Owls inspire a great deal of curiosity and mystery. The fact that they’re so fascinating because we seldom see them due to their camouflage and nightlife makes them even more so. It might also make you wonder how many different types of owls live near where I reside? We’ll take a look at Montana’s 15 different species of owls in this article.
OWLS IN MONTANA
In terms of the number of distinct species you may observe in the state, Montana has one of the greatest owl populations in the nation.
The barn owl, barred owl, boreal owl, burrowing owl, eastern screech owl, and flammulated owl are some of the more uncommon species of owls you may see in Montana.
That’s a impressive list! Let’s take a look at each one in turn.
1. BARN OWL
- Scientific name: Tyto alba
- Length: 12.6 – 15.8 in
- Wingspan: 39.4 – 49.2 in
- Weight: 14.1 – 24.7 oz
The barn owl’s standard range does not include Montana, which is one of the few states that are not in it. The barn owl, on the other hand, may be found in neighboring states, so you may get a opportunity for a unique encounter from time to time. Grasslands, fields, ranches, agricultural land, and forest strips are their preferred open environments.
Man-made structures with a lot of eaves and beams, such as barns, attics, and church steeples, are preferred nesting sites for barn owls. They may have acquired their name in this manner. Tree holes, caverns, and cliff sides are also used as nests. During the day, Barn Owls are difficult to spot since they are quite nocturnal.
2. BARRED OWL
- Scientific name: Strix varia
- Length: 16.9 – 19.7 in
- Wingspan: 39.0 – 43.3 in
- Weight: 16.6 – 37.0 oz
In the western United States, Montana is one of just a few places where barred owls may be found. They are missing from the state’s central and eastern regions, so you’ll want to seek them out in the western border and northern corner forests.
They don’t like to be in the same place as the great horned owl, despite their ranges often overlapping. Barred owl eggs, juvenile birds, and even adults are all targets for great horned owls.
If there are vast tracks of uninterrupted forest, barred owls favor mixed and mature trees near water. During the day, you may see them roosting in trees on a hike. When hunting, however, they are most active at night.
Their loud, distinctive hooting cry is likened to “who cooks for you?” “Who prepares for you-all?” A mated pair will sing a variety of hoots, honks, caws, and gurgles during courtship.
3. BOREAL OWL
- Scientific name: Aegolius funereus
- Length: 8.3-11.0 in
- Weight: 3.3-7.6 oz
- Wingspan: 21.6-24.4 in
The boreal forest, which stretches from northern North America to Eurasia, is home to boreal owls, as the name suggests. They prefer a bit warmer climate, so you can only see them in a few states, including Montana. In the western part of the state, particularly in the Kootenai, Flathead, Lolo, and Beaverhead-Deerlodge national forest districts, you’re more likely to find them.
These birds are difficult to find, especially during the day. Each day, they roost in a different tree, so don’t look for them to be where you saw them the day before. If you live in their territory, however, they’ll utilize a nestbox.
They’re little owls with enormous, square heads, stocky bodies, and short tails. They’re around the size of a robin. Before swooping down and grabbing their victim with their talons, they perch and wait for prey such as tiny animals and birds at night.
4. BURROWING OWL
- Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
- Length: 7.5-9.8 in
- Wingspan: 21.6 in
- Weight: 5.3 oz
During the breeding season, central and eastern Montana are home to Burrowing Owls.
These owls are small and have long legs, and they reside in burrows throughout the Earth. These burrows are sometimes dug by themselves, and occasionally they usurp burrows left behind by prairie dogs or ground squirrels. Man-made structures like pipes, buckets, and culverts have been discovered to be used for burrows by them.
Open habitats, such as deserts and grasslands, are where you’ll find them. Because they are so tiny in comparison to the vast open land they call home, and when they are in their burrows barely peek above the horizon, it may be difficult to find them. Dawn and dusk are the busiest times for burrowing owls.
5. EASTERN SCREECH-OWL
- Scientific name: Megascops asio
- Length: 6.3 – 9.8 in
- Wingspan: 18.9 – 24.0 in
- Weight: 4.3 – 8.6 oz
The eastern screech owl’s range extends across Montana, from the east to the east.
