Michigan is home to various owls, from the tiny Northern Saw-whet owl to the giant Great Horned Owl. Each species has unique characteristics and behavior, making the owls in Michigan an exciting subject for birdwatchers and nature lovers alike.
This blog post will cover the eleven species of owls throughout the state, from the tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl to the impressive and majestic Great Horned Owl.
What Are The Common Owls In Michigan?
The most common Owls in Michigan include the Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Snowy Owl, Eastern Screech-Owl, Short-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Long-eared Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Great Gray Owl, Barn Owl, and Boreal Owl.
Whether you’re a seasoned birdwatcher or a newcomer to the hobby, this post will deepen your appreciation for the incredible owls that call Michigan home.
We have organized our list from most likely seen to the least likely to be seen for your convenience.
According to the latest data from ebird, there are eleven observed species of Owls in Michigan. This data has been compiled from over 36,700 dedicated bird watchers throughout the state.
Here are some quick facts:
- The Great Horned Owl is the most commonly observed Owl in Michigan
- Boreal Owls are the least widely regarded species in Michigan
- Great Horned Owls are the largest in Michigan
- Northern Saw-whet Owls are the smallest Owls in Michigan
- Snowy Owls are the only owls in Michigan that can be seen hunting almost exclusively during the daylight hours.
11 Types Of Owls In Michigan
1. 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 Michigan.
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
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.
Great Horned Owls are adaptable, and you can spot them in various habitats, including forests, deserts, grasslands, and urban areas.
The Great Horned Owl Range covers a vast area throughout North, Central, and South America and they can thrive in cold or warm climates.
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, geese, and sometimes unsuspecting raptors such as hawks, owls, or falcons.
They hunt at dusk and night from an elevated perch and swoop down onto prey. Their powerful talons and strong beak allow them to catch and kill their prey quickly.
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.
- 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.
2. Barred Owl
The Barred Owl is a large wood owl native to North America. They are non-migratory and can be seen in Michigan all year round.
- Length: 43-50cm (17-20 inches)
- Weight: 470-1050g (16.5-37oz)
- Wingspan: 99-110cm (39-43 inches)
- Barred Owl Scientific Name: Strix varia
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.
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.
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 hunt day and night from an elevated perch and can sometimes be heard calling in the early morning or late evening.
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.
- 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.
- The Barred Owl is sometimes called a “hoot owl” because of its distinctive call.
3. 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 Michigan during the colder non-breeding season.
- 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
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.
Snowy Owls prefer to live in open areas, such as tundra, prairies, marshes, fields, farmlands, and Arctic plains, where they can hunt their prey.
The Snowy Owl Range extends covers the northernmost parts of North America, Europe, and Asia and is known for their ability to survive in some of the harshest environments on the planet.
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.
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.
- The Snowy Owl has excellent eyesight, which helps it hunt in their dimly lit Arctic habitat.
- Snowy Owls 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.
4. Eastern Screech-Owl
The Eastern Screech-Owl is a small nocturnal owl that is found in the eastern half of North America and is a year-round resident of Michigan.
They are known for their distinctive ear tufts and ability to blend in with their surroundings.
- Length: 16-25cm (6.3-9.5 inches)
- Weight: 121-244g (4.3-8.6oz)
- Wingspan: 48-61cm (19-24 inches)
- Eastern Screech-Owl Scientific Name: Megascops asio
Eastern Screech-Owls are small, stocky owls with large heads, rounded wings, and short square tails. They have distinctive ear tufts on the top of their heads, bright yellow eyes, and a yellowy-green bill.
They have two color morphs, either gray or reddish-brown above, with intricate patterns that allow them to seem camouflaged against tree bark.
Eastern Screech-Owls prefer to live in wooded areas, including forests, parks, and suburban areas with mature trees throughout eastern North America, from southern Canada to Florida and Texas.
Eastern Screech-Owls eat a variety of prey, but they primarily eat small rodents and large insects such as moths, crickets, and beetles. They also eat birds and small reptiles like snakes, lizards, and frogs.
They hunt at dusk and night and prefer to scan for prey from a perch and swoop down to catch prey.
Eastern Screech-Owls nest in tree cavities, abandoned woodpecker holes, and natural hollows in trees.
They typically lay 4-6 eggs per clutch, which hatch after about a month. The female primarily incubates the eggs, and the male provides food for her and their chicks.
- They are also known for their distinctive call, which sounds like whinnying.
- These birds have excellent hearing and can locate prey in complete darkness.
- The Eastern Screech-Owl is known to regurgitate its prey’s bones, feathers, or fur.
- They come in two color morphs, with gray being the most common.
5. Short-eared Owl
The Short-eared Owl is a medium-sized owl common in many parts of the world. They can be seen in the southern half of Michigan all year round and in the northern half during the warmer 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
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.
You can spot Short-eared Owls in open habitats such as grasslands, marshes, prairies, farmlands, and tundra.
