Many people adore owls because they are mysterious and wise. Their camouflage and nocturnal behaviors make them even more intriguing since most of us never get to see them.
It might also pique your interest in how many distinct kinds of owls exist in the area where I dwell? We’ll take a look at owls in New Mexico, discussing the various species that live there, as well as their sizes and looks and where they may be found.
THE 12 SPECIES OF OWLS IN NEW MEXICO
Barn owl, boreal owl, burrowing owl, elf owl, flammulated owl, great horned owl, long-eared Owl, Mexican spotted Owl, northern pygmy Owl and western screech Owls are among the 12 species of Owls that may be found in New Mexico.
While several of the owl species on this list prefer vast expanses of woodland, others may be found in desert or suburban settings. If you’re interested in finding some of these owls, check out the national forests in New Mexico.
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 majority of the United States, including New Mexico, is home to barn owls. Grasslands, fields, ranches, agricultural land, and strips of forest are the preferred open habitats for them.
Man-made buildings with a lot of eaves and beams, such as barns, attics, and church steeples, are favorite nesting places for barn owls. One of the ways they acquired their moniker was this. Tree cavities, caverns, and cliff-sides are also used as nests. During the day, Barn Owls are difficult to locate since they are quite nocturnal.
They fly low over fields at dusk and during the night, using their extraordinary hearing to detect mice and other rodents. If you catch a glimpse of them in low light, they have a enormous, ghostly white face and belly that is somewhat unsettling!
2. 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 and is dominated by spruce, birch, and fir trees, is home to boreal owls. Except for a population that extends down into the west, all the way to northern New Mexico, most of the United States is too far south for them. Carson National Forest, Wheeler Peak, and the mountains northeast of Santa Fe are examples of places where you may find them.
They’re difficult to see, especially during the day, and they’re strange birds. Each day, they roost in a different tree, so don’t expect to find them where you saw them the day before. If you live in their area, they will utilize a nestbox.
They’re small owls with huge, square heads, stocky bodies, and short tails that are roughly the size of a robin. Before swooping down and snatching their meal with their talons, they perch and wait for prey like small mammals and birds to come out.
Boreal owls are generally calm and make hardly any noise. Males, on the other hand, call for mates more often in the late winter and early spring. For a better chance of locating them, listen for these rapid hoots at night.
3. BURROWING OWL
- Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
- Length: 7.5-9.8 in
- Wingspan: 21.6 in
- Weight: 5.3 oz
During the breeding season, burrowing Owls can be found in northern New Mexico, while during the rest of the year, they may be found in southern New Mexico.
These owls are tiny and reside in burrows, with long legs. These burrows are sometimes excavated by the animals themselves, and othertimes they take over abandoned burrows created by prairie dogs or ground squirrels. Man-made constructions like pipes, buckets, and culverts have even been discovered to be used as burrows by them.
Open environments like deserts and grasslands are good places to look for them. Because they are so tiny in comparison to the vast open landscape they call home and can barely be seen when in their burrows, they can be difficult to spot. At dawn and dusk, burrowing owls are most active.
4. ELF OWL
- Scientific name: Micrathene whitneyi
- Length: 4.9 – 5.6 in
- Weight: 1.4 oz
- Wingspan: 10.5 in
In the United States, elf owls are uncommon, and New Mexico is one of the few places where you can find them. The come up in southern New Mexico during the breeding season in the spring and summer. Sightings are common in the Gila National Forest’s surrounding areas.
At less than six inches in length, the elf owl is considered the world’s smallest raptor. Elf owls are distinguished by their little size, round skull with no ear-tufts, and brownish-gray feathers. Insects and arthropods are the main sources of food for them, although they will occasionally consume small lizards.
Only at night do these owls become active. Along canyon and desert highways, listen for them. Their voice is said to sound like a puppy and they are frequently referred to as “yapping.” Around light sources that attract insects, they may hunt.
5. FLAMMULATED OWL
- Scientific name: Psiloscops flammeolus
- Length: 5.9-6.7 in
- Weight: 1.5-2.2 oz
In New Mexico, the flammulated owl is found in the state’s national forests throughout spring and summer. Look for them there!
Because they spend most of their time at the top of enormous evergreen trees, these owls are exceedingly difficult to see. Sound is probably the simplest way to locate them. A low, repeated hoot is heard from them.
Flying insects such as crickets, moths, and beetles are the main source of food for them at night. They resemble screech-owls but have shorter ear-tufts, and their reddish gray feathers make them well-camouflaged.
6. 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 huge size, yellow eyes, and “horns” (tufts of feathers that protrude out on either side of the head), great horned owls are one of the most prevalent and well-known owls in North America. Throughout New Mexico, you can find them year round.