Gray, brown, or “red” (really a reddish brown) are the three plumage tones of eastern screech owls. The patterns on their feathers, regardless of color, help them blend in with tree bark and provide excellent camouflage.
Their name may imply that they make a shrill or wailing noise, but this is not true. They don’t hoot, but rather emit high-pitched whinnies that sound like a horse’s trilling neighs.
You can attract eastern screech owls to your yard by setting up an appropriately sized nest box. Farmland, city parks, and suburban neighborhoods are all home to these little owls. Nearly anyplace with some tree cover is fair game.
6. FLAMMULATED OWL
- Scientific name: Psiloscops flammeolus
- Length: 5.9-6.7 in
- Weight: 1.5-2.2 oz
In far western Montana, the flammulated owl breeds in small numbers. These owls are small and spend most of their time perched in the top of large evergreen trees, making them difficult to see. Sound is probably the easiest way to find them. A low-pitched, repeated hoot is heard.
They eat mostly flying insects, such as crickets, moths, and beetles, which they catch at night. They’re well disguised and look like screech-owls with shorter ear tufts, but they have reddish gray feathers.
7. 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
Throughout Alaska and Canada, year-round great gray owls may be found, however they are scarce in the continental United States. Although they are still quite uncommon in the state, western Montana falls within their year-round range.
The neck of these huge owls is striped with white feathers, and their heads are round with yellow eyes and a “bow tie. In dense evergreen woods in the north, great gray owls hunt voles, gophers, chipmunks, and other tiny creatures in meadows and open areas. In the United States, it is known as Pine and fir woods, especially those in the highlands, attract them.
The great gray owl does not construct its own nest. They might use old raven or raptor nests, tree limbs that have been broken, or human-made platforms and clumps of mistletoe. Their hearing is so acute that they may hunt prey by listening, and their enormous claws may sink through solid packed snow to grasp prey hiding beneath.
8. GREAT HORNED OWL
- Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
- Length: 18.1 – 24.8 in
- Wingspan: 39.8 – 57.1 in
- Weight: 32.1 – 88.2 oz
Because of their enormous size, yellow eyes, and “horns” made up of feathers that stand out on each side of their head, great horned owls are one of the most prevalent and well-known owls in North America. Year-round, you may see them all around Montana.
Forests, marshes, deserts, and urban settings such as city parks are all habitats for these owls. Most of them have a cool or warm brown plumage, although it can change.
Mammalian, bird, reptile, insect, and fish are all part of the great horned owl’s varied diet. The sound owls make is generally referred to as their hoot, and it is prominently featured in TV and films.
9. LONG-EARED OWL
- Scientific name: Asio otus
- Length: 13.8 – 15.8 in (height)
- Wingspan: 35.4 – 39.4 in
- Weight: 7.8 – 15.3 oz
Throughout the breeding season, long-eared owls can be found in Montana. Pine stands or woodlands beside meadows and pastures are their preferred habitat.
They have a constantly surprised look with their bright yellow eyes, white V-shaped facial pattern, round face disc, and long feather tufts that point straight up. Great horned owls may be identified easily by their round face with a white V.
They are difficult to locate due to their superb camouflage and stealthy roosting in thick woods. On spring and summer evenings, you may hear them calling for a long time.
10. NORTHERN HAWK OWL
- Scientific name: Surnia ulula
- Length: 14.2-17.7 in
- Weight: 8.5-16.0 oz
- Wingspan: 27.9 in
The winter range of Northern Hawk Owls extends down into the northern United States, including Montana, and they are mostly found in Canada and Alaska. In the state, they’d be labeled as uncommon, and most observations have taken place in the northwest area.
Because these owls don’t move around, it’s unusual for them to visit the United States. The population is typically up after a successful breeding season, however the number of their prey animals has fallen. This means that in order to find food, some owls will have to travel farther than usual. Lucky for the bird enthusiasts!
They have huge, spherical heads with yellow eyes and white muzzles, as do many owls. They are, however, similar to hawks in that they hunt at dawn and dusk, perched atop trees before swooping after prey. Their eyesight is excellent, and they can see prey from up to half a mile away, similar to hawks.
