It’s the largest state in the country with an area of over 663k miles, so big in fact that you could fit Texas into Alaska 2 times! With as far north as Alaska is, many species of birds that enjoy warmer climates do not make it this far north. That being said, there are many types of birds that still live in the state, including a variety of owls. In this article we’re going to learn all about the 9 species of owls in Alaska, and the best tips for how to find them.
9 species of owls in Alaska
The 9 species of owls found in Alaska are the Western Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, Snowy Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Great Gray owl, Short-eared owl, Boreal Owl, Northern Pygmy-owl, and the Northern Saw-whet Owl.
Alaska is our 49th state and is located to the north of Canada. The state is home to a variety of owls, including a few that aren’t found in a lot of other states in the country.
1. Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Length: 7.1-8.3 in
Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 in
Northern Saw-whet Owls aren’t found in the majority of Alaska, aside from South Alaska near the coast and then into Southeastern Alaska and the panhandle. In this areas they can be found all year in Alaska. Northern Saw-whet Owls tend to occupy dense coniferous forests and groves and can be pretty hard to locate due to their tiny size, camouflage-like coloration, and secretive nature.
It’s so good at perching motionless and avoiding attention that it’s frequently unnoticed in areas in which it occurs. Listen for it’s high-pitched “too-too-too” call to make finding it a little easier. During the breeding season males will repetitively make this call for hours — offering a good chance of spotting it.
If you live in Alaska, in an area where Northern Saw-whet Owls breed, consider putting up a nesting box for them. Not only will it provide a home for a breeding pair of owls, but it will also increase your chances of getting an up-close look at these tiny birds.
2. Boreal Owl
Length: 8.3-11.0 in
Weight: 3.3-7.6 oz
Wingspan: 21.6-24.4 in
Boreal Owls are found year-round in much of Alaska in dense mixed-wood and coniferous forests, though less common in Western Alaska. They’re mysterious birds and are often hard to spot, especially during the day. They roost in a different tree everyday, so don’t expect to find them in the same spots.
At about the size of a robin, they’re small owls with large, square heads, stocky bodies, short tails. At night they perch and wait for prey such as small mammals and birds before swooping down and grasping their meal with their talons. Boreal owls are usually quiet and don’t call very frequently. However, in the late winter through the spring this behavior changes as males call more often for mates. Listen for these quick hoots at night for a better chance at finding them.
3. Northern Pygmy-Owl
Length: 6.4-7.1 in
Weight: 2.1-2.5 oz
Wingspan: 14.5–16 in
Northern Pygmy-Owls are generally widespread in the mountainous western United States, but their range doesn’t go far north. They do live in the southern parts of the Alaska Panhandle year-round, so technically they are in Alaska. They’re active during the day, which makes seeing them a little easier than most other nocturnal owls, but they’re also pretty small and tend to perch still waiting for prey — so you still need to keep your eyes peeled.
Try to familiarize yourself with their high-pitched toots and calls to make locating them less tricky. Pay attention to groups of songbirds making a commotion, too. If they find a Northern Pygmy-Owl, they’ll often mob it, trying to get it to leave.
It’s only fair seeing as small birds make up a large portion of a Northern Pygmy-Owl’s diet. These songbirds and chickadees may even attempt to mob a birder that imitates a Northern Pygmy-Owl’s call.
4. Western-Screech Owl
Length: 7.5-9.8 in
Weight: 3.5-10.8 oz
Wingspan: 21.6-24.4 in
Western-screech Owls are another owls species only found in far Southern and Southeastern Alaska, particularly the panhandle. They’re small, robin-sized owls with stocky bodies and short tails. Their mostly gray-brown plumage with streaky undersides camouflages them exceptionally well against trees when they’re roosting in holes during the day.
At night they hunt, perching still and silently before swiftly flying and seizing their prey. They’ll also catch insects in mid flight to supplement their diet, as well as reptiles, fish, and small birds.
Like trying the find other nocturnal owls, waiting for their calls at night is often the best way of locating Western-screech Owls. Their calls are a series of high-pitched toots that speed up slightly at the end. These owls will also take to nesting boxes, so consider setting one up in your yard if you live in their range.
5. Great Horned Owl
Length: 18.1-24.8 in
Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz
Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in
When one thinks of an owl, the Great Horned Owl is often what comes to mind. These owls possess all the characteristics synonymous with story-book owls; large, cat-like eyes, long tufts on their heads, thick, stocky bodies, and a deep, mysterious hoot.
They’re one of the most commonly found owls across North America and are found year-round in Alaska, though not common in north Alaska. Great Horned Owls thrive in a wide variety of habitats, but they’re often found in woodlands with plenty of open spaces to hunt. These large owls are aggressive hunters able of taking down prey much larger than them.
Their diets are diverse, including rodents, reptiles, and birds as large as hawks and geese. They’re able to fly silently and dive-bomb their prey, thanks to the soft feathers that cover their entire bodies.
6. Short-Eared Owl
Length: 13.4-16.9 in
Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz
Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in
It’s common to find Short-eared Owls in the breeding season throughout Alaska. They’re also one of the easier owl species to spot, due to their frequent daytime activity and tendency to occupy open spaces like fields and grasslands. Their broad, round wings allow them to gracefully flap close to the ground with a seemingly weightless appearance.
Unlike a lot of other owls, Short-eared Owls are also frequently found sitting directly on the ground. Although their name implies that they have short ears, their heads actually look perfectly smooth. Though they do have tufts, they’re very small and hard to see.
7. Great Gray Owl
Length: 24.0-33.1 in
Weight: 24.7-60.0 oz
Wingspan: 53.9-60.2 in
Great Gray Owls are found year-round in Central and Southern Alaska. They’re very large birds with broad wings and long tails — one of the tallest owls in America. Their eyes appear small and close together on their big facial disks, giving them a unique expression. A white “X” pattern on their faces is another key identifier. Like their name implies, their bodies are covered in fluffy, silvery gray feathers.
These owls are quiet and solemn, not really the type to bring attention to themselves. They reside in dense pine forests and on the edges of meadows, avoiding areas with people. Like most owls they are most active at night when they hunt, most often in the hours before dusk and dawn.
8. Snowy Owl
Length: 20.5-27.9 in
Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 in
Snowy Owls are found throughout Alaska, but primarily with a wintering range. Though in some places in far north Alaska they stick around all year. In the spring and summer Snowy Owls are primarily found in the arctic tundra, and the majority of Canada and Alaska in the winter. When they appear, they’re typically seen in spacious areas like fields.
Snowy Owls visually stand apart from other owls due to their beautiful snow-white plumage covering their large, round bodies. Females tend to have more black and dark brown markings scattering across their bodies, while males have less. Both sexes feature deep yellow eyes.
9. Northern Hawk Owl
Length: 14.2-17.7 in
Weight: 8.5-16.0 oz
Wingspan: 27.9 in
Northern Hawk Owls are generally found in Canada, but their range extends into Southern and Central Alaska. These interesting birds have the appearance of an owl, but the behavior of a hawk. They have oval-shaped, medium-sized bodies with short wings and a long, pointed tail.
Like many owls, they have large, round heads with yellow eyes and white faces. However, like hawks, they tend to hunt during the day around dawn and dusk, perching atop trees before gliding after prey. Also like hawks, their eyesight is tremendous and are able to spot prey from up to half a mile away.
Jesse has been feeding birds in his backyard and bird watching across the country for years. He loves learning about the different species and sharing his knowledge and experiences on this website.