Owls in Wisconsin have little need to venture far from home, because the state’s climate and prey are perfect for its three most common owl species! The three main species of owls that inhabit Wisconsin include the Great Horned Owls, Eastern-screech Owls, and Barred Owls. Although, Wisconsin also gets some migrating visitors and less common owls, which are typically more rare species that move south from Canada. Keep reading to see all 11 species of owls in Wisconsin!
Owls in Wisconsin
The 11 species of owls in Wisconsin are the Great Horned Owl, Eastern Screech-owl, Barred Owl, Great Gray Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Boreal Owl, Barn Owl, Short-eared Owl, Long-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, and the Snowy Owl.
1. Great Horned Owl
- Length: 18.1-24.8 in
- Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz
- Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in
Great Horned Owls have extremely fluffy feathers, therefore their wings often make no sound in flight. Great horned owls can be found in Wisconsin’s woodlands, cliffs, and canyons. They are mostly active and searching for prey at night, so a daytime sighting is extremely rare! Great Horned Owls are common in many other states throughout the U.S.
2. Eastern Screech-owl
- Length: 6.3-9.8 inches
- Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz
- Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 inches
Screech owls can be found mostly in the southern parts of Wisconsin, in both suburban and rural areas. They often inhabit woodland areas, with streams and meadows. Screech owls stay native to Wisconsin and don’t migrate far – Wisconsin has everything they need!
3. Barred Owl
- Length: 16.9-19.7 inches
- Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz
- Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 inches
Barred owls often inhabit Wisconsin’s greater plains and wide-open areas. They often live in older forests made of evergreens and other deciduous trees. If you want to spot a barred owl, you’ll need to take a trip to Wisconsin’s great lakes!
4. Great Gray Owl
- Length: 24.0-33.1 inches
- Weight: 24.7-60.0 oz
- Wingspan: 53.9-60.2 inches
The Great Gray Owl is the tallest American owl, with the largest wingspan. These owls have migrated to Wisconsin from the boreal forests of Canada. They are strong enough to break through hard-packed snow in order to catch prey! They feast on Wisconsin’s ground-critters, such as squirrels and other small rodents.
5. Northern Hawk Owl
- Length: 14.2-17.7 in
- Weight: 8.5-16.0 oz
- Wingspan: 27.9 in
The Northern Hawk Owl has been a more rare sighting in the state of Wisconsin, and their visits are usually short, around four months. If you’re lucky enough to spot one, it will likely be in Wisconsin’s cave deposits. The northern hawk owl can see its prey from a half a mile away!
6. The Boreal Owl
- Length: 8.3-11.0 in
- Weight: 3.3-7.6 oz
- Wingspan: 21.6-24.4 in
The Boreal is a rather small owl – they stand out because they lack ear tufts! These owls can be found inhabiting some of Wisconsin’s more beautiful trees, such as spruce, poplar, birch, and balsam fir.
7. Barn Owl
- 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 to parts of southern Wisconsin only and are rare in the rest of the 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.
There are at least 46 varieties of Barn Owl worldwide. Despite their global presence, habitat loss is beginning to affect their populations in some areas.
8. Long-eared Owl
- Length: 13.8-15.8 in (35-40 cm)
- Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz (220-435 g)
- Wingspan: 35.4-39.4 in (90-100 cm)
Common throughout Wisconsin, the Long-eared Owl likes to live in dense trees near grassland or pasture areas. These birds often roost in small communities in clumps of trees during the winter, and can be easier to spot this way.
Long-eared Owls use abandoned nests built by other birds rather than building their own. While they don’t tend to call as frequently as some other owl species, the male’s call can be heard over a kilometer away.
9. Short-eared Owl
- Length: 13.4-16.9 in (34-43 cm)
- Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz (206-475 g)
- Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in (85-103 cm)
Short-eared Owls are residents in southern Wisconsin year-round, but in northern parts of the state they’re only in town for the breeding season. These birds like open ground, and are sometimes easier to spot than other species because they often hunt during the day.
Female Short-eared Owls are reluctant to leave their nests, and will often defecate on their eggs. It’s thought that the odor may also help disguise the location of a nest, or just be a general repellent to predators.
10. Northern Saw-whet Owl
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.
Northern Saw-whet Owls are found throughout the state of Wisconsin all year.
11. Snowy Owl
- Length: 20.5-27.9 in
- Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
- Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 in
The Snowy Owl is traditionally an owl thought of in the tundra or taiga thanks to its white coloration that blends in perfectly with the snow. However, it’s a surprisingly nomadic bird that’s been slowly breeding more and more south. Currently, Snowy Owls have a winter range throughout most of the entire state of Wisconsin.
This truly large bird of prey is the largest avian predator of the High Arctic and one of the largest owls in the world. In the New World though, they come out on top as the heaviest and longest winged owl in North America. This owl is unique in that they choose to be active at both night and day, which allows them to be top predators for a wide range of prey no matter the time of day.
Information about these birds was sourced from allaboutbirds.org.