Idaho is home to the Rocky Mountains and over 21.5 million of acres of forests. 21,589 of these acres are protected National Forests making Idaho a great home for many different types of raptors, such as owls. In this article we’ll be learning about the owls in Idaho.
In the below list of Idaho birds of prey we’ll look at each of the 14 species of owls found in the state of Idaho.
Let’s get to it!
Owls in Idaho
The 14 species of Owls found in Idaho are the Barn Owl, Flammulated Owl, Western Screech-owl, Great Horned Owl, Snowy Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Northern Pygmy-owl, Burrowing Owl, Barred Owl, Great Gray Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Boreal Owl, and the Northern Saw-whet Owl.
1. Barn Owl
Scientific name: Tyto alba
Length: 12.6-15.8 in
Weight: 14.1-24.7 oz
Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 in
Barn Owls are commonly found throughout America and across the globe. In Idaho they’re found year-round in woodlands and open areas throughout most of the state. They love to roost and nest in quiet, abandoned places like forgotten barns — hence the name “barn” owl. Farmland often provides plenty of rodents such as mice and voles that comprise the majority of these owls’ diets. At night they silently fly close to the ground, using their pristine eyesight and hearing to locate prey in the darkest of conditions.
These owls have pale, white faces with dark beady eyes. They’re medium-sized owls about the same size as a crow. Their calls aren’t the typical hoots that first come to mind, but rather harsh, raspy sounding screeches. Listen for them calling in the evening once the sun goes down, and keep your eyes peeled for a flash of white glide by.
Checkout this article for some interesting facts about Barn Owls.
2. Flammulated Owl
Scientific name: Psiloscops flammeolus
Length: 5.9-6.7 in
Weight: 1.5-2.2 oz
Wingspan: 15.9-16.1 in
Flammulated Owls are only found during the breeding season in a few spotty areas of Idaho, though they tend to be fairly common within those areas. They’re very small in size and share a similar silhouette as screech-owl, but with shorter tufts on the tops of their heads.
Spotting them often proves to be quite tricky, as their pale gray-brown plumage blends in perfectly with tree bark. These owls prefer to occupy mature pine forests, where they roost during the day and hunt at night. Locating them at night tends to be much easier than trying to see them during the day. Listen for their deceptively low hoot to track them. However, this feat may also prove to be a challenge, since their calls often seem farther away than they really are.
3. Western Screech-owl
Scientific name: Megascops kennicottii
Length: 7.5-9.8 in
Weight: 3.5-10.8 oz
Wingspan: 21.6-24.4 in
Western Screech-owls are commonly found year-round in the entire state of Idaho. 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.
4. Great Horned Owl
Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
Length: 18.1-24.8 in
Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz
Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in
They’re one of the most commonly found owls across North America and are found year-round in Idaho. 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.
Checkout this article for some interesting facts about Great Horned Owls.
5. Snowy Owl
Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
Length: 20.5-27.9 in
Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 in
Snowy Owls aren’t as commonly seen in the state as other species on this list, but do have a winter range in far Northern Idaho. Additionally, the Snowy Owl’s irruptive winter range dips down throughout the entire state of Idaho though they are much less common.
At all other times of the year, Snowy Owls are primarily found in the arctic tundra and the majority of Canada in the winter. When they do appear in in the state, they’ve 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.
6. Northern Hawk Owl
Scientific name: Surnia ulula
Length: 14.2-17.7 in
Weight: 8.5-16.0 oz
Wingspan: 27.9 in
The Northern Hawk Owl is more common in arctic regions of Northern Canada and Alaska, but the far southern limits of its winter irruptive range does enter the state of Idaho. So while they are probably another rare visitor to the state, Northern Hawk Owls can occasionally be seen in the state of Idaho if you know when and where to look for them.
The Northern Hawk Owl acts like a hawk in many ways but looks like an owl. They typically stick to boreal forests, so look for them there if possible. They hunt primarily by sight and often in the daytime, unlike other owls. A sighting for one of these is a real treat for any birder.
7. Northern Pygmy-owl
Scientific name: Glaucidium gnoma
Length: 6.3-7.1 in
Weight: 2.1-2.5 oz
Wingspan: 14.5-16 in
Northern Pygmy-Owls are generally widespread in the mountainous western United States and are found year-round in Idaho, except for southwestern areas of the state. 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.
8. Burrowing Owl
Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
Length: 7.5-9.8 in
Weight: 5.3 oz
Wingspan: 21.6 in
Though they’re more frequently found further south in America, breeding populations of Burrowing Owls are sometimes spotted in southern portions of Idaho. Their habitat is primarily wide stretches of grassland and prairie. Unlike most owls, Burrowing Owls nest underground, in dug out burrows and dens. These smart owls will also store extra food away in these underground chambers to sustain them through incubation and brooding periods.
Burrowing Owls are small, about the same height and length as a robin, but with stockier bodies. They have smooth, round heads with no ear tufts, and sandy-colored plumage with brown spots. These owls don’t rely on flying to catch prey, either. Instead, they hunt on the ground, chasing after insects and small animals with their long legs.
Check out this article for some interesting facts about Burrowing Owls.
9. Barred Owl
Scientific name: Strix varia
Length: 16.9-19.7 in
Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz
Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in
Barred Owls are year-round residents in Idaho, though mostly to Northern Idaho only. The main range of these owls is the south eastern United States, primarily in swamps. In Idaho, the best places to look for them are woodlands and forests near bodies of water. They’re most active at night, but they sometimes call and hunt during the daytime as well. Listening for their distinct, rich-sounding “who cooks for you?” call usually pans out better for finding these owls than just searching for them in the trees.
Barred owls are large birds with stocky bodies and smooth, round heads. Their eyes are wide and so deeply brown that they appear completely black. They have white and brown mottling all over their plumage, with vertical brown barring on their undersides and vertical barring on their upper parts.
10. Great Gray Owl
Scientific name: Strix nebulosa
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 Northern Idaho. 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.
11. Long-eared Owl
Scientific name: Asio otus
Length: 13.8-15.8 in
Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz
Wingspan: 35.4-39.4 in
Long-eared Owls are found year-round in areas of Central and Southern Idaho, with a breeding population in part of Central and Northern Idaho. Though they’re fairly widespread, these owls are pretty secretive in nature, making them tricky to spot. During the day they roost in dense foliage, waking up to hunt at night.
Their plumage is a mixture of dark browns and grays which camouflages them nicely against trees. They get their name from the long tufts on the tops of their heads, giving them the appearance of having ears.
12. Short-eared Owl
Scientific name: Asio flammeus
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 year-round throughout Idaho. 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.
13. Boreal Owl
Scientific name: Aegolius funereus
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 most of Idaho, mainly in Central and Northern Idaho, in dense mixed-wood and coniferous forests. 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.
14. Northern Saw-whet Owl
Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
Length: 7.1-8.3 in
Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 in
Throughout Idaho, Northern Saw-whet Owls are found year-round. These 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 Idaho, 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.