11 Powerful Owls in Alaska to see and hear

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Owls in Alaska are captivating creatures with a particular fascination for birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts in the state. With their silent flight and haunting calls, these nocturnal birds of prey add an element of intrigue to Alaska’s vast and wild landscapes.

Whether exploring the dense forests, venturing into remote wilderness areas, or simply listening for their hoots from your cabin or backyard, encountering an owl in Alaska is a truly memorable experience.

What Are The Most Common Owls in Alaska?

The most common Owls in Alaska include the Short-eared Owl, Snowy Owl, Great Horned Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Boreal Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Great Gray Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Western Screech-Owl, Barred Owl, and Long-eared Owl.

This blog post will cover the eleven owl species in Alaska, from the Beautiful Snowy Owl to the tiny Northern Pygmy-Owl. Readers can learn about their unique adaptations, appearance, intriguing behaviors, and preferred habitats.

Whether you’re a seasoned birdwatcher or a newcomer to the hobby, we hope this post will boost your appreciation for the incredible owls that call Alaska home.

We have organized our list from most likely seen to the least likely to be seen for your convenience.

Alaska Owls

According to the latest data from ebird, there are eleven observed Owl species in Alaska. This data has been compiled from over 15,700 dedicated bird watchers throughout the state.

Here are some quick facts:

  • The Short-eared Owl is the most commonly observed Owl in Alaska
  • Long-eared Owls are the least widely observed species in Alaska
  • Great Horned Owls are the largest in Alaska
  • Northern Pygmy-Owls are the smallest Owls in Alaska

11 Types Of Owls In Alaska

1. Short-eared Owl

The Short-eared Owl is a medium-sized owl common in many parts of the world and is a resident of Alaska during the summer breeding season.

They are known for their distinctive facial disk and the tufts of feathers that resemble ears.

  • Length: 34-43cm (13.4-17 inches)
  • Weight: 206-475g (7.3-16.8oz)
  • Wingspan: 85-103cm (33.5-40.5 inches)
  • Short-eared Owl Scientific Name: Asio flammeus

Appearance

Short-eared Owls have large rounded heads, small ear tufts, short tails, broad wings, and yellow eyes.

They have brownish feathers with white and dark streaks and a distinctive facial disk with black markings around their yellow eyes that resemble mascara. 

Their chest and belly are pale with brown streaks, and females are larger and appear darker than the males.

Their “ear tufts” stick up from the top of their head, giving them a slightly comical appearance.

Habitat

You can find Short-eared Owls in open habitats such as grasslands, marshes, prairies, farmlands, and tundra. They are migratory owls whose range stretches across North America and parts of South America.

Diet

Short-eared Owls hunt rodents such as voles, mice and lemmings. They will also eat small mammals such as rabbits, gophers, shrews, and birds along the coast.

They are strictly nocturnal and hunt by flying low over fields and grasslands, using their exceptional hearing to locate prey.

Nesting

Short-eared Owls females build their nest on the dry ground among tall grass or shrubs using feathers and grass.

They typically lay 3-11 eggs per clutch, which hatch after about a month. Females primarily incubate the eggs, and males provide food for the females and the young.

Interesting facts

  • They are known for their distinctive flight pattern and buoyant, moth-like style. 
  • They are considered a species of concern in many parts of the world due to habitat loss and degradation.
  • They are one of the few owl species that are active during the day and night.

2. Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl is a beautiful and iconic bird of prey that is native to the Arctic regions of North America and Eurasia. They can be seen in Northern Alaska all year round and in the southern and interior regions of the state during the winter months.

  • Length: 52-71cm (20.5-28 inches)
  • Weight: 1600-2950g (56.4-104oz)
  • Wingspan: 126-145cm (49.6-57 inches)
  • Snowy Owl Scientific Name: Asio flammeus

Appearance

Snowy Owls are large birds of prey with large heads, yellow eyes, black bills, and heavily feathered legs that help keep them warm in frigid temperatures.

They have striking white feathers, which help them blend in with their snowy habitat. Males have white feathers have narrow dark bars or spots. Females have the same dark markings, but they appear darker and larger.

The Snowy Owl’s plumage gets lighter with age, and old males often have pure white feathers with no dark markings.

Habitat

Snowy Owls prefer to live in open areas, such as tundra, prairies, marshes, fields, farmlands, and Arctic plains, where they can hunt their prey.

They are found in the northern parts of North America, Europe, and Asia and are known for their ability to survive in some of the harshest environments on the planet.

