Owls in Oregon (See the 15 Different Species)

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Owls, mysterious and wise, are a favorite bird for many. The fact that most of us never see them due to their camouflage and nocturnal habits makes them all the more mysterious. It makes you wonder what types of owls you have living near you. In this article we will look at owls in Oregon. Such as what owls species live in the great state of Oregon, a bit about their size and appearance, as well as what part of the state they can be found in.

It is currently thought that there are about 19-20 species of owls found in North America. The state of Oregon is home to at least 15 of these owl species at various times of the year.

Let’s take a look at those species and learn a bit about them, shall we?

Owls in Oregon

image: TUBS | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

While you can always get sightings of uncommon owls passing through or spending time over the border from a neighboring state, our research from allaboutbirds.org and Audubon shows the following 15 owl species are currently considered to be found in Oregon either year round or seasonally on a consistent basis.

The 15 species of Owls found in Oregon are Northern Saw-whet Owl, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Flammulated Owl, Western Screech Owl, Snowy Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Northern Pygmy Owl, Burrowing Owl, Spotted Owl, Barred Owl, Great Gray Owl, and the Boreal Owl.

1. Northern Saw-whet Owl

Length: 7.1-8.3 inches
Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 inches

The best bet for catching a glimpse of a Northern Saw-whet Owl is to learn it’s call and listen for it at night. Luckily, they have a distinct call that sounds like a blade being sharpened with a whetstone, earning the name “saw-whet” owl. During late winter through early summer they tend to call more frequently, so be sure to listen to a high-pitched, “too-too-too” call around then.

Their mottled brown plumage blends in easily to the trees around them, especially when they’re perched motionlessly on a branch. These owls are also naturally secretive, preferring to lay low and avoid being noticed. Like most other owls, they’re also only active at night.

Northern Saw-whet Owls can be found in much of Oregon’s wooded areas and mature forests all year.


2. Barn Owl

Scientific name: Strix alba
Length: 12.6-15.8 inches
Weight: 14.1-24.7 Oz
Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 inches

The Barn Owl, with its distinctive screech, is a permanent resident of Oregon and found throughout the entire state. This owl lives up to its name and can often be found occupying barns, and other abandoned structures. They also roost in hollow tree trunks and thick clumps of trees.

These nocturnal predators hunt open fields at night, looking for rodents, which they will swallow whole. This habit of swallowing prey in one gulp means that rather than passing from one end to the other, the owl forms “pellets” which it coughs up. These pellets give an excellent peek into the owl’s diet and are used by researchers to learn more about the owls and their feeding habits, as well as by students.

There are at least 46 varieties of Barn Owl worldwide. The North American version is the largest, while the smallest comes from the Galapagos Islands. The North American Barn Owl is twice the size of its diminutive island cousin. Despite their global presence, habitat loss is beginning to affect their populations in some areas.


3. Great Horned Owl

Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
Length: 18.1-24.8 in
Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz
Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in

An image of the Great Horned Owl probably comes to mind when you think of owls, with its large booming hoot and long, horn-like tufts where it gets its name from. It’s one of the most common owls in North America and can be found in nearly any semi-open areas between the Arctic and the tropics.

Great Horned Owls are very adept predators that can take down birds and mammals much larger than themselves, even including other raptors like ospreys. When larger prey isn’t available, they will also eat tiny scorpions, mice, and frogs.

The Great Horned Owl is well adapted to all weather, as it has extremely soft feathers that insulate against the cold and also serve to muffle the sounds of their flight when in pursuit. This amazing bird has a grip strength that can easily sever the spine of large prey, and requires a force of 28 pounds to open back up.

Found throughout the state, the Great Horned Owl is one of the largest owls in Oregon and is the most widespread owl in the United States.


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

The Long-Eared Owl is the most comfortable roosting in dense foliage. Though they enjoy the woods for roosting, they need wide-open areas for hunting. Similar to the Great Horned Owl, the ear tufts on its head give the Long-Eared Owl its name.

The male owl has a call that can be heard 1 kilometer (just over half a mile) away. The Long-Eared Owl has a variety of calls, it has a typical “hoot” and also makes a barking sound.

The Long-Eared Owl is an efficient hunter, with hearing so precise it can snatch insects in pitch darkness. They are extremely elusive animals but can be spotted by looking for their pellets on the ground. All owls have distinctly shaped pellets. In the winter, when they roost in groups, they may also be easier to spot.

These owls are found throughout Oregon, year-round in Eastern Oregon.


5. Short-eared Owl

Scientific name: Asio flammeus
Length: 13.4-16.9 in
Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz
Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in

Short-eared Owls prefer open fields and grasslands, and have adapted well to humans by moving into airports as well, as the planes coming in for a landing displace insects for the owl to swoop up and catch. They get their name from their ear tufts, similar to other species on this list of owls in Oregon.

