It’s no surprise that Vermont is home to a stunning array of wildlife. With the integrity of its natural landscape still intact in many places, animals still have the safety of their natural habitat. The forested areas of Vermont are the perfect home for many of the bird species of North America, whether it’s year-round or just for the breeding season. Of the many bird species that call this state home, the owls in Vermont are among our favorite birds of prey that reside there.
The 9 types of owls in Vermont
There are 9 species of owl that call Vermont home. Eastern Screech Owls, Great Horned Owls, Snowy Owls, Barred Owls, Great Grey Owls, Long-Eared Owls, Short-Eared Owls, Northern Saw-Whet Owls, and Barn Owls. If you are lucky enough to spot one of these stunning birds, you can use the descriptions below to help identify them.
1. Eastern Screech-owl
Length: 6.3-9.8 inches
Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz
Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 inches
This stocky little owl is more likely to let you hear him than see him. Named for their distinctive vocalizations, the Northern Screech Owl is largely nocturnal and makes it’s home in wooded areas of all kinds, even in more urban areas. These are non-migratory owls that make their home permanently in the majority of the Eastern United States.
You may be able to spot these owls during the day by watching the behaviors of other resident birds. Starlings and blue-jays will make themselves loud and unpleasant in an attempt to make Eastern Screech Owls move out of the neighborhood. Despite the fact that These owls commonly make a meal of Starlings, Starlings are often successful at driving away their unwanted neighbors and then taking up residence in their holes.
Eastern Screech-owls form monogamous pairs. The male is smaller than the female, giving him an edge when it comes to speed and agility. When the female is on the nest she and the chicks are dependent on the food the ale brings them.
2. Great Horned Owl
Length: 18.1-24.8 inches
Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz
Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 inches
This large owl is a permanent resident of Vermont and the majority of the United States. There are regional differences in coloration, with the Screech Owls of Vermont spotting a more mottled brown appearance than their pale Southwestern and darker Pacific Northwestern counterparts.
The Great-horned Owl has a grip that requires 28 pounds of force to open. The owl uses this vice-like grip to sever the spines of it’s larger prey.
Groups of crows are frequently seen mobbing a single owl. The Great Horned Owl is the most common predator of crows, and they do this in an effort to get them to leave the area.
3. Snowy Owl
Length: 20.5-27.9 inches
Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 inches
This gorgeous white owl with black or brown flecks uses Vermont as a vacation spot in the winter. They tend to be seen on the ground in open areas, and when in flight also stay lower to the ground.
The Snowy Owl is an oddity among the owl species. It is one of the few that is diurnal, meaning it hunts during the day. In the Arctic summer, it has been recorded hunting during all hours of the extended daylight. This is not the only oddity the Snowy Owl displays. It has also been seen waiting near ice-holes to catch fish with its feet.
The Snowy Owl is one of the heaviest owls. It is the same height as the Great Horned Owl but outweighs it by around a pound, and weighs twice as much as the Great Grey Owl, which is the tallest owl in America. The striking color of the Snowy Owl is how it got its name. The males tend to lighten in color as they age, and the whitest owls that are seen are almost always male.
4. Barred Owl
Length: 16.9-19.7 inches
Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz
Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 inches
The Barred Owl is a non-migratory owl that calls Vermont home year-round. They are mottled brown and white, with the brown bars that give them their name on their undersides, wings, and tails. They keep to the trees during the day, but will occasionally call out. The majority of their behavior is nocturnal, and they can be recognized by their extremely distinctive call that sounds similar to “who cooks for you.”
Barred Owls are under threat from Great Horned Owls, which frequently makes meals of the smaller owl. They often share territories, but Barre Owls will relocate if a Great Horned Owl is too close. Barred Owls are definite homebodies that rarely stray more than 6miles from their place of birth.
If you are out trying to spot a Barred Owl, listen for their call and try to imitate it. Barred Owls are territorial and may fly out to investigate the intruder.
5. Great Gray Owl
Length: 24.0-33.1 inches
Weight: 24.7-60.0 oz
Wingspan: 53.9-60.2 inches
As far as the experts are aware, the Great Gray Owl does not have a breeding presence in Vermont. It has been noticed there, however, in small populations. This means they have most likely strayed out of their normal range to look for food.
This is the tallest owl in the United States, but 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.
Great Gray Owls tend to be elusive and difficult to spot. They often make their homes in dead trees and may be perched at any level. These owls are very easily disturbed, so if you are out trying to spot one, proceed carefully.
6. Long-eared Owl
Length: 13.8-15.8 inches
Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz
Wingspan: 35.4-39.4 inches
The Long-eared owl gets its name from the two long ear tufts on its head, that combined with its large eyes, gives it the appearance of a startled cat. This nocturnal owl makes it home in the dense part of trees. It is not a permanent resident of Vermont but uses it as a breeding ground.
They are communal nesters, and extremely vocal, so if you have Long-Eared Owls near you, you will have most likely heard them. They wait to hunt until it is completely dark, and their preferred hunting grounds are flat open areas.
Long-Eared Owls swallow their prey whole, and regurgitate the remains as “pellets”. These pellets are an interesting look into the diet of an owl and are often gathered and examined in biology classes.
7. Short-eared Owl
Length: 13.4-16.9 inches
Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz
Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 inches
The Short-Eared Owl is a year-round resident in the northernmost portion of Vermont, and also has a presence in the rest of the state, though it does not have breeding populations. These owls favor perching in short trees in or staying low to the ground. Their preferred hunting grounds are flat, open grasslands.
This owl has taken advantage of the destruction done by strip mining. It has made nesting grounds in abandoned and reclaimed strip mines that are south of its usual breeding grounds.
These owls are widely distributed globally and are world travelers. They have landed on ships hundreds of miles away from land. There is a subspecies that is Hawaii’s only native owl species.
8. Northern Saw-whet Owl
Length: 7.1-8.3 inches
Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 inches
These tiny owls in Vermont call the state home year-round. It is well known for its shrill call, which is where it got its name. They are fond of mice, and usually eat them over the course of two days. These owls are very vocal but manage to keep themselves hidden. Their mottled brown feathers and white facial discs help them blend into dark foliage.
The female Northern Saw-whet Owl keeps a very tidy nest. She leaves her chicks after they are about 18 days old and the male continues to feed them until they leave the nest about 10 days later. In typical youthful fashion, the young owls do not clean up after themselves, and by the time they leave home the nest is coated in rotting prey, pellets, and fecal matter.
We are still learning about the migratory pattern of the Northern Saw-Whet Owl. Though it seems to keep a permanent residence in some areas, it has also been spotted 70 miles offshore. Researchers began project Owlnet in the 1990s to begin tagging owls to learn more about their migration patterns.
9. Barn Owl
Length: 12.6-15.8 inches
Weight: 14.1-24.7 oz
Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 inches
The Barn Owl is one of the most recognizable owls. It’s unique features make it easy to identify, as does it’d distinctive sound. They are permanent residents of Vermont and most of the rest of the United States. They make their homes in hollowed out trees, abandoned buildings, and in areas of dense foliage.
In an interesting role reversal for birds, female Barn Owls have more distinctive coloration than males. They tend to have spots that are more reddish and are spottier than males. The more spots a female has, the less likely she is to get parasites. Something about the spots also gets the male owl helping out more around the nest. In experiments where the female’s spots were removed, the male owls did not feed the chicks as frequently.
The Barn Owl is by far the animal that is the best at finding its prey using only sound. In a laboratory setting, it is able to catch prey in complete darkness, and in the wild can find prey that is completely hidden by foliage or snow.