Diet

Snowy Owls feed on a variety of prey. They primarily hunt small mammals, such as lemmings, voles, and rabbits, but they also prey on large birds, such as geese and ducks, fish, and insects.

They are one of the few Owls that hunt during the day and will hunt by watching from a high perch, flying low to the ground, or hovering above a field before swooping down to catch prey with their powerful talons.

Nesting

Snowy Owls build their nests on the ground, usually on a small hill or mound, using their talons to create a shallow depression.

The female lays 3-11 eggs, which hatch after about a month. The female incubates the eggs, and the male provides food for her and their young.

Interesting facts

  • Snowy Owls have excellent eyesight, which helps them hunt in their dimly lit Arctic habitat.
  • They breed when the lemming population is high and may avoid breeding in years when they are scarce.
  • Snowy Owls are diurnal, which means they are more active during the day than at night.
  • In some cultures, the Snowy Owl symbolizes wisdom, prophecy, and spiritual guidance.

3. Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl is a large and powerful eagle owl found throughout North and South America and is a year-round resident of Alaska.

They are known for their distinctive ear tufts and intense yellow eyes.

  • Length: 46-63cm (18-25 inches)
  • Weight: 910-2500g (32-88oz)
  • Wingspan: 101-145cm (40-57 inches)
  • Great Horned Owl Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus

Appearance

Great Horned Owls are large-bodied owls with broad, round wings and distinctive ear tufts.

Their plumage can vary depending on geographic location, but they are primarily brown and gray above, with bars and speckling. They have reddish brown faces, white throats, and large yellow eyes.

Habitat

Great Horned Owls are adaptable, and you can spot them in various habitats, including forests, deserts, grasslands, and urban areas.

They are found throughout North, Central, and South America and can thrive in cold or warm climates.

Diet

Great Horned Owls are night-time predators that eat a variety of mammals, including rodents, opossums, and rabbits. 

They will also eat giant insects, reptiles such as snakes and lizards, and other large birds such as ducks and geese. They have even been known to hunt other birds of prey, such as Alaska’s hawks, smaller owls, or falcons.

They hunt from an elevated perch and swoop down onto prey. Their powerful talons and strong beak allow them to catch and kill their prey quickly.

Nesting

Great Horned Owls rarely build their own nest but instead, use abandoned nests of other large birds.

They typically lay 2-3 eggs per clutch, which hatch after about a month. Females primarily incubate the eggs, and both parents take turns feeding their young.

Interesting facts

  • Great Horned Owls are known for their ability to take down prey larger than themselves.
  • These birds have excellent hearing and can locate prey in complete darkness.
  • They will store food away in winter and return later to feed. Often incubating their frozen meal to thaw it out.
  • The Great Horned Owl has few natural predators and can live up to 30 years in the wild.

4. Northern Hawk Owl

The Northern Hawk Owl is a medium-sized owl found in the northern forests of North America, Europe, and Asia, and a year-round resident of Alaska.

They are known for their distinctive appearance and unique hunting behavior.

  • Length: 36-45cm (14.2-17.7 inches)
  • Weight: 240-454g (8.5-16oz)
  • Wingspan: Avg 71cm (28 inches)
  • Northern Hawk Owl Scientific Name: Surnia ulula

Appearance

Northern Hawk Owls have a distinctive hawk-like appearance, with short pointed wings, long tails, and a black-bordered facial disk. They are brown with white spots above and have brown barring below.

Habitat

You can spot a Northern Hawk Owl in the northern coniferous forests of North America, Europe, and Asia.

Diet

Northern Hawk Owls feed primarily on small mammals such as voles, mice, squirrels, and shrews but also eat small birds, large insects, and sometimes fish.

They hunt primarily during the day by perching on a high branch or hovering above the ground, using their keen eyesight or hearing to locate prey.

Nesting

Northern Hawk Owls typically nest in a tree cavity or an old nest of another bird, such as a hawk or crow.

They typically lay 5-7 eggs per clutch, which hatch after about a month. The female will incubate the eggs, and the male will provide the food for her and their young.

Interesting facts

  • They are among the few owl species that hunt primarily during the day and a little at night.

5. Boreal Owl

The Boreal Owl is a small, nocturnal owl that lives in the northern forests of North America, Europe, and Asia and is a year-round resident of Alaska.

