The Big Apple is home to a wide range of birds of prey, including owls. The state has many different habitats that can support this variety of owls, which is what we’re talking about in this article.
There are 10 species of owls found in the state of New York. Below we give you an overview of each one along with a picture, interesting info and a few facts including when you might see one in NY.
Let’s have a look at the owls of New York!
The 10 Species of owls in New York
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 have a very distinct appearance, with a heart shaped white face and black eyes. They like to roost and nest in barns and silos, hence their name, but also in dense trees and cavities.
After dark they fly low over open fields, grasslands and marshes, listening for prey scurrying below. In fact, it is thought they have the best ability of any animal to locate prey by sound alone! They will nest in owl boxes built to the appropriate size. They can be found year round in New York, but are rarely spotted.
For more cool facts, we did a whole article about Barn Owls here.
2. Eastern Screech owl
Scientific name: Megascops asio
Length: 6.3-9.8 in
Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz
Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 in
The tiny screech owl is one of the smallest on our list. Eastern Screech owls are widespread, year round residents of New York. Their plumage (which can appear in both gray and red varieties) resembles the coloring and patterns of bark so closely, that they almost disappear when sitting in tree nooks and cavities.
They have a diverse diet of small songbirds, mice, rats, moles, squirrels, insects, earthworms, frogs and lizards. They will readily use backyard owl boxes, and might even visit your bird bath.
3. 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
The large great horned owl is one of the most easily recognized with its feather tufts that stick up from its head. They also produce the classic “hooting” sound often used in television to depict peaceful nights in the woods.
Their size and fierceness lets Great Horned owls go after almost any prey from rodents and frogs to falcons and other raptors. Their talons can exert 28 pounds of force to break the spine of their prey. Found year round in New York, these owls will also use a backyard owl box.
Check out our article on Great Horned owls here for more fun facts.
4. Snowy Owl
Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
Length: 20.5-27.9 in
Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 in
In the 24-hour daylight of summers at the arctic circle, Snowy owls can be found hunting lemmings at all hours of the day. New York is lucky to be within the winter range of the beautiful Snowy owl, when they come south into the U.S. Pure white with light brown streaking and bright yellow eyes.
Look for Snowy owls in large open, treeless stretches such as the shore line, sand dunes and open fields. They often sit directly on the ground, and may sit still for hours surveying the area for sights and sounds of prey. Most likely to be found along New York’s northern and eastern boarders.
5. Barred owl
Scientific name: Strix varia
Length: 16.9-19.7 in
Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz
Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in
The large Barred owl can be found year round in New York. They do not migrate, and in fact once they establish a territory they don’t tend to stray far. They have a round head with a gray circular face, white breast with long brown streaks, and a brown and white mottled back.
You will most likely be alerted to their presence by their distinctive sounding hooting call that carriers far through the woods, often described as sounding like “who cooks for you? who cooks for you-all?”. During courtship, mated pairs can perform a chorus of bizarre sounding cackles, hoots, caws and gurgles called caterwauling.
6. 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
The long ear tufts that stick straight up from this owls head often give it an expression of permanent surprise. They are dark and buffy brown, with an orange facial disk and light colored V-shaped feathers along the center of their face. It is believed they do not build their own nests, rather reuse nests built by other birds such as crows, ravens, hawks and magpies.
They can be found year round in New York with breeding populations in far northern NY and some only seen during winter in the far southern tip of NY.
7. 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
Short-eared owls may be spotted during the winter in New York. Usually, their small ear tufts are not visible like the long-eared owl. Their most distinguishing feature is the white ring around their round face, and their yellow eyes surrounded by black patches.
They can fly very long distances and are found around the globe, even on the Hawaiian islands. Look for them at dawn or dusk along the edges of open fields, grasslands or airports.
8. 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
These owls are one of the most common in North America, but are so rarely seen in the daytime that any sightings are rare. During the day, these tiny owls roost in dense conifers, keeping themselves well hidden. Their main diet staple is mice, especially deer mice. It has been hard to study their migration since they are so hard to find, but researchers now know they can fly long distances over water such as the Great Lakes. Northern Saw-Whet owls are year round residents in New York.
9. Northern Hawk Owl
Scientific name: Surnia ulula
Length: 14.2 – 17.7 in
Weight: 8.5 – 16.0 oz
Wingspan: 27.9 in
This medium sized owl has an oval shaped body with a long tapered tail and horizontal striping on the chest. It likes to sit on solitary tree tops to search for prey, and can be seen during the day. These owls mainly live in the boreal forests of Canada, but sometimes travel down in the northern United States in the winter.
This typically happens during years where mammal populations have declined in Canada so they head south to look for food. So while Northern Hawk owls have been spotted in New York, it is uncommon.
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 quite tall owls and can appear very large, however that is mainly due to thick and fluffy feathers. They actually weigh less than Snowy owls or Great Horned owls. But they are still large, and need to eat 6-7 small mammals a day in the winter. Great Gray owls are quite powerful and can break through hard packed snow to grab the prey beneath. Even snow that would support the weight of a person standing on it!
Their large disc-shaped face funnels sound to their ears and makes them excellent at pinpointing the smallest noises made by potential prey. This is how they are able to know exactly where to grab in the snow for their meal. Great Gray owls are only a rare visitor to New York state.
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