Short-eared Owls soar silently over grasslands on broad, rounded wings and are most active around dawn and dusk. They use their incredibly acute hearing to track and hunt small mammals and other birds. It’s also one of the few species that has appeared to benefit from strip-mining, as it’s been found often nesting on reclaimed and replanted mines.

This open-country hunter is one of the world’s most widely distributed owls, and among the most frequently seen during the daytime.  Short-eared Owls are capable of traveling long distances, as shown by their distribution, and there have even been reports of these owls descending on ships hundreds of miles from land.

Short-eared Owls are found throughout the entire state of Oregon all year long.


6. Flammulated Owl

image: ALAN SCHMIERER | Flickr

Scientific name: Psiloscops flammeolus
Length: 5.9-6.7 in
Weight: 1.5-2.2 oz
Wingspan: 15.9-16.1 in

The Flammulated Owl is a tiny, reddish owl with a few pockets of breeding populations in Oregon. It’s scarcely larger than a small juice can, making it an extremely difficult animal to spot and considered a notable find for bird watchers. It spends the majority of its time foraging for insects near the tops of massive pine and fir trees.

This owl is highly migratory, wintering in Mexico and Central America, but because of its size and migratory habits, little else is known about its activities when there. They’re also so well camouflaged that finding one during the daytime is worse than finding a needle in a haystack.

An interesting fact about this owl is that it’s able to make a deep, low-pitched hoot that makes it sound like a much larger owl, thanks to its unusually large windpipe!


7. Western Screech-owl

image: Sam may | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Megascops kennicottii
Length: 7.5-9.8 in
Weight: 3.5-10.8 oz
Wingspan: 21.6-24.4 in

The Western Screech-owl hunts in woods and deserts of western North America, and is found state-wide in Oregon. They have an extremely wide range in diet, which includes everything from worms and crayfish to rats and bats.

They’ve adapted well to human presence, and can often be found in urban parks and residential areas as well as the wilder places. They’ll often nest in backyard boxes, making them beloved by locals.

Despite its name, it doesn’t really “screech”; instead it’s more likely an accelerating series of hollow toots. Despite its smaller size, it’s a powerful predator that’s capable of taking down prey much larger than its own body, including cottontail rabbits.

This is the type of owl most seen camouflaged against a tree opening, as they are capable of pressing their head and body feathers against the tree to properly blend in.


8. Snowy Owl

Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
Length: 20.5-27.9 inches
Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 inches

Snowy Owls are not a common sight in the United States. Their habitat is generally much further north. Though Snowy Owls will occasionally appear and stay for the Winter in some U.S. states.

Oregon is within the Snowy Owls irruptive winter range and meaning these owls will sometimes migrate this far south, but not always. Snowy Owls that have established a site they winter at, will continue to use that same site.

If there are Snowy Owls near you, they are not as difficult to spot as other owls. They roost in obvious places, and unlike most other owls, they are diurnal and thus active during the day. Snowy Owls prefer wide-open spaces for hunting, but they will perch on a high point.

Unlike other owl species, Snowy Owls are not afraid to leave their place of birth. Owls from the same nest, that were tracked, were found hundreds of miles away from each other, in opposite directions.


9. Northern Hawk-owl

Scientific name: Surnia Ulula
Weight: 8.5-16 oz
Length: 14.2-17.7 in
Wingspan: 28 in
Lifespan: 10 years

The Northern Hawk Owl is rare in Oregon. The northeastern corner of the state is the very southern edge of the owl’s winter irruptive range, and even then they generally don’t venture this far south unless prey is scarce, especially after a good breeding season.

Northern Hawk Owl’s are a bit unusual because they aren’t nocturnal. They hunt primarily during the day, which means that they identify prey by sight and their hearing isn’t as acute as other owl species’. It also makes them a bit easier to spot than other owls.

This medium sized owl has an oval shaped body with a long tapered tail and horizontal striping on the chest. It likes to sit on solitary tree tops to search for prey, and can be seen during the day. These owls mainly live in the boreal forests of Canada, but sometimes travel down in the northern United States in the winter. Populations have declined in Canada so they head south to look for food.


10. Northern Pygmy Owl

image: NechakoRiver | Flickr | CC 2.0

Scientific name: Glaucidium gnoma
Length: 6.3-7.1 in (16-18 cm)
Weight: 2.1-2.5 oz (60-70 g)
Wingspan:

Northern Pygmy Owls are generally widespread in the mountainous western United States. They are found year-round in several areas in Oregon. Because they’re more active in the day, they are a little easier to spot than nocturnal owls. However they’re also pretty small and tend to perch still waiting for prey – so you still need to keep your eyes peeled to catch a glimpse.

These tiny owls can be  Often active during the daytime, they lie in wait to ambush smaller birds. Perhaps because they are daytime hunters, Northern Pygmy Owls lack the asymmetrical ear placement that is common in other owls to give them advanced hearing skills.

These owls also have dark spots on the back of their heads to look like eyes. These “eye looking spots” are thought to be there to scare off chickadees and other small birds that will team up and mob the owl.


