Maine offers plenty of great locations for birding. Whether you’re searching for songbirds or waterfowl, there are numerous areas to explore including forests in Arcadia National Park, mountains in Baxter State Park, and the whole eastern coast bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Today we’re going to focus on the 8 species of owls found in Maine, where to look for them, and when the best times of the year are for finding them.
Species of Owls in Maine
There’re aren’t that many species of owls that are found year-round in Maine, only Great Horned Owls, Northern Saw-Whet Owls, and Barred Owls. However, other species such as Great Gray Owls, Long-eared Owls, Short-eared Owls, Snowy Owls, and Northern Hawk Owls are regularly found here during different seasons of the year.
1. Great Horned Owl
Length: 18.1-24.8 in
Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz
Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in
Great Horned Owls may be the most common and widespread of owls in Maine and in North America. They’re found year round in Maine as well as across the entire United States. These owls occupy a wide range of habitats, but they seem to favor young woods and forests that also offer open spaces for hunting. They’re also found in swamps and deserts in addition to urban areas such as parks, cities, and suburbs.
Great Horned Owls are large birds with thick, stocky bodies. Their large, ear-like tufts and round, yellow eyes give them a distinct look, and their loud hoot is easily identifiable, too.
Another name for this owl is “tiger owl,” a name earned for Great Horned Owls’ powerful hunting abilities. First, they wait and watch on a high perch, then use their specialized wings to silently swoop down and ambush their prey, grabbing it with their remarkably strong talons.
2. 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 are found year-round in Maine in forests and conifer groves. They’re small, robin-sized birds with large, round heads and big eyes. In addition to their tiny size, there are a few other reasons why these owls are notoriously difficult to locate.
Their mottled brown plumage blends in easily to the trees around them, especially when they’re perched motionlessly on a branch. These owls are also naturally secretive, preferring to lay low and avoid being noticed. Like most other owls, they’re also only active at night.
The best bet for catching a glimpse of a Northern Saw-whet Owl is to learn it’s call and listen for it at night. Luckily, they have a distinct call that sounds like a blade being sharpened with a whetstone, earning the name “saw-whet” owl. During late winter through early summer they tend to call more frequently, so be sure to listen to a high-pitched, “too-too-too” call around then.
3. Barred Owl
Length: 16.9-19.7 in
Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz
Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in
If you hear the phrase, “who cooks for you?” the next time your’e walking in the woods, chances are there’s a Barred Owl nearby. They have a low, deep call that sounds as if they’re repeating this phrase. They’ll often call back and forth to each other, most often at night when they’re the most active. However, Barred Owls are also known to sometimes hunt and call during the daytime as well.
Barred Owls are found year-round in Maine, where they’re fairly common and widespread. They often reside near sources of water in dense forests and woodlands. These large, stocky owls are only a little smaller than Great Horned Owls.
They have brown plumage with darker markings and vertical barring. They’re also less aggressive than Great Horned Owls, which may be why they sometimes have to compete for territory.
4. Great Gray Owl
Length: 24.0-33.1 in
Weight: 24.7-60.0 oz
Wingspan: 53.9-60.2 in
Only scarce, non-breeding populations of Great Gray Owls are found in Maine. For the most part they reside further north, mostly in Canada. They favor dense coniferous forests of fir and pine that also offer ample open areas for hunting. Spotting them is quite difficult, since they are quiet birds that avoid attention and stay away from places that are occupied by people.
Great Gray Owls are larger owls, bigger than even Great Horned Owls. Their size is mostly an illusion, though. Their thick feathers make them appear large, but their weight shows otherwise. However, they are still among the tallest species of owls, with broad wings and big, round heads. Their plumage is silvery brown all over with darker streaking and a pale “X” marking on their facial disks.
5. Long-Eared Owl
Length: 13.5-15.8 in
Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz
Wingspan: 35.4-39.4 in
Long-eared Owls are only found in Maine during the breeding season in the spring and summer. They’re medium-sized owls with lanky frames and long ear-like tufts on the tops of their heads.
Their heads are somewhat square-shaped, with orange facial disks, yellow eyes, and dark, brown plumage covering most of their bodies. They also have an ‘X’ shaped marking on their facial disks similar to Great Gray Owls.
Though they are pretty wide-spread, the secretive and elusive nature of Long-eared Owls make them less familiar than other species. Their barred plumage allows them to blend in almost perfectly with tree bark when they’re perched, and they don’t call very often — making them tricky to locate. However, on winter nights they sometimes become more vocal.
6. Short-Eared Owl
Length: 13.4-16.9 in
Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz
Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in
Breeding populations of Short-eared Owls are found in Maine during the spring and summer. Although they are wide-spread, their population has been steadily declining. Short-eared Owls are easy to see in the areas they occur since they’re often active during the day time.
Look for them in open areas like prairies and grasslands, where they’re commonly spotted sitting right on the ground. They’re also frequently seen while hunting — flying low to the ground as they scan for prey. Their rounded wings allow them to flap and glide smoothly across open tracts of land, as if weightless.
Short-eared Owls, are medium, crow-sized owls with round heads and short tails. They plumage is mostly brown with white and dark brown spotting on the upper parts. Black coloration around the eyes stands out against their pale facial disks.
7. Snowy Owl
Length: 20.5-27.9 in
Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 in
There aren’t many states where Snowy Owls are sighted, but in Maine non-breeding populations appear during the winter. Otherwise, these owls reside in the Arctic Tundra, concentrating and nesting in areas where there is an abundance of lemmings, their main prey.
Their snow-white fur and bright, yellow eyes makes them stand out from other species of owls, and they’re very easily to distinguish. They’re very large owls, about the same size as Great Horned Owls, with bulky feathers that runs all the way down their legs.
Snowy Owls are often spotted sitting directly on the ground in wide open-areas such as fields and dunes. They stay pretty low to the ground when they fly and when they perch, too, often choosing fence posts and telephone poles. In the winter they’re frequently spotted along shorelines and coasts.
8. Northern Hawk Owl
Length: 14.2-17.7 in
Weight: 8.5-16.0 oz
Wingspan: 27.9 in
Though very uncommon, Northern Hawk Owls may appear in Maine during the winter. Their main range covers most of Canada during the rest of the year and is primarily in boreal forests. When they do appear in more southern areas, including Maine, they’re often easy to spot.
They don’t seem to be very afraid of humans and will perch on top of lone trees in the middle of the day. Like hawks, they’ll also hunt during the day, watching for prey and ambushing it their quick flying skills.
Northern Hawk Owls are medium-sized birds with oval-shaped bodies, long, pointed tails, and short, pointed wings. They have yellow eyes placed upon a round facial disk common to most other owls. They have black bordering on their faces and mostly brown plumage on their bodies, with horizontal striping on their pale underparts.
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