The state of Michigan has a variety of wildlife and is nestled between 2 Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Erie. Due partly to this great location between the lakes Michigan is a wonderful state for bird watching and wildlife viewing in general. This article will cover the types of owls in Michigan, where you might be able to spot them in the state, and a little bit about each species.
The 10 species of owls in Michigan
The 10 species of owls in Michigan are the Eastern Screech-owl, Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl, Barred Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Snowy Owl, Great Gray Owl, and the Northern Hawk Owl.
1. Eastern Screech-owl
Length: 6.3-9.8 in
Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 in
Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz
The Eastern Screech-owl is a year-round resident to the entire state of Michigan, except for the northern part of the state including upper Michigan. These small owls feed on various insects, rodents, and songbirds. Eastern Screech-owls will readily take up residence in nest boxes, if you’d like to attract a mating pair then consider putting one up in your yard. They will also use bird baths if you have one in your yard.
Whether they’re using a nesting box that you provide or a tree cavity that they’ve found, the female and young rely on the slightly smaller male to hunt and bring them food. They prefer living in wooded areas near a water source but are commonly found in suburban areas.
2. Great Horned Owl
Length: 18.1-24.8 in
Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in
Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz
The Great Horned Owl is among the largest of owls in Michigan and are also year-round residents to the entire state. They’re easily recognized by their large size, ear tufts, and yellow eyes. They are the only bird known to regularly kill and eat skunks and are also known to be mortal enemies with Red-tailed Hawks.
Great Horned Owls have a wide range of habitats and are common in forests, swamps, deserts, tundras, tropical rainforests open fields, as well as in urban and suburban areas like cities and parks.
3. Barn Owl
Length: 12.6-15.8 in
Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 in
Weight: 14.1-24.7 oz
Another owl that lives in Michigan all year long is the beautiful but elusive Barn Owl. They only have a range in the southernmost parts of the state probably from Detroit south, but there may be rare sightings north of that line. The Barn Owl is easily identified by their beautiful plumage and heart-shaped face. Barn Owls actually nest in many man-made structures including barns, which is where they got their name. They are also one of the most widely distributed birds in the entire world with 46 different sub-species worldwide. The North American Barn Owl is the largest of all of these.
Barn Owls, like other owls, are nocturnal and may be spotted at night hunting for small mammals. They are known for swallowing their prey completely whole, bones and all. Rather than digesting food normally through their digestive tract, they will regurgitate “pellets” of what their bodies did not need for nutrition.
Barn owls have exceptional low-light sight and hearing which makes them amazing night hunters and feared by anything known to be their prey. They are able to track and capture their prey by sound alone better than any other animal ever tested.
4. Barred Owl
Length: 16.9-19.7 in
Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in
Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz
The Barred Owl is common throughout the entire state of Michigan. They are known to be very vocal and have a very recognizable call that sounds like they are saying; “Who cooks for you, Who cooks for you all? ” As with most owls, they are not always easy to spot. You may get lucky and spot one roosting during the day time if you take a walk through a mature forest. Barred Owls don’t migrate and are generally sedentary by nature.
Their number 1 predator is the Great Horned Owl. If a Great Horned Owl moves into a Barred Owl’s territory, it will quickly vacate the area and move on, although likely not very far. Out of 155 Barred Owls studied, none of them ventured further than 6 miles away from where they were originally banded.
5. Long-eared Owl
Length: 13.8-15.8 in
Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz
In central and southern Michigan Long-eared Owls are permanent residents, but in the northern parts the state and the peninsula they are classified as breeding only. They can easily be identified by their extra long ears, but are well camouflaged and may be hard to spot.
They are fierce and silent hunters that feed on the typical owl diet of small mammals and occasionally other birds. Like the Barn Owl they swallow their prey whole and regurgitate the unneeded parts in pellets. The call of the male Long-eared Owl can be heard from almost a mile away.
Length: 13.4-16.9 in
Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in
Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz
Short-eared Owls have a year-round population in the Southern Michigan, in the northern part of the state they have a breeding only range. You may notice a common trend with owls in Michigan, some species will migrate near Lake Michigan to breed.
Your best chance to see Short-eared Owls in Michigan is during the breeding season in the northern half of the state, or all year in the southern half. They can fly great distances when they migrate and have a very wide distribution range in North America. All the way from Mexico to the Northern tip of Alaska and everywhere in between.
Length: 7.1-8.3 in
Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 in
Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
Northern Saw-whet Owls are found all year in the entire state of Michigan. Not only is the Saw-whet the smallest owl found in Michigan, but one of the smallest birds of prey in the entire country!
These tiny owls are about the size of an American Robin and got their name because of their call that sounds similar to that of a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone. They are generally very reclusive birds that prefer living in mature forests near a water source. They feed mainly on mice but during migration will supplement their diets with insects, songbirds, and even other small owls. Less is known about the migration and population of Northern Saw-whets because of their naturally elusive lifestyle.
Length: 20.5-27.9 in
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 in
Snowy Owls are slightly larger than Great Horned Owls and their white plumage makes them incredibly beautiful and a treat to see should you ever be lucky enough. They are found throughout the state of Michigan and are classified as having a winter range only. Snowy Owls migrate far north to the arctic tundra regions of Canada and Northern Greenland to breed.
Along with their white feathers, they have rounded heads with no ear tufts like other owls do making them impossible to mistake for any other type of owl if you see one. Snowy Owls are not only the largest but in my opinion among the most beautiful owls in Michigan.
9. Great Gray Owl
Length: 24.0-33.1 in
Wingspan: 53.9-60.2 in
Weight: 24.7-60.0 oz
The Great Gray Owl is the largest owl in North America and Michigan is one of the few states where they can be found if you know when and where to look for them. They have a non-breeding range and are considered scarce in only the northern tip and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Even though the Great Gray Owl is larger in size than both the Great Horned Owl and the Snowy Owl, it actually weighs less and is mostly feathers. This is one of the most sought after birds for bird watchers as they are rare in the United States making them difficult to come across.
10. Northern Hawk Owl
Length: 14.2-17.7 in
Wingspan: 27.9 in
Weight: 8.5-16.0 oz
The Northern Hawk Owl doesn’t actually have a range within the state of Michigan but our friends over at birdsna.org drew a line on their range map for the Northern Hawk Owl showing that Michigan is within the limits of their southernmost range. So while it may be rare to see one of these owls in Michigan, it’s not totally impossible.
They are called hawk owls because they look like owls but behave like hawks in many ways. These non-migratory owls will hunt in the daytime making them fairly easy to spot, at night they roost in trees. They are about the size of a crow and can be identified by their brown feathers, white dots on their heads, brown and white stripes on their underparts, and long tapered tails.
You may also be interested in: The 7 types of hawks in Michigan