  • Length: 21-28cm (8.3-11 inches)
  • Weight: 93-215g (3.3-7.6oz)
  • Wingspan: 55-62cm (21.5-24.5 inches)
  • Boreal Owl Scientific Name: Aegolius funereus

Appearance

Boreal Owls are tiny, stocky forest owls with large square heads and short tails.

They have chocolatey-brown feathers with white spots on their back, and below are white with heavy brown streaks.

Their facial disks are whitish-gray, and their crowns are dotted with dense white spots.

Habitat

Boreal Owls prefer to live in dense coniferous forests, especially those with a high density of spruce and fir trees in the northernmost regions of North America, Europe, and Asia.

Diet

Boreal Owls hunt various prey, but their primary food source is small mammals, such as mice, squirrels, shrews, and voles. They will also prey on small birds and insects.

They hunt primarily at night by watching from a perch before swooping to catch prey.

Nesting

Boreal Owls nest in natural cavities, such as old woodpecker holes or broken tree limbs, and will also utilize artificial nest boxes. 

The female chooses the nest site and lays 3-5 eggs, which hatch after about a month. The female incubates the eggs, and the male provides food for her and their young.

Interesting facts

  • Female Boreal Owls are larger than males.
  • Boreal Owls are adapted to cold temperatures and have feathers that cover their feet to keep them warm. 
  • They have excellent hearing and can locate prey by sound alone, even in complete darkness.

6. Northern Saw-whet Owl

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a tiny owl common throughout most of North America and can be seen along the south coast of Alaska all year round.

  • Length: 18-21cm (7-8.3 inches)
  • Weight: 65-151g (2.3-5.3oz)
  • Wingspan: 42-48cm (16.5-19 inches)
  • Northern Saw-Whet Owl Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus

Appearance

Northern Saw-whet Owls are tiny birds of prey, with large rounded heads. They are about the same size as a Hairy Woodpecker.

They are reddish-brown above and white below with reddish streaks. They have white streaks and spots on the edges of their reddish facial disks, yellow eyes, and a dark bill.

Habitat

Northern Saw-whet Owls prefer to live in wooded areas and forests, especially those with various kinds of coniferous trees throughout much of North America, including Canada and the United States.

Diet

Northern Saw-whet Owls primarily hunt small mammals that live in the forest, such as mice and voles, but will also prey on small birds and large insects.

They hunt almost exclusively at night by watching or hearing prey from a perch before swooping to grab it with their talons.

Nesting

Northern Saw-whet Owls nest in trees up to 60 feet above the ground, usually in a natural cavity or a large abandoned woodpecker hole.

The female lays 5-6 eggs, which hatch after about a month. The females incubate the eggs and feed the young with food provided by the male.

Interesting facts

  • Northern Saw-whet Owls are named for their “sawing” sound, which sounds like a saw being sharpened on a whetstone.
  • These birds are primarily nocturnal and are rarely seen during the day.
  • Northern Saw-whet Owls are sometimes preyed upon by larger owls, such as Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls. 
  • These birds are relatively long-lived for their size, with some individuals living up to nine years in the wild.

7. Great Gray Owl

The Great Gray Owl is a large bird of prey found in the boreal forests of North America and Eurasia, and is a year-round resident of Alaska.

They are known for their impressive size and striking gray plumage.

  • Length: 61-84cm (24-33 inches)
  • Weight: 700-1700g (24.7-60oz)
  • Wingspan: 137-153cm (54-60.2 inches)
  • Great Gray Owl Scientific Name: Strix nebulosa

Appearance

Great Gray Owls are one of the largest owls in North America, with a wingspan of up to five feet. They have a disproportionately large, rounded head, broad wings, a long tail, and a broad, flat facial disk with dark concentric circles around their yellow eyes.

Their feathers are primarily gray, with white, gray, and brown streaking and barring. They have white arcs between their eyes that resemble an X and a white bow tie beneath their bill.

Males and females look alike, but the female is larger.

Habitat

You can spot a Great Gray Owl in coniferous or boreal forests with meadows and wooded bogs nearby. They use the dense forest for roosting, nesting, and will hunt in open areas nearby.

Diet

Great Gray Owls feed primarily on small mammals such as mice, voles, shrews, gophers, squirrels, and hares but will also eat birds when the opportunity arises.

They hunt day and night by perching on a high branch or hovering above the ground, using their exceptional hearing to locate unsuspecting prey. Their hearing is so superb that they can hear prey up to a foot deep in snow.

Nesting

Great Gray Owls typically nest in large abandoned nests of other birds, such as large hawks and ravens.