11. Burrowing Owl

Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
Length: 7.5-9.8 in (19-25 cm)
Weight: 5.3 oz (150 g)
Wingspan: 21.6 in (55 cm)

Burrowing Owls are residents in Eastern Oregon during their breeding season, but then travel south for warmer climes during the winter. Unlike most owls, Burrowing Owls live and nest in underground burrows, usually ones abandoned by prairie dogs or other animals. Their habitat is primarily wide stretches of grassland and prairie.

Because of where they like to live, these owls are becoming more rare because their burrows are increasingly hard to come by. They have an extremely varied diet, eating everything from small mammals to grasshoppers or scorpions.

Burrowing Owls have smooth, round heads with no ear tufts, and sandy-colored plumage with brown spots. These owls don’t rely on flying to catch prey, either. Instead, they hunt on the ground, chasing after insects and small animals with their long legs. These smart owls will also store extra food away in these underground chambers to sustain them through incubation and brooding periods.

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12. Northern Spotted Owl

image: Bureau of Land Management | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific name: Strix occidentalis caurina
Length: 18.5-18.9 in
Weight: 17.6-24.7 oz
Wingspan: 39.8 in

The Northern Spotted Owl is one of 3 subspecies of spotted owls and one of the largest owls in North America. Those 3 subspecies are the Mexican Spotted Owl, California Spotted Owl, and the Northern Spotted Owl. All 3 are listed as threatened by both the U.S. and Mexican governments. The Northern Spotted Owl is also found in areas of Northern California and Washington State, but that’s it.

Northern Spotted Owls live in Oregon year-round, particularly in the National Forests of Western Oregon, but finding them is extremely rare. Its population has greatly declined due to the logging of old-growth forests, the Spotted Owl’s habitat. Competition with Barred Owls also makes survival more difficult for these owls.

They’re covered in mostly dark brown plumage, with white dappling throughout. Their facial disks also feature a white “X” marking that helps identify them. Like most owls, Spotted Owls are active at night, when they hunt for small prey, mostly rodents. Their loud, deep hoots can sometimes echo for over a mile.


13. Barred Owl

Scientific name: Strix varia
Length: 16.9-19.7 in
Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz
Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in

The Barred Owl is a common sound to hear in old forests and treed swamps, and their hooting call that sounds like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”. It originated as a bird of the east, but has slowly been spreading through the Pacific Northwest and then southward into California.

Barred Owls are large raptors with stocky bodies and smooth, round heads. Their eyes are wide and so deeply brown that they appear completely black. They have white and brown mottling all over their plumage, with vertical brown barring on their undersides and vertical barring on their upper parts.

There are small portions of Oregon where year-round populations of Barred Owls are found. The main range of Barred Owls is in the eastern United States, but their range has been expanding to the west and there are a significant amount of these owls in the Pacific Northwest today.

They commonly live in the same areas as the Great Horned Owl, but will immediately vacate their territory when one is nearby, as the much bigger Great Horned Owl is their most serious predatory threat. This has led them to evolve some fantastic camouflage, and the young Barred Owls are capable of “walking” up trunks to better avoid this predator.


14. Great Gray Owl

Scientific name: Strix nebulosa
Length: 24.0-33.1 in
Weight: 24.7-60.0 oz
Wingspan: 53.9-60.2 in

Great Gray Owls are found year-round in Northeastern and Central Oregon. They’re very large owls with broad wings and long tails, one of the tallest owls in America in fact. Their eyes appear small and close together on their big facial disks, giving them a unique expression. A white “X” pattern on their faces is another key identifier. Like their name implies, their bodies are covered in fluffy, silvery gray feathers.

Great Gray Owls tend to be elusive and difficult to spot, and not really the type to bring attention to themselves. They reside in dense pine forests and on the edges of meadows, avoiding areas with people. Like most owls, they are most active at night when they hunt – most often in the hours before dusk and dawn. They often make their homes in dead trees and may be perched at any level.

Even though the Great Gray Owl is the tallest owl in the United States, it’s not the heaviest. Despite their lack of weight they have been seen breaking through snow that was strong enough to support a human to catch a small animal. Their size requires that they eat at least 7 animals of around vole size a day.


15. Boreal Owl

Scientific name: Aegolius funereus
Length: 8.3-11.0 in
Weight: 3.3-7.6 oz
Wingspan: 21.6-24.4 in

Boreal Owls are found year-round in Oregon, but mostly in the Northeast corner of the state and in dense mixed-wood and coniferous forests. They’re mysterious birds and are often hard to spot, especially during the day. They roost in a different tree everyday, so don’t expect to find them in the same spots.

Among the smallest owls in Oregon, they lack ear tufts but have large, square heads with stocky bodies and short tails. At night they perch and wait for prey such as small mammals and birds before swooping down and grasping their meal with their talons.

Boreal owls are usually quiet and don’t call very frequently. However, in the late winter through the spring this behavior changes as males call more often for mates. Listen for these quick hoots at night for a better chance at finding them.


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