The Short-eared Owl Range stretches across North America and parts of South America.
Short-eared Owls hunt primarily on rodents such as voles, mice, and lemmings. They will also eat small mammals such as rabbits, gophers, shrews, and birds along the coast.
They hunt at dawn and dusk by flying low over fields and grasslands, using their exceptional hearing to locate prey.
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.
- Short-eared Owls have a distinctive flight pattern that is buoyant and moth-like.
- 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.
6. Northern Saw-whet Owl
The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a tiny owl common throughout most of North America and is a year-round resident of Michigan.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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. Long-eared Owl
The Long-eared Owl is a medium-sized owl found worldwide and is a year-round resident of Michigan.
- 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
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.
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.
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 primarily at night 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.
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.
- Long-eared Owls can be found roosting in groups called parliaments, especially during the winter months.
8. Northern Hawk Owl
The Northern Hawk Owl is a medium-sized owl species found in the northern forests of North America, Europe, and Asia. They can be seen in Michigan during the colder non-breeding season.
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
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.
You can spot Northern Hawk Owls in the northern coniferous forests of North America, Europe, and Asia.
In North America, the Northern Hawk Owl range runs from the Canadian East Coast to the Canadian west coast, and its winter range extends to the northernmost United States.
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.
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.
- They are among the few owl species that hunt primarily during the day and a little at night.
9. Great Gray Owl
The Great Gray Owl is a large bird of prey found in the boreal forests of North America and Eurasia. They can be seen in the northernmost areas of Michigan during the colder non-breeding season.
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
The Great Gray Owl is 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.
You can spot Great Gray Owls 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.
The Great Gray Owl range extends from Alaska across Canada to the east coast.
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 prey.
Their hearing is so superb that they can hear prey up to a foot deep in snow.
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.
- 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.
10. Barn Owl
The Barn Owl is a beautiful and distinctive species of owl, known worldwide for its heart-shaped face and ghostly white appearance.
They can be seen in southern Michigan all year round.
- Length: 32-40cm (12.5-15.8 inches)
- Weight: 400-700g (14-24.7oz)
- Wingspan: 100-125cm (39.5-49.2 inches)
- Barn Owl Scientific Name: Tyto alba
Barn Owls are medium-sized owls with a distinctive heart-shaped facial disc outlined in white and bordered by a brownish-orange rim. They have long legs, long, rounded wings, and short tails.
They are a mottled rusty brown and gray above with fine black dots and streaks. Below they vary in color from white to light cinnamon.
Males are smaller than females, and the darkest colored Barn Owls are always female.
You can spot Barn Owls in low-elevation open habitats such as grasslands, agricultural areas, wetlands, and forests worldwide.
Barn Owls feed primarily on rodents like mice, voles, and shrews but will also eat other small animals such as rabbits, birds, and insects.
They hunt mainly at night by flying low over open areas using their exceptional hearing and vision to locate prey.
Barn Owls do not build their nests, instead rely on natural or artificial cavities for their nests. These include hollow trees, barns, caves, church steeples, and nest boxes.
They lay 3-8 eggs per clutch, which hatch after about a month. The female does most of the incubation, while the male brings food to the nest.
- The Barn Owl is one of the world’s most widespread species of owl. They are sometimes called the “ghost owl” because of their silent flight and pale appearance.
- Barn Owls’ specialized hearing system allows them to locate prey in complete darkness.
- The Barn Owl is considered a symbol of wisdom in many cultures around the world.
11. Boreal Owl
The Boreal Owl is a small, nocturnal owl that lives in the northern forests of North America, Europe, and Asia.
They are only seen sometimes in Michigan, but people may find Boreal Owls in the northernmost areas of the state year-round.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What kind of owls live in Michigan?
Eleven kinds of owl species live in Michigan during the year. These include the Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Snowy Owl, Eastern Screech-Owl, Short-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Long-eared Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Great Gray Owl, Barn Owl, and Boreal Owl.
Are there barred owls in Michigan?
Yes, Barred Owls are found throughout Michigan and are a common sight in most areas. They prefer wooded habitats like swamps and dense forests.
Are there screech owls in Michigan?
Yes, Eastern Screech-Owls live in the deciduous forests and woodlands of Michigan year-round.
Are there great horned owls in Michigan?
Yes, Great Horned Owls are the most commonly observed owls species in Michigan and can be seen in the state all year round.
How big do owls get in Michigan?
Michigan is home to the three largest owls in North America: the Great Horned Owl, The Snowy Owl, and the Great Gray Owl. All three are largest than an adult crow but not nearly as large as a Goose.
Keep An Eye Out For Owls In Michigan
Michigan is home to various owl species, ranging in size from the giant Great Horned Owl to the tiny Northern Saw-whet Owl.
These majestic birds can be seen in various habitats throughout the state and are a delight for anyone lucky enough to spot them.
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 Michigan 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 species of birds in Michigan or finding out which ones live near you, let us know!