They typically lay 2-5 eggs per clutch, which hatch after about a month. The female incubates the eggs, and the male brings food for her and their young after they hatch.

Interesting facts

  • Great Gray Owls have excellent hearing, and their ears are positioned asymmetrically on their head to help them locate prey in the dark and under snow.
  • They are one of the few owl species active during the day and at night.
  • They appear larger than they actually are, thanks partly to their fluffy feathers and tall stature.

8. Northern Pygmy-Owl

The Northern Pygmy-Owl is a tiny owl living in North America’s western half. Their year-round range typically reaches northern British Columbia but can extend into southeast Alaska.

  • Length: 16-18cm (6.2-7 inches)
  • Weight: Avg 62.3g (2.2oz)
  • Wingspan: Avg 38cm (15 inches)
  • Northern Pygmy-Owl Scientific Name: Glaucidium gnoma

Appearance

Northern Pygmy-Owls are small birds of prey, with a length of about 6-7 inches and a wingspan of up to 15 inches. They have large, round heads, long tails, short wings, and yellow eyes.

Their feathers are grayish-brown above and white with dark streaks below. They have white spots on their crown and a noticeable “false eye” on the back of their neck or nape.

Females have a more reddish-brown plumage than the males.

Habitat

You can find a Northern Pygmy-Owl in open coniferous forests and woodlands in the foothills, mountains, and canyons of the western United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Diet

Northern Pygmy-Owls feed on various prey but primarily hunt small birds and mammals, such as songbirds, voles, and mice. They will also eat large insects such as grasshoppers, cicadas, beetles, and lizards.

They are aggressive little hunters that primarily hunt during the day by watching from a perch before quickly pursuing prey.

Nesting

Northern Pygmy-Owls nest in natural tree cavities and old woodpecker holes up to 25 feet from the ground.

The female lays 2-7 eggs, which hatch after about four weeks. Females will incubate the eggs and feed the chicks any prey the male brings to the nest.

Interesting facts

  • Songbirds will often mob any Northern Pygmy-Owls in the area, which provides birdwatchers with a noticeable sign of where to spot these tiny owls.
  • They are one of the few species of owls primarily active during the day.
  • Despite their small size, Northern Pygmy-Owls are fierce predators known to take down prey much larger than themselves. 
  • They are known to aggressively defend their nests against potential predators, including larger birds and mammals.

9. Western Screech-Owl

The Western Screech-Owl is a small, nocturnal owl that is native to North and Central America and is a year-round resident of southeast Alaska.

  • Length: 19-25cm (7.5-9.5 inches)
  • Weight: 100-305g (3.5-10.8oz)
  • Wingspan: 55-61cm (21.5-24.5 inches)
  • Western Screech-Owl Scientific Name: Megascops kennicottii

Appearance

The Western Screech-Owl is a small owl with a stocky body, a short tail, yellow eyes, and tufts of feathers on their heads that resemble ears.

Their feathers can be either gray, brown, or reddish-brown and are mottled throughout, giving them excellent camouflage in their woodland habitat.

Habitat

You can spot Western Screech-Owls in various habitats, including forests, open woodlands, deserts, parks, and suburban areas with trees.

Diet

Western Screech-Owls feed primarily on large insects and small mammals such as beetles, spiders, moths, centipedes, voles, mice, and tiny gophers.

They will also occasionally eat small birds and reptiles such as lizards and snakes.

They hunt by watching for prey from a perch and then swooping down to catch it with their talons.

Nesting

Western Screech-Owls nest in tree cavities, abandoned woodpecker holes, Natural hollows, giant cacti, or nest boxes.

They typically lay 2-5 eggs, which the female incubates for about a month while the male provides the food.

Interesting facts

  • Western Screech-Owls are known for their distinctive call, a series of soft trills and whistles.
  • These owls are primarily active at night but may also be seen sitting at the entrance to their holes during the day.
  • Western Screech-Owls will often take on prey larger than themselves.
  • These owls are sometimes preyed upon by larger birds of prey, such as the Great Horned Owl.
  • Western Screech-Owls are sometimes kept as pets or used in falconry.

10. Barred Owl

The Barred Owl is a large wood owl native to North America. They are non-migratory, inhabit the wooded Eastern United States and Northwestern Canada areas, and are sometimes spotted in eastern Alaska.

