Owls, mysterious and wise, are a favorite bird for many. The fact that most of us never see them due to their camouflage and nocturnal habits makes them all the more mysterious. It can also lead you to wonder just how many different kinds of owls can be found where I live? In this article we will look at owls in Oklahoma. Such as what owls species live in the state of Oklahoma, a bit about their size and appearance, as well as what part of the state they can be found in.
It is currently thought that there are about 19-20 species of owls found in North America. Oklahoma is home to as many as 10 of these owl species! One reason Oklahoma has so many different types of owls is certainly its size, and central location in the country. This allows for many different habitats that can provide a home for a wider variety of owls.
The 10 Species of Owls in Oklahoma
The 10 species of owls in Oklahoma are the Great Horned Owl, Barn Owl, Western Screech-owl, Eastern Screech-owl, Snowy Owl, Burrowing Owl, Barred Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, and the Northern Saw-whet Owl.
1. 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 the largest owl found in Oklahoma, and is a year-round resident throughout the state. One of the most common and recognizable owls in North America due to their large size, yellow eyes and “horns” which are tufts of feathers that stick up on either side of their head.
These owls can be found in many habitats, including forests, swamps, deserts and more urban areas such as city parks. Their plumage can vary in color across the country, generally they appear paler and grayer in the southwest than other areas.
Great Horned Owls have a hugely diverse diet, consisting of mammals, birds, reptiles, insects and fish. The different owl species can make a wide variety of sounds, they don’t all hoot. However the Great Horned Owl hoot is what most people think of when they think of the sound owls make, and is often used in TV and movies.
2. Barn Owl
Length: 12.6-15.8 in
Wingspan: 39.4-49.2 in
Weight: 14.1-24.7 oz
Barn Owls are found year round throughout Oklahoma. They can be found mainly in open habitats such as grasslands, fields, ranch / agricultural land and strips of forest. Barn Owls like to nest in holes and crevices.
This includes many man-made structures that have lots of eves and beams such as barns, attics and church steeples, likely how they got their name. They also nest in tree cavities, caves and cliff-sides. Barn Owls are very nocturnal and are unlikely to be found out during the daylight.
At dusk and through the night, they fly low over fields using their amazing hearing to locate mice and other rodents. Their large, ghostly white face and belly can be quite a spooky sight if you catch a glimpse of them in low light!
3. Barred Owl
Length: 16.9-19.7 in
Wingspan: 39.0-43.3 in
Weight: 16.6-37.0 oz
The beautiful brown and white striped Barred Owl is mainly found in eastern Oklahoma, with its range extending east to the Atlantic. These birds really like to stay close to home, often not even leaving a 10 mile radius.
Although their range often overlaps with the Great Horned Owl, they do not like to be in the same area and will move to the far corners of their territory if a Great Horned is nearby. You may find them roosting in trees in the forest during the day, but you’re much more likely to notice them at night.
Their loud and unique hooting call is described as sounding like “who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”. During courtship a mated pair will perform a duet of all sorts of hoots, honks, caws and gurgles.
4. Long-eared Owl
Length: 13.8-15.8 in (height)
Weight: 7.8-15.3 oz
Long-eared Owls are migratory and can be found in most of Oklahoma during the winter.
Their bright yellow eyes, white V shaped facial pattern and long feather tufts that point straight up on either side of their head can give them a constantly surprised expression. Long-eared owls are mostly silent when not in the breeding season, which means you won’t often hear their hooting in Oklahoma.
These medium sized owls are well camouflaged and sometimes roost together in groups, best found in pine stands near pasture or grassland areas.
5. Short-eared Owl
Weight: 12 oz
Short-eared owls spend the summer almost exclusively in Canada and the northern United States, only coming down into Oklahoma during the winter. They can be found all over the state during this time though.
As their name implies, they do have “ear tuft” feathers but they are so short as to almost never be visible. During the winter look for them in marshes, gravel and rock quarries, fields, woodlots and thickets. Their populations in a certain area can vary year to year in close relation to the population of their prey such as moles, rats, rabbits and weasels.