They seek lakeshores, meadows, and forested agriculturallands once they reach the United States.
11. NORTHERN PYGMY-OWL
- Scientific name: Glaucidium gnoma
- Length: 6.4-7.1 in
- Weight: 2.1-2.5 oz
- Wingspan: 14.5–16 in
The mountainous western United States, including the western part of Montana, is home to the Northern Pygmy-Owl. They’re active during the day, making seeing them a bit simpler than most nocturnal owls, although they’re also relatively tiny and generally perch still waiting for dinner. You’ll have to keep your eyes peeled.
The heads of northern pygmy-owls are circular, with no ear tufts. Their head and back are brown with white speckles, with vertical brown stripes on their belly.
12. NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL
- Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
- Length: 7.1-8.3 inches
- Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
- Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 inches
With a spherical head and yellow eyes, northern saw-whet owls are tiny. There are a few additional factors why finding these owls can be challenging, in addition to their tiny size.
When they’re perched motionlessly on a branch, their mottled brown plumage blends in easily with the trees around them. Since you won’t encounter these owls while it’s light out, they’re also naturally discreet and only active at night.
When they call the most frequently between January and May, the best bet for finding a northern saw-whet owl is to learn its call and listen at night. They are known as the “saw-whet” owl because of their unique cry, which resembles that of a blade being sharpened on a whetstone. A succession of whistled notes of the same pitch is their too-too-too call.
The diet of these owls mostly comprises of tiny mammals like mice and voles, and they prefer thick and mature woods. In Montana, they are mostly found during the winter, although they may stay throughout the year in the western region.
13. SHORT-EARED OWL
- Scientific name: Asio flammeus
- Length: 15 in
- Wingspan: 38 in
- Weight: 12 oz
The summer is virtually exclusively spent in Canada and the northern United States by short-eared owls, although they may be found throughout Montana year-round.
They do have ear tuft feathers, but they are so short that they are generally hardly noticeable. Like other owls, they have yellow eyes that stand out due to the black around them.
They may fluctuate from year to year in sync with the population of their prey, such as moles, rats, rabbits, and weasels. Their populations in a specific region might change yearly.
They are particularly vulnerable to habitat degradation and segmentation from the huge open grasslands on which they feed, graze, play, and build houses. Their populations are thought to be declining overall.
They may be found all around the world and may travel huge distances across open water.
14. SNOWY OWL
- Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
- Length: 20.5-27.9 inches
- Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
- Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 inches
Wintering range of snowy owls extends across much of Canada and northern United States. Montana is one of several states involved. Depending on how many owls were born that summer and how much food is available farther north, population will fluctuate significantly from year to year. In the northeastern corner, sightings are more common.
Due to their bright white plumage, snowy owls are easier to find than other owls if they are nearby. They are diurnal, hence active during the day, unlike most other owls. Fields, airports, and beaches are their preferred hunting grounds because they provide plenty of space. On or perched out in the open, look for them on snowy ground.
Snowy owls are nomads who seldom remain in one place once they reach maturity. Hundreds of miles apart, owls from the same nest were discovered in opposite directions.
15. WESTERN SCREECH OWL
- Scientific name: Megascops kennicottii
- Length: 7.5 – 9.8 in
- Wingspan: 21.6 – 24.4 in
- Weight: 3.5 – 10.8 oz
All along the western North American coast and in many western states, Western Screech-Owls may be found. The eastern screech owl prefers the east, whereas the western screech owl prefers the west.
The eastern and western varieties look visually identical. Different hoots are thought of, as a result. The western screech owl produces a succession of quick hoots, whereas the eastern variety has a descending whinny. Their ranges don’t usually overlap.
Both rural and urban settings, they nest in tree cavities. Their perfectly camouflaged feathers make it very difficult to detect them when they’re hidden in tree cavities. They have stocky bodies and short tails, and they’re little robin-sized owls. While they’re roosting in holes during the day, their mostly gray-brown plumage with streaked undersides helps to camouflage them against trees.