Forests, swamps, deserts, and urban settings such as city parks are among the habitats where these owls may be found. Their plumage might be brown, grey, or white, and they may be cool or warm.
Mammalian, avian, reptile, insect, and fish are among the foods of great horned owls. The sound owls make is commonly referred to as their hoot, and it is frequently used in television and films.
7. 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
New Mexico is home to long-eared owls all year. Pine stands or woods with grassland and pastures are their preferred environment.
They have a constantly surprised expression due to their bright yellow eyes, white V-shaped facial pattern, round face disc, and long feather tufts that point straight up. Great horned owls have a face that is quite rounded, whereas those with the white V are easy to distinguish.
They are difficult to detect due to their superb camouflage and roosting in thick woods. On spring and summer evenings, you may hear their long, low hoots.
8. MEXICAN SPOTTED OWL
- Scientific name: Strix occidentalis lucida
- Length: 16-19 in
- Weight: 19.5-23 oz
- Wingspan:42-45 in
One of the largest species owls in North America, the Mexican spotted owl is one of three subspecies of spotted owls. Both the US and Canada have classified it as endangered. Mexican and foreign governments were also targeted. They may be found in the Gila National Forest and Lincoln National Forest throughout the year, as well as in other parts of New Mexico.
A dark brownish-gray owl with white barring and a pale face, the Mexican spotted owl is a dark brownish-gray. There are no ear tufts on their rounded head.
These owls are uncommon and difficult to locate, despite their bulk. Pine-oak or mixed evergreen woods, as well as Douglas fir and pine, are home to the Mexican subspecies. In small canyons with high cliffs, they nest and roost. Small to medium-sized rodents make up the majority of the spotted owl’s diet, with rabbits, gophers, bats, smaller owls, birds, and insects thrown in for good measure. They mostly hunt at night, although they may begin as early as dusk.
9. 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 highland western United States, including the national forests of New Mexico, are home to a large number of northern pygmy-owls. They’re active during the day, making viewing them a bit simpler than most other nocturnal owls, but they’re also fairly small and typically perch still waiting for prey, so you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled.
To make locating them easier, try to learn their high-pitched toots and calls. Watch for groups of birds acting rowdy, too. They’ll frequently mob and attempt to scare a Northern pygmy-owl if they find it. Since it frequently eats small song birds, they don’t want this owl around.
The heads of northern pygmy-owls are tightly coiled, and there are no ear tufts. They have brown stripes across their belly and white specks over their head and back.
10. 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
Little saw-whet owls with yellow eyes and a round head are found in the north. These owls are likewise notoriously difficult to locate due to their small size, in addition to a few other factors.
When they’re perched motionlessly on a branch, their mottled brown plumage blends in easily with the trees around them. These owls are mostly nocturnal, so you won’t see them while it’s daylight out. They’re also naturally secretive.
Learning a northern saw-whet owl’s call and listening for it at night, particularly between January and May when they call the most, is the best bet for finding one. They are known as the “saw-whet” owl because of their unique call, which sounds like a blade being sharpened on a whetstone. A series of whistled notes with the same pitch make up their too-too-too call.
The diet of these owls is dominated by tiny creatures like mice and voles, and they prefer thick and mature woodlands. In the western part of the state, they are year-round dwellers, but in the east, they are only visible during the winter.
11. SHORT-EARED OWL
- Scientific name: Asio flammeus
- Length: 15 in
- Wingspan: 38 in
- Weight: 12 oz
During the non-breeding winter months in New Mexico, short-eared owls spend the summer almost exclusively in Canada and northern United States.
They have “ear tuft” feathers, but they are so short that they are virtually never visible. As their name implies, they do have them. They have yellow eyes like other owls, but the black surrounding them really makes the yellow stand out.
Their prey, such as moles, rats, rabbits, and weasels, may affect their populations in a given region from year to year.
They are particularly susceptible to habitat degradation and separation from the vast open grasslands on which they depend for survival, and so their populations are believed to be declining overall.
Since they are particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation from the huge open grasslands they need, their populations are expected to be declining overall.
They may be located across the world, and they can cover long distances by open water.
12. 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
The western screech-owl can be found in many states of the western United States, as well as along the coastline of western North America. They may be found year-round across most of New Mexico, but are more scarce in the state’s far eastern corner.
The eastern and western versions don’t look to be any different in terms of appearance. Different hoots are considered. The western screech owl has a succession of quick hoots, while the eastern variety has a descending whinny. Their ranges don’t overlap.
Both rural and urban areas, they nest in tree cavities. Their extremely well-camouflaged feathers make it difficult to detect them when they’re sheltering in tree holes. They have stocky bodies and short tails, and they’re tiny robin-sized owls. While they’re roosting in holes during the day, their mostly gray-brown plumage with streaky undersides blends them in superbly against trees.