In this article we’re covering Owls in Missouri. The species of owls that can be found in the state of Missouri are the Great Horned owl, Eastern Screech-owl, Barn Owl, Barred Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, and if you’re lucky enough the Snowy Owl.
The 8 species of owls in Missouri
Owls are incredibly unique birds of prey. They are generally nocturnal, have characteristically large eyes, and large feathers that allow them to fly and hunt silently. The following 8 species have many things in common, but are also quite unique from one another.
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 are easily recognizable among other birds of prey. Their signature deep hoot, feathered tufts on their heads, and large, yellow eyes are characteristics that have earned them a spot in countless stories and works of art.
They’re found year round in Missouri and also throughout North America. They occupy a large range of habitats including deciduous and evergreen forests, new forests with clearings and open areas, and even swamps.
Their soft, fluffy feathers keep them warm in the winter, and allow them to fly silently — a strong advantage when it comes to ambushing small rodents and other prey. Great horned owls like to dine on small rodents, reptiles, and bugs, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of taking down animals larger than them.
2. Eastern Screech Owl
Length: 6.3-9.8 in
Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz
Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 in
Eastern screech owls are known for their effective camouflage. Even though they’re year-round owls in Missouri, you’ll have to have sharp eyesight to find them. Their grey and red-brown patterned feathers give them excellent camouflage for blending into trees.
They nestle in empty tree cavities in most kinds of woods and forests, often near water sources. A good way of locating them is to listen for their trills at night, which sound somewhat similar to a horse’s whinny.
Paying attention to smaller birds may also help you locate one of these owls.
If you hear a lot of noise and alarm calls coming from birds like blue jays and other members of the crow family, they could be in the process of mobbing an Eastern screech owl.
3. Barn Owl
Length: 12.6-15.8 in
Weight: 14.1-24.7 oz
Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 in
Find Barn owls year round in Missouri, as well as across the entire country. During the day they hide in dark, quiet places like abandoned barns or other man-made structures.
They have pale white faces with dark eyes, and light tan bodies with gray markings on their heads, necks, and upperwings.
At night they appear as a flash of white, as they soar across open fields and grasslands looking for a meal. They’re adept at using sound to locate small rodents— even under snow or vegetation.
They capture prey in the darkest of conditions using their sharp talons. To eat, they swallow their meals whole and spit out the indigestible remains as pellets. Unlike other owls they don’t hoot, instead they have alarming, screech-like calls.
4. Barred Owl
Length: 16.9-19.7 in
Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz
Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in
Find Barred Owls year-round in Missouri in large evergreen and deciduous forests. They’re fairly large owls with mottled brown and white plumage, and dark eyes. Their soft brown coloration blends right into the trees they roost in during the day.
Barred owls wait until nightfall to hunt. The best way to find them is by listening for their distinct calls that sound like they’re saying “who cooks for you?” If you hear it, try imitating it back. If you wait quietly and patiently, they may even fly over to scope you out.
These birds don’t travel or migrate very far from their homes. Set up a nesting box in a mature forest to attract a breeding pair. For best results, install the box well before breeding season which occurs between March and August.
5. Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Length: 7.1-8.3 in
Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 in
As if these tiny, elusive birds weren’t already hard to see — only non-breeding populations of Northern saw-whet owls are found in Missouri. In a large portion of the state they are even more scarce.
These owls are only about the size of an American Robin. They have cute faces with yellow cat-like eyes and large heads for their small frames. Like cats, they don’t get along with songbirds. In fact, a good way to tell if one is around is to observe small birds making a ruckus, which they often do when trying to get a roosting Northern saw-whet owl to scram.
It’s thought that their name comes from the sound a saw makes when sharpened on a whetting stone. If you listen closely on quiet nights from January to May, you might just hear their short, high pitched toot-toot-toot call.
6. Long-Eared Owl
Length: 13.8-15.8 in
Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz
Only non-breeding Long-eared owl populations are found in Missouri. They’re pretty hard to spot due to their secretive nature and excellent camouflage. During the day they lay low in dense forests, coming out to open areas at night to hunt.
Like other owls, listening for their calls is the best way to locate them. Listen for their long, deep hoots and barking calls during spring and summer nights. They roost together in large numbers during the winter, giving you a good opportunity to observe them.
7. Short-Eared Owl
Length: 13.4-16.9 in
Weight: 7.3-16.8 oz
Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 in
There are mostly just non-breeding populations of Short-eared owls found in Missouri. However, in some northern sections of the state they can be found year-round.
Dawn and dusk is the best time to look for them. Unlike most owls, they can also frequently be seen in the daylight. Keep on the lookout for their pale faces with yellow eyes outlined in black.
When they fly they flap with smooth, stiff beats, making their flight appear graceful and effortless. Their broad, rounded wings help them cruise over open lands and fields without making a sound.
That flight pattern changes when it’s time to hunt, though. When chasing after their prey they tend to fly close to the ground, changing direction unpredictably.
8. Snowy Owl
Length: 20.5-27.9 in
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 in
Consider yourself lucky if you manage to catch a glimpse of a Snowy owl in Missouri. They only appear here in irruptions — generally unpredictable, large migrations of birds. Otherwise they’re either up in the arctic tundra, Canada, or the very northern portions of the U.S.
They’re very large owls, larger than even Great horned owls, with smooth, rounded heads and bulky, heavily feathered bodies. They stand out from other owls in a few ways, the most obvious being their beautiful, white plumage.
Also unlike other owls, they’re diurnal and take advantage of daylight hours to hunt. They often sit directly on the ground in open areas of tundra and field.
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