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The 13 Species of Owls in Colorado

There are 13 species of owls in Colorado. Some are pretty common like the Great Horned Owl, others you won’t see as much like the Mexican Spotted Owl. Those species are the Barn Owl, Eastern Screech-owl, Great Horned Owl, Barred Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, and the Northern Saw-whet Owl.

In this article we’ll take a look at each species and learn a little bit about them.

The 13 types of owls in Colorado

The 13 species of owls in Colorado are the Eastern Screech-owl, Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl, Western Screech-owl, Long-eared owl, Short-eared owl, Northern Saw-whet owl, Flammulated Owl, Snowy Owl, Northern Pygmy Owl, Burrowing Owl, Mexican Spotted Owl, and the Boreal Owl.

1. Eastern Screech-owl

Length: 6.3-9.8 in 
Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz 
Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 in 

The Eastern Screech-owl is a permanent resident to Colorado, but only in the eastern most parts of the state near the border. These small owls are only about the size of a robin and feed on various insects, rodents, and songbirds. Eastern Screech-owls are highly camouflaged and blend in very well with the trees they nest in, which is where you’ll likely spot one. Listen for songbirds fussing and giving predator alarms, it could mean that an Eastern Screech-owl is nearby. Screech-owl pairs mate for life and are known to accept nesting boxes if provided.

2. Great Horned Owl

Length: 18.1-24.8 in
Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz
Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in

The Great Horned Owl is easily the largest owl in Colorado, unless you count the uncommon Snowy owl. They have a very wide range in North America and are permanent residents in all parts of the lower 48 states, including Colorado.

Great Horned Owls are what many of us think of when we think of owls because they are in so many pictures and seem to be very photogenic. Great Horned Owls are easily recognized by their large size, ear tufts, and yellow eyes. They are the only bird known to regularly kill and eat skunks. They are also known to be an enemy of other raptors such as the Red-tailed Hawk. These fierce predators have very little to be concerned about in their territory.

3. Barn Owl

Length: 12.6-15.8 in
Weight: 14.1-24.7 oz
Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 in

Barn Owls are statewide residents of Colorado all year but are highly elusive and rarely seen. They are also one of the most widely distributed birds in the entire world and are widespread in the U.S. much like the Great Horned Owl. The Barn Owl is easily identified by their beautiful plumage and heart-shaped face. They got their name because they actually do nest in many man-made structures including barns.

4. Western Screech-owl

photo by: Shravans14 | CC 4.0

Length: 7.5-9.8 in
Weight: 3.5-10.8 oz
Wingspan: 21.6-24.4 in

They can be found in open woodlands as well as urban areas like parks and cities in areas of southern and southeastern Colorado. Western Screech-owls don’t actually make a screeching sound like their cousin the Eastern Screech-owl but more of a “toot toot” sound.

They nest in tree cavities like the image above but will also take to nest boxes if provided. Screech-owls are small but excellent hunters that can take down prey like rabbits that are larger than their own bodies. They also have great camouflage and are able to blend in with their surroundings making them difficult to spot.

5. Long-eared owl

Length: 13.8-15.8 in
Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz
Wingspan: 35.4-39.4 in

This medium sized owl can be found throughout most of the U.S. at different times of the year, and all year long in many mid-western states like Colorado or Utah. They migrate to parts of northern U.S. and Canada to their breeding grounds each year. Long-eared Owls are stealthy flyers that are excellent nocturnal hunters. As the name suggests, they can easily be identified by their extra long ears. They roost in large numbers during the winter which makes them a little easier to find.

6. Short-eared owl

Length: 13.4-16.9 in
Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz 
Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in

Short-eared Owls can be seen in Colorado during the non-breeding season, so winter is the best time to spot one in the state. Although there are some pockets of year-round populations in the northern parts of the state. They arrive in late November and leave by mid March. If you are lucky enough to see one it will likely during that time frame. They are commonly seen in open fields or brushy areas around dawn or dusk when they are hunting. They have a wide distribution in North America and can be found in every state.

7. Northern Saw-whet owl

Length: 7.1-8.3 in
Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 in

Slightly smaller than the Eastern Screech-owl, not only is the Saw-whet the smallest of owls in Colorado but one of the smallest birds of prey in the entire country. These tiny owls are found in some capacity throughout the state of Colorado.

Northern Saw-whet owls are nocturnal and highly elusive making them hard to find. They’re one of the most common forest owls in the northern parts of North America. They earned their name because one of their calls was thought to sound similar to a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone.

