for its size. This because it’s trachea is comparatively large. This is a helpful defense against predators who may be expecting a much larger owl. This small owl is more common than it was once thought. They are difficult to spot because of their size and ability to camouflage, and their tiny size.
7. Whiskered Screech-owl
- Scientific name: Megascops trichopsis
- Length: 6.9 – 7.4 in
- Weight: 3.0 – 3.5 oz
- Wingspan: 16-20 inches
The Whiskered-screech owl is mostly found in Mexico. There is a tiny population that makes its home in the southwest corner of New Mexico. This owl makes its home at higher elevations and stays in the treetops. Compared to its cousins the Eastern Screech-owl, and the Western Screech-owl, the Whiskered Screech-owl is an enigma. It is considered to be a threatened species in New Mexico.
Like the other Screech-owls, this owl has a very distinctive voice. Its call is described s sounding like Morse code. Though it can be heard, very few Whiskered Screech-owl nest have ever been found. Little is known about its behaviors because it is so rarely observed.
8. Western Screech-owl
- Scientific name: Megascops kennicotti
- Length: 7.5-9.8 inches
- Weight: 3.5-10.8 oz
- Wingspan: 21.6-24.4 inches
Western Screech-owls are non-migratory and inhabit a large portion of the western United States, into Mexico. Their range includes a large portion of New Mexico. Their habitat is in the trees, generally along canyons. They are not averse to living in the suburbs, or in the desert.
This Western Screech-owl is small, but it’s the largest of the small owls that inhabit New Mexico. It does not screech as the name suggests. Instead, it makes a “too, too” sound. They blend in well with trees, and during the day they will often be hiding in plain sight, disguised by the tree bark.
9. Northern Pygmy-Owl
- Scientific name: Glaucidium californicum
- Length: 6.3-7.1 inches
- Weight: 2.1-2.5 oz
- Wingspan: 14.5-16.0 inches
The Northern Pygmy-owl is a permanent resident in the mountains of New Mexico. During the winter they move to lower elevations and often into areas more populated by humans. Despite this, they will not make use of nesting boxes the way other owl species do.
Many raptor species cache their prey for later. Northern Pygmy-Owls are one of these. They do not just cache their food in tree cavities or holes. They also hang their catches from thorns. These tiny owls are diurnal, and sit and wait for prey to come close enough for them to catch it.
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10. Elf Owl
- Scientific name: Micrathene whitneyi
- Length: 4.9-5.6 inches
- Weight: 1.4 oz
- Wingspan: 10.5 inches
The tiny Elf Owl is a native to the American South West. Mainly found in Texas and Arizona, there is also a small population in New Mexico. They live in deserts nesting in woodpecker holes in cactuses, and in some woodlands. They migrate south and spend their winters in Mexico.
Elf owls are the smallest owl species. They are threatened or endangered in the majority of their range. They are primarily insectivores, feasting on crickets, beetles, mice, and the occasional scorpion.
11. Burrowing Owl
- Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
- Length: 7.5-9.8 inches
- Weight: 5.3 oz
- Wingspan: 21.6 inches
Burrowing Owls have a year-long presence in New Mexico. They are at homes in deserts and grasslands, and true to their name dig a hole to make their nests. Burrowing owls that only spend their winters in New Mexico will often just make themselves at home in tufts of grass or other vegetation.
Burrowing owls have a unique method of making sure food is available while nesting. Aside from caching behavior, they will also place animal dung around the entrance to their burrow before laying their eggs. The dung attracts insects to the burrow which they can easily catch and eat.
12. Mexican Spotted Owl
- Scientific name: Strix occidentalis lucida
- Length: 16-19 inches
- Weight: 19.5-23 ounces
- Wingspan: 42-45 inches
The Mexican Spotted Owl is not just an inhabitant of Mexico. It also has a permanent population scattered through New Mexico. They are found in several national forests. Lincoln, Carson, Santa Fe, Gila, and Cibola National Forests are all home to the Mexican Spotted Owl.
The habits of Mexican Spotted Owls are not very well known. What is known is that Mexican Spotted Owls are naturally rare, and are now becoming endangered due to habitat loss. Mexican Spotted Owls are also threatened due to the small size of their clutches and delayed breeding.
13. Boreal Owl
- Scientific name: Aegolius funereus
- Length: 8.3-11.0 inches
- Weight: 3.3-7.6 oz
- Wingspan: 21.6-24.4 in
The Boreal Owl has a small population located in the northern part of New Mexico. These owls make their homes in mountain ranges. Boreal Owls nest in trees but will also make use of nesting boxes. Very little is known about these owls since they are nocturnal and for the most part located at higher elevations.
It is not uncommon in raptors for the females to be visibly larger than the males. Boreal Owls take this to the extreme. Female Boreal Owls can be twice the size of males. Boreal Owls will find new sites to roost daily, making them even harder to observe.