9 Owls In South Dakota (With Photos)

Magical and mysterious creatures, owls appear to be. Because of their camouflage and nocturnal habits, few of us ever see them, making them even more intriguing. It may also cause you to wonder how many distinct types of owls exist in my neighborhood? The nine owl species found in South Dakota will be discussed in this article.


The barn owl, barred owl, burrowing owl, eastern screech owl, great-horned owl, long-eared owl, northern saw-whet Owl, and short-eared Owl are the nine types of Owls found in South Dakota.


  • Scientific name: Tyto alba
  • Length: 12.6 – 15.8 in
  • Wingspan: 39.4 – 49.2 in
  • Weight: 14.1 – 24.7 oz

Although they are often difficult to see, barn owls may be found all year in South Dakota. Grasslands, fields, ranches, agricultural land, and strips of forest are the preferred open habitats for them.

Barn owls prefer to build their nests in barns, attics, and church steeples, since they like to nest in man-made constructions with a lot of eaves and beams. One explanation for their moniker is that it comes from this. Tree cavities, caverns, and cliff edges are also used for nesting. During the day, Barn Owls are scarce, as they are quite nocturnal.

They swoop low over fields at dusk and through the night, using their exceptional hearing to locate mice and other rodents. If you catch a glimpse of them in low light, their massive, ghostly white face and belly can be quite a frightening sight.


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

The lovely brown and white striped barred owl’s range in South Dakota ends in neighboring Minnesota, thus they are only seen along the state’s eastern boundary. They are therefore uncommon in the state.

Barred owls like to live near water, especially if there are extensive stretches of uninterrupted woodland nearby. While hiking, you may see them roosting in trees at any time of day. When hunting, on the other hand, they are most active at night.

Their distinctive hooting cry is defined as “who cooks for you?” and is described as loud. “Who fixes your meals?” she asks. A mated pair will sing a variety of hoots, honks, caws, and gurgles throughout the course of their relationship.


  • Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
  • Length: 7.5-9.8 in
  • Wingspan: 21.6 in
  • Weight: 5.3 oz

During the breeding season in South Dakota, Burrowing Owls may be found.

These owls, which dwell in burrows and have short legs, are rather tiny. Burrows dug by other animals, such as prairie dogs or ground squirrels, are sometimes taken over by them. Man-made constructions like pipes, buckets, and culverts have been discovered to be utilized by them for burrows.

Open environments, such as deserts and grasslands, are where you’ll find them. They’re difficult to find since they’re tiny in comparison to the open space they call home, and when they’re in their burrows, barely peek above the horizon. Dawn and dusk are the busiest times for burrowing owls.


  • Scientific name: Megascops asio
  • Length: 6.3 – 9.8 in
  • Wingspan: 18.9 – 24.0 in
  • Weight: 4.3 – 8.6 oz

The majority of the eastern half of the United States, especially South Dakota, has a year-round population of this little owl.

Gray, brown, or “red” (which is really a reddish brown) are the three plumage tones of eastern screech owls. Feather patterns, regardless of color, provide outstanding camouflage for blending in with tree bark.

Their name may imply that they create a high-pitched or ear-piercing noise, however this is not the case. Instead of hooting, they make trilling noises or “whinnies,” which sound like a high-pitched horse.

You can attract eastern screech owls to your yard by building an appropriately sized nest box. Farmland, city parks, and suburban communities are all home to these little owls. Trees cover most of the land in almost anyplace.


  • 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 and yellow eyes, great horned owls are one of the most commonly seen and recognized owls in North America. They also have “horns” on either side of their skull, which are tufts of feathers that protrude out. They can be found in South Dakota year-round.

Forests, swamps, deserts, and urban environments such as city parks are habitats for these owls. Most of their plumage is a cool or warm brown color, with a few exceptions.

Mammalian, avian, reptile, insect, and fish are among the foods of large horned owls. The sound that owls make is often heard in TV and films, and their hoot is what most people associate with the creatures.


  • Scientific name: Asio otus
  • Length: 13.8 – 15.8 in (height)
  • Wingspan: 35.4 – 39.4 in
  • Weight: 7.8 – 15.3 oz

Except for the far southern border, where they may stay all year, long-eared owls can be found in South Dakota during the breeding season in spring and summer. Pine stands or woods with grassland and pasture are their preferred environment.

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 have a very rounded face with a white V, so this is a good way to recognize them.

They are difficult to detect due to their superb camouflage and roosting in thick woodlands, which is a secretive behavior. On spring and summer evenings, listen for their long, low hoots.


  • 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. These owls are also notorious for being difficult to find due to their tiny size, among other reasons.

When they’re perched motionlessly on a branch, their mottled brown plumage blends in easily with the trees around them. Since these owls are primarily nocturnal, you won’t encounter them when it’s daylight.

Learning the call and listening for a northern saw-whet owl at night, particularly between January and May, is the best bet for finding one. The name “saw-whet” owl comes from their unique cry, which resembles a blade being sharpened on a whetstone. A series of whistled notes of the same pitch make up their too-too-too call.

The diet of these owls primarily consists of tiny mammals such as mice and voles, and they prefer thick and mature woods. In South Dakota, they are primarily found during the winter.


  • Scientific name: Asio flammeus
  • Length: 15 in
  • Wingspan: 38 in
  • Weight: 12 oz

You can find short-eared owls year-round in South Dakota, but they spend the summer almost entirely in Canada and northern North America.

These have “ear tuft” feathers, but they are so short that they are almost never visible, as the name implies. Like many owls, they have yellow eyes, but their black surrounds really make the color stand out.

In response to the population of their prey, such as moles, rats, rabbits, and weasels, their populations in a certain region may fluctuate from year to year.

They are particularly vulnerable to habitat destruction and splintering from the vast open grasslands they require being transformed into agricultural land, grazing land, recreational sites, and housing development. Their populations are believed to be declining overall.

They may be found all around the world and can range over large distances in open water.


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

Although most of Canada is home to snowy owls during the winter, each year they seem to be coming farther south into the United States. During the winter months, at least a few may be seen in South Dakota, particularly in the eastern part of the state. Year to year, the quantity may vary significantly.

During the summer, these stunning owls go far north to breed in Canada’s and Greenland’s Arctic areas. All hours of the day, they’ll be hunting their favorite summer delicacy, lemmings.

Because of their bright white plumage, snowy owls are easier to observe than other owls if they are present. They are diurnal, unlike other owls, and are thus active during the day. They prefer fields, airports, and beaches when it comes to hunting. They’ll be found on or near the snow, either perched out in the open or hidden.

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