8. Flammulated Owl

Length: 5.9-6.7 in
Weight: 1.5-2.2 oz
Wingspan: 15.9-16.1 in

There are several small pockets in Colorado where Flammulated Owls come to breed each year. They’re roughly the size of the Northern Pygmy Owl, slightly smaller even, and are one of the smallest owls in Colorado and North America. Flammulated Owls have a restricted range and are very uncommon in Colorado and in general. There is estimated to only be about 5,500 breeding owls in the wild.

Their diet consists primarily of flying insects that they hunt at night. They have reddish gray feathers, are well camouflaged, and resemble screech-owls but with shorter ear-tufts. Surprisingly, even though they are very small in size they have one of the lowest pitched hoots of all owls.

9. Snowy Owl

Length: 20.5-27.9 in
Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 in

Snowy Owls are pretty rare to see in Colorado, but people do see them in the state sometimes. Like this time, or maybe this one. I’d look near lakes in the winter time for a chance to see a Snowy Owl in Colorado as they’re often spotted along the shores hunting for food.

They’re very large owls, larger than even Great horned owls, with smooth, rounded heads and bulky, heavily feathered bodies. Their beautiful, white plumage with black speckling makes them stand out from other owls.

Also unlike other owls, they can be spotted sitting on the ground, or close to the ground, in open areas. They sometimes perch on rises and dunes, close to shore near bodies of water like lakes and oceans.

10. Northern Pygmy Owl

photo by: Greg Schechter | CC 2.0

Length: 6.3-7.1 in
Weight: 2.1-2.5 oz
Wingspan: 14.5-16 in

Found mostly in the mountainous regions of western Norther America, the Northern Pygmy Owl is a small owl that feeds mainly on songbirds. Northern Pygmy Owls are diurnal, or active during the day, giving you a fighting chance to spot one of these tiny guys in Colorado. They sit very still and quiet during the day just waiting to surprise attack their prey for a meal.

Unlike other types of owls, Northern Pygmy Owls will not usually take to man-made nest boxes. In size they are only about as big as an American robin yet are known for taking prey up to 3 times their size. They can be identified by their small size, yellow beaks and eyes, and white speckles on their heads.

11. Burrowing Owl

Length: 7.5-9.8 in
Weight: 5.3 oz
Wingspan: 21.6 in

The Burrowing Owl range in Colorado is breeding only, so look for these guys in warmer weather. Burrowing Owls are the only raptors that nest and roost underground, usually in abandoned burrows left being by groundhogs or prairie dogs. Though they have occasionally been known to excavate their own burrows.

They are sandy-colored, have long legs, and yellow eyes. They hunt on the ground during the day and protect their dens fiercely from intruders. Look for Burrowing Owls in the early morning or late day when they are most active, particularly in areas where you know prairie dogs and other ground dwelling mammals live.

12. Mexican Spotted Owl

Photo Credit: Eric Brekke/BLM

Length: 18.5-18.9 in
Weight: 17.6-24.7 oz
Wingspan: 39.8 in

The Mexican Spotted Owl is one of 3 subspecies of spotted owls as well as one of the largest owls in North America. It is listed as threatened by both the U.S. and Mexican governments. In the United States they are found in small pockets in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and Nevada.

The Spotted Owl, including this subspecies, has a declining population due to habitat loss with an estimated global breeding population of just 15,000 owls. Over half of these are found in the U.S. with about 40% in Mexico. Another factor that contributes to their declining population is the Barred Owl who is bigger, more aggressive, and is known to drive them away.

13. Boreal Owl

Length: 8.3-11.0 in
Weight: 3.3-7.6 oz
Wingspan: 21.6-24.4 in

You can only find the Boreal Owl in about 7 U.S. states, and Colorado is one of them. There’s a year-round population of Boreal Owls throughout much of central and northern Colorado. These silent and stealthy owls are very nocturnal and not often seen. Listen for them from mid-February to April when they are most active.

Boreal Owls are small owls that live in boreal forests, hence the name.If you live within their range, consider putting up nesting boxes to attract a pair to your yard. It is considered uncommon to see a Boreal Owl and their populations are not surveyed by the North American Breeding Bird Survey.


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3 thoughts on “The 13 Species of Owls in Colorado”

  1. Could a group of magpies gang up on and kill a large male great horned owl? If they did, could the female and babies survive? We have a family in our backyard and the male is now missing. But feathers of his are around the yard.

    • It would take a lot of magpies to take down an adult Great Horned, but it’s not impossible. More likely they harassed the heck out of him until he took off for awhile. Magpies and crows are well known for aggressively chasing away larger prey birds. He may be back, or may try and stay away awhile to draw less attention to the rest of the family. It would be harder on the female but they are capable of taking care of the young on their own.

  2. Owls showed up in my mom’s backyard yesterday morning. We have lived here for 50 years and never seen any. Are they barred or spotted? Where can I send you a picture?

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