  • Length: 43-50cm (17-20 inches)
  • Weight: 470-1050g (16.5-37oz)
  • Wingspan: 99-110cm (39-43 inches)
  • Barred Owl Scientific Name: Strix varia

Appearance

Barred Owls are chunky looking, with large heads, no ear tufts, and round tails.

They are brownish-grey above with white spots and a buff color below, with dark vertical bars on their chest and belly, and their tails have brown and white barring.

Habitat

Barred Owls prefer to live in mature forests but can also be found in wooded swamps and along rivers.

They can also be seen living in wooded residential areas and parks.

Diet

Barred Owls are nocturnal hunters feeding primarily on small mammals, such as mice, opossums, squirrels, and rabbits. They also eat birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians that live in swampy areas.

They search for prey from an elevated perch and can sometimes be heard calling in the early morning or late evening.

Nesting

Barred Owls typically nest in large tree cavities but will also use abandoned nests of other large birds, such as Hawks.

They lay 2-3 eggs per clutch, which hatch after about a month. Females incubate the eggs, and males provide the food for her and their young.

Interesting facts

  • Barred Owls have a unique call that sounds like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” This call is often heard in forests at night. 
  • These birds have excellent hearing, which allows them to locate prey in complete darkness. 
  • Barred Owls have adapted well to suburban and urban areas and can often be found in parks and backyards. 
  • They are known to rival another owl species, the Spotted Owl, for nesting sites and territory. 
  • Barred Owls are sometimes called “hoot owls” because of their distinctive call.

11. Long-eared Owl

The Long-eared Owl is a medium-sized owl found throughout the world and is an occasional visitor to Alaska during the warmer breeding season.

  • Length: 35-40cm (13.8-15.8 inches)
  • Weight: 220-435g (7.8-15.3oz)
  • Wingspan: 90-100cm (35.5-39.5 inches)
  • Long-eared Owl Scientific Name: Asio otus

Appearance

Long-eared Owls are medium-sized birds of prey with a wingspan up to three feet. They are slender-looking owls with narrow facial disks and long ear tufts.

Their feathers are a mix of brown, black, gray, white, and buff, which easily camouflage against their wooded habitats. They have yellow eyes set in vertical dark patches, streaks, and bars on their chest and bellies, and their facial disks are rusty brown.

The female Long-eared owl coloration is the same but darker and more streaked than the male.

Habitat

Long-eared Owls prefer to live in wooded areas that border open spaces, such as forests, meadows, and groves, where they can roost and hunt.

They are migratory owls and can be seen worldwide, including in North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Diet

Long-eared Owls are nocturnal hunters that feed on a variety of prey. They primarily hunt small mammals, such as mice, rats, gophers, and voles, but will also prey on small birds and reptiles.

They hunt in open areas where they can fly back and forth from various perches, locating prey but sight or sound before swooping down to catch it with their powerful talons.

Nesting

Long-eared Owls nest in trees up to 30 feet above the ground. They do not build their own nest but instead use the abandoned nest of other large birds, such as crows, ravens, or hawks.

The female lays 4-6 eggs, which hatch after about a month. The female incubates the eggs, while the male provides food for her and their young.

Interesting facts

  • Long-eared Owls can be found roosting in groups called parliaments, especially during the winter months.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What kind of owls live in Alaska?

Eleven kinds of owl species live in Alaska during the year. These include the Short-eared Owl, Snowy Owl, Great Horned Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Boreal Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Great Gray Owl, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Western Screech-Owl, Barred Owl, and Long-eared Owl.

Are there Snowy Owls in Alaska?

Yes, Snowy Owls are typical Alaska owls and can be seen in northern Alaska all year round and in the rest of the state during the winter months.

Do great gray owls live in Alaska?

Yes, Great Gray Owls live in Alaska and can be seen in the state all year round.

Keep An Eye Out For Owls In Alaska

Alaska is home to a number of diverse owl species, which birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts can see throughout the state’s many habitats.

If you’re lucky enough to spot one of these nocturnal creatures, take the time to appreciate their unique features and habits.

Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher or just someone who enjoys learning about nature, taking some time to learn about the eleven species of owls in Alaska will provide you with the info you need to identify and appreciate them.

We hope this article has provided all the information you need. If you have questions about identifying more bird species in Alaska or finding out which ones live near you, let us know!

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I am an avid birdwatcher with a passion for learning all I can about these fantastic creatures. I love finding new species of birds in my backyard, neighborhood, or when I travel. I enjoy sharing everything I learn about how these creatures live their lives; feedback and experience is much appreciated!

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