With over 600,000 acres of lakes, Arkansas is a diverse habitat ranging from beautiful hot springs, rivers, and lakes, to forests, swamps, prairies, suburbs, and urban areas. With such undeveloped space, it is the ideal location for a diversity of bird species, especially owls. With such a large owl population, you may be wondering, what owls can be found in Arkansas?
Nine owl species are found in the “Natural State” of Arkansas, including the Barn Owl, Barred Owl, Burrowing Owl, Eastern Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, Long-eared Owl, Northern Saw-whet Owl, Short-eared Owl, and Snowy Owl. Several of these owl species are permanent residents, while others are much rarer and can be only spotted seasonally.
Keep reading to find out more about these fascinating creatures!
The list of owls below has been compiled from historical sighting reports from various sources. Whilst some of the birds listed are uncommon and hard to spot, we've still included them as they are sometimes seen still in Arkansas.
Close up of a Barn owl perched on a post
Close up of a Barn Owl in flight
Barn owl flying low over a field, on the lookout for prey
Barn Owl perched on a wooden post
Barn owl coming in to land
Fence posts are one of the most common places to spot Barn owls
Young Barn Owl
A pair of Barn owls perched on a branch
A Barn owl hunting at first light
29cm to 44cm
80cm to 95cm
187g to 700g
Uncommon, but rarely seen during winter.
James P, XC621140. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/621140.
You can spot a Barn Owl year-round across the entire state of Arkansas but are difficult to see. You can identify a Barn Owl by its heart-shaped facial disk, smaller eyes, bare toes, long legs, serrated claws, and short, square tails. Their body color ranges from yellowish-gold to cinnamon.
Barn Owls got their name because of nesting in manmade structures, like barns, where they can spot small rodents for dinner. They typically live in structures on farms or in other rural areas, so it is uncommon to see them in cities or suburbs.
Eastern Screech-Owl (Rufous Morph)
Eastern Screech-Owl in tree hollow
Eastern Screech-Owl owlets
16cm to 25cm
48cm to 61cm
170g to 190g
As a permanent year-round resident of Arkansas across the state (in most habitats), the Eastern Screech-owl is a small but powerful bird that is about the size of a robin. Their primary diet includes songbirds, rodents, and various insect types. As highly camouflaged birds, they blend well with the surrounding forests so they can swoop down to catch their prey.
If you hear the songbirds fussing and displaying a predator alarm, there could be an Eastern Screech-owl nearby. You can identify the Eastern Screech-Owl by its reddish body with black facial disks, ear tufts, spotted white shoulders, and blotchy-streaked stomachs.
Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl sitting on a tree stump
Great Horned Owl in flight
A pair of Great Horned Owls
46cm to 63cm
910g to 2.5kg
Another permanent year-round resident of Arkansas, the Great Horned Owl is the largest in the state and the most common in North America. They are exactly what we picture when thinking of owls because they are incredibly photogenic. You can recognize these beautiful birds by their yellow eyes, ear tufts, and generous size.
They are the only known bird on Earth that catches and eats skunks but also prays on rodents. They are considered fierce predators and enemies to the Red-tailed Hawk. They can live in a variety of habitats ranging from backyards to forests, so Arkansas is the ideal location to spot one.
Snowy Owl in flight
Snowy Owl landing
Snowy Owl standing in snow
53cm to 66cm
125cm to 166cm
710g to 2.95kg
Rare, but winter is most likely
The graceful and magnificent Snowy Owl is rare for Arkansas and can only be spotted in December or January, but they are pretty rare to come across in Arkansas, but there are historical reports. Since they breed in colder climates, they only come south for two months before returning home.
You can find the Snowy Owl in fields, prairies, beaches, dunes, and marshes. Called the snowy owl because of its pure white feathers that camouflage the bird in the Arctic, this owl nests close to lemmings and other small rodents. However, the Snowy Owl has been known to prey on birds as large as geese.
Close up of a Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owl coming in to land
A pair of juvenile Burrowing Owls
19cm to 25cm
51cm to 61cm
Uncommon, but between September and April
The second you see the rhythmic head nod; you will know this is a Burrowing Owl. This species is a favorite among bird trackers because of its unique appearance and behavior. They can be found in open country environments and are among the smallest owl species. You can recognize them by their pale brown feathers with white spots. The more spots the owl has, the older it typically is.
Their tails are short and square, and their eyes are a piercing sharp yellow color. When hunting in the day or night, their diet consists of large insects, reptiles, rodents, and fish.
The best time to spot the Burrowing Owl in Arkansas is between September and April, however, they can be fairly rare and uncommon to see.
Barred Owl in flight
Barred Owl eating crayfish
Barred Owl preening owlet
43cm to 50cm
31.5cm to 35.5cm
470g to 1.05kg
With a stable population throughout Arkansas, you can observe Barred Owls year-round during the day, but can sometimes be challenging to spot. They can quickly be identified by their call that sounds like, “Who cooks for you, Who cooks for you all?” You will recognize this species by their mottled brown and white marks on their tail and wings. They have unsettling black eyes with pale dark streaks.
The Barred Owl is a non-migratory bird that nests in tree cavities or nest boxes and lives in forests. Their biggest predator is the Great Horned Owl, but they eat small rodents and insects.
Close up of a Long-eared Owl
Adult and young juvenile Long-eared owl in a tree
Long-eared Owls are slightly larger than Barn owls
Long-eared Owl on the hunt for prey
Long-eared owls are usually spotted in mixed or coniferous woodlands
Long-eared owl perched in the forest
Long-eared Owl in flight
Long-eared Owl peeking from behind the tree
35cm to 40cm
90cm to 100cm
220g to 435g
Uncommon, but mostly October to April
True to its name, the Long-eared Owl is a medium-sized species that are uncommon in Arkansas. Your best chance to view this bird is between October and April.
It is difficult to spot one because they breed in the northern U.S. and Canada plus, they are stealthy flyers. This makes the Long-ear Owl an excellent nocturnal hunter of mice, rats, other rodents, and insects. They prefer living near the open ground, like fields and marshes, so they can hunt. You can recognize this species by their long ears, sharp yellow eyes, rounded facial disk, spotted underbelly, and striped wings.
Close up of a Short-Eared Owl
Short-Eared Owl in flight
Perched Short-Eared Owl on a fence post
Short-Eared Owl flying
Nest of a Short-Eared Owl with chicks and eggs
34cm to 42cm
90cm to 105cm
260g to 350g
October to April
Female Short-Eared Owl call
Jarek Matusiak, XC552057. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/552057.
Short-Eared Owl Call
Karl-Birger Strann, XC443556. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/443556.
The best time to spot the Short-eared Owl in Arkansas is in winter when they are not breeding. They typically arrive in October and leave at the end of March, early February. You can commonly find them in brushy areas or open fields around dusk or dawn during their hunting trips.
Interestingly, the Short-eared Owl can be found sitting on the ground waiting for prey. This species can be identified by their short ears, yellow eyes, rounded facial disk, and brown and white patterned feathers.
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Northern Saw-whet Owl perched in a tree
A pair of Northern Saw-whet Owlets
18cm to 21.5cm
45cm to 60cm
Between October and February, but rare
As one of the smallest birds of prey in the United States and smallest owl in Arkansas, the Northern Saw-whet Owl is rare but may be seen between October and February. However, they are listed on the threatened list in the state, so you may never, unfortunately, see one, as they are becoming rarer.
This species is nocturnal, so they hunt in the forest exceedingly small rodents and insects at night. Unlike other owls, this species consumes mice and other rodents over two meals. They earned the name because their call sounds like a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone.
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