It is thought that their populations overall are in decline, as they are particularly sensitive to habitat loss and fragmentation from the large open grasslands they require being turned into farm land, grazing land, recreational areas and housing development.
6. Burrowing Owl
Length: 7.5-9.8 in
Wingspan: 21.6 in
Weight: 5.3 oz
Burrowing Owls can be found during the breeding season in parts of Central and West Oklahoma.
These owls are quite small with long legs, and they live underground in burrows. Sometimes they dig these burrows themselves, and sometimes they take over burrows left from other animals such as prairie dogs or ground squirrels. They have even been found to use man-made structures such as pipes, buckets and culverts for burrows.
You’ll find them in open habitats such as deserts and grasslands. They can be hard to spot as they are very small compared to the wide open landscape they call home, and when in their burrows barely peek above the horizon. Burrowing owls are most active at dawn and dusk.
7. Western Screech-Owl
Length: 7.5 – 9.8 in
Wingspan: 21.6 – 24.4 in
Weight: 3.5 – 10.8 oz
Western Screech-Owls can be found all along the coast of western North America and in many states of the western U.S. Their territory just barely touches the “handle” of Oklahoma where they have a small range in the westernmost part of the state.
Screech-Owls are on the smaller size, only about 7-10 inches tall. They nest in tree cavities in both rural and urban areas. They have even been known to use owl boxes provided in urban backyards. When hiding inside tree cavities their perfectly camouflaged feathers make them very hard to find.
Your best bet of finding one is like most owls, to listen for them. Their call is often described as a tooting sound having a pattern like that of a bouncing ball.
8. Eastern Screech-Owl
Length: 6.3-9.8 in
Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 in
Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz
The same small stature as its western counterpart, the Eastern Screech Owl is common over most of the eastern half of the United States. This includes all of central, southern and eastern Oklahoma, with these owls only being absent from Oklahoma’s far western border. It would seem this far western edge of Oklahoma is where one stops and the other begins.
Eastern Screech Owls can come in two plumage shades, gray or “red” (which is really a reddish brown). You may be more likely to encounter the reddish varieties in Oklahoma, but it’s hard to say for sure.
Their name might suggest they make a screeching or screaming sound, but this is not true. They don’t hoot, but rather make trilling sounds or “whinnies” that sound like a high pitched horse. If you put up an appropriately sized nest box, you can attract eastern screech owls to your yard.
9. Snowy Owl
Length: 20.5-27.9 inches
Weight: 56.4-104.1 oz
Wingspan: 49.6-57.1 inches
Snowy Owls have a wintering range throughout most of Canada, but this owl has been coming further and further south into the United States each year. Even as far south as Oklahoma during an irruptive migration. Though sightings are rare in the state, Snowy Owls are occasionally spotted in Oklahoma.
These beautiful owls migrate far north to arctic regions of Canada and Greenland to breed each year. Snowy Owls that have established a site they winter at, will continue to use that same site.
If there are Snowy Owls near you, they are not as difficult to spot as other owls due to their bright white plumage. They roost in obvious places, and unlike most other owls, they are diurnal and thus active during the day. Snowy Owls prefer wide-open spaces for hunting, but they will perch on a high point.
Unlike other owl species, Snowy Owls are not afraid to leave their place of birth. Owls from the same nest, that were tracked, were found hundreds of miles away from each other, in opposite directions.
10. Northern Saw-whet Owl
Length: 7.1-8.3 inches
Weight: 2.3-5.3 oz
Wingspan: 16.5-18.9 inches
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.
The female Northern Saw-whet Owl keeps a very tidy nest. She leaves her chicks after they are about 18 days old and the male continues to feed them until they leave the nest about 10 days later. In typical youthful fashion, the young owls do not clean up after themselves, and by the time they leave home the nest is coated in rotting prey, pellets, and fecal matter.
They’re found throughout Oklahoma, but with a scarce population. Northern Saw-whet Owls are the smallest owls in Oklahoma and the U.S. Coupled with their small stature, they can be identified by their big round heads with 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.