Types of Owls in Colorado (Complete Guide)

Posted on: 5 November 2021

Identification

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Types of Owls in Colorado (Complete Guide)

Colorado is famed for its gorgeous landscape, vegetation, and wildlife. You can’t describe Colorado as cool since the landmass is far from any significant water bodies. With no oceans to regulate the temperature of this landlocked state, summers are hot and winters extremely cold. Several species of owls thrive in the canyons, tundras and overstory vegetation made of riparian, ponderosa pine, pinon-juniper, spruce-fir, mixed conifer, conifer-hardwood, and lodgepole pine. So, what species of owl are you likely to spot in Colorado?

Twelve different species of owls can be found in the state of Colorado. These include; flammulated owl, barn owl, western screech-owl, great horned owl, snowy owl, eastern screech-owl, burrowing owl, long-eared owl, spotted owl, short-eared owl, saw-whet owl and boreal owl. Some of them are seasonal, like the snowy owl, which is only present during winter. The other species are present all year round on barns, trees, deserts, canyons, and even ground burrows.

Would you like to learn more about these amazing raptors that resemble a crossbreed between cats and birds? Read on!

Did you know?

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 Colorado.

What species of Owls can be seen in Colorado?

Below are the twelve species of owls that can be found in the state of Colorado.

Barn Owl

Tyto alba

Barn owl
Barn owl in flight
Barn owl on post

Barn Owl on post

Young barn owl

Young Barn Owl

Length:

33cm to 39cm

Wingspan:

80cm to 95cm

Weight:

250g to 350g

Seen :

All year

James P, XC621140. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/621140.

Although owls are not domestic animals, this owl species make their home in barns which is how they earned their name. Members of the Tytonidae family barn owls are permanent Colorado residents, so if you ever feel lonely, just know that they are always with you. All owls belong to the Strigidae family except barn owls because of their unique but owe inspiring facial characteristics.

An almost round shape that resembles the heart symbol and a downward-facing beak are the hallmarks of this owl family. Usually, the pale face has a darker shade at the edges, and the face dips towards the ears, a characteristic that makes barn owls a formidable predator by sound ever known. Grey and buff feathers characterize the face but tend to appear totally white during nighttime.

With a 42.1 to 43.3in wingspan, barn owls are medium-sized for owls and feed on a diet of mice, shrews, and voles to sustain their 430-620 grams body. They are monogamous, hunting in grasslands during the night, and live for approximately four years.

Flammulated Owl

Psiloscops flammeolus

Flammulated owl

Flammulated Owl

Flammulated owl 1

Flammulated Owl perched in a tree at night

Length:

15cm to 17cm

Wingspan:

36cm

Weight:

43g to 63g

Seen :

Summer

With a wingspan of 14 inches, a length of 6 inches, and weighing only 60g, flammulated owls are the smallest owls in Colorado. These nocturnal, monogamous, grey, or rust-colored birds reside in Colorado during the warm months of summer and spring, then winter in Central America and Mexico. You will likely encounter these raptors in the dense coniferous forest habitats, providing natural camouflage and nesting. Flammulated owls feed on insects, camouflage in dense trees, and are very territorial, although real fights rarely occur.

Flammulated owls are rapidly disappearing because of deforestation, which destroys their natural camouflage, breeding, and nesting grounds. If you want to see these small birds, go hiking in the warm months, which is also their breeding season. Typically, they will pair up and breed that way for life.

Western Screech Owl

Megascops kennicottii

Western screech owl

Western Screech Owl

Western screech owl in tree hollow

Western Screech Owl sleeping in tree hollow

Pair of western screech owls

Pair of Western Screech Owls at night

Western screech owl sitting on branch

Western Screech Owl sitting on a branch

Length:

19cm to 25.5cm

Wingspan:

55cm

Weight:

100g to 305g

Seen :

All year

Western screech owls are known for their well-you guessed correctly, high pitched screech noises. They differ from eastern screech owls in sound and also have lighter markings on their chests and bellies. Be prepared for a rough hike if you want to see these birds in their habitats because they like nesting along canyon edges. However, there have been sightings near urban cities.

The western screech owl is a true owl that feeds on insects and small mammals to maintain its 143g body. It also has a wingspan of 21.6 in and can live for approximately 13 years in the wild.

Unlike the previous two, this raptor is polygamous and will mate with several females during the mating season. Interestingly, the male will maintain a female of its choice to raise a brood together. You can spot the owl all year round because it is a permanent Colorado resident.

Eastern Screech Owl

Megascops asio

Eastern screech owl

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern screech owl rufous morph

Eastern Screech Owl (rufous morph)

Eastern screech owl sitting in hollow tree

Eastern Screech Owl in tree hollow

Eastern screech owlets

Eastern Screech Owlets

Length:

16cm to 25cm

Wingspan:

48cm to 61cm

Weight:

170g to 190g

Seen :

All year

The Eastern Screech-Owl resembles its western counterpart in almost every aspect, only that it has darker patterns on the chest. Weighing at 160g and a wingspan of between 18.1 to 24 in, these screeching birds feed on larger prey such as skunks, rats, rabbits, and squirrels and live for more than ten years.

Like western screech owls, males mate with many females during the breeding season but finally settle down with one to raise chicks. These pairs change every year, and the males spend their time fending off intruders as the females incubate the eggs.

One striking feature of this species is its ability to adapt to human invasion since they have been spotted nesting in suburban areas and breeding in farmlands and city parks. Although their natural habitat is the thick forest, they sometimes feel comfortable living in man-made bird boxes. Eastern screech owls are permanent residents of Colorado, although you will only see them across the eastern and the northeastern borders.

Great Horned Owl

Bubo virginianus

Great horned owl

Great Horned Owl

Great horned owl sitting on tree stump

Great Horned Owl sitting on a tree stump

Great horned owl in flight

Great Horned Owl in flight

Male and female great horned owls

Pair of Great Horned Owls

Length:

46cm to 63cm

Wingspan:

140cm

Weight:

910g to 2.5kg

Seen :

All year

With a wingspan of between 39.8 to 57.1in, the great horned owl is a giant compared to its counterparts above. It’s popular because of some unique head features that resemble ears known as plumicorns. Due to their large size, you can only spot a few in Colorado, although they can reside anywhere, including artificial structures.

This huge predator weighs up to 2268 grams ounces, which means it feeds a lot to sustain the huge weight. The great horned owl is strong and feeds huge prey, including prairie dogs, skunks, house cats, and even ducks. Invertebrates, rodents, fish, squirrels, large birds, and other owls are also on the menu.

Unique plumes on feathers that increase stealth and incredible eyesight 100 times better than humans make great horned owls a formidable predator. Great horned owls are permanent Colorado residents, having been documented in every Colorado state park. So, make sure that your pets are safely indoors before you go to bed!

Snowy Owl

Bubo scandiacus

Snowy owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy owl standing in snow

Snowy Owl standing in the snow

Snowy owl in flight

Snowy Owl in search of prey

Snowy owl landing

Snowy Owl about to land

Length:

53cm to 66cm

Wingspan:

125cm to 166cm

Weight:

710g to 2.95kg

Seen :

Winter

One unique thing about snowy owls is that they are only visible in Colorado. Typically, these raptors migrate to the tundra in northern Canada, mating and breeding all winter long. When the temperatures chill, and the first fluffy snowballs fall, they travel south, reaching even northern USA. In some years, they migrate in such large numbers that their numbers explode in the south.

Bubo scandiacus, as the owl is scientifically known, has a wingspan of 47.2 to 59 in and weighs up to 1800 grams, making it a huge and strong predator. Males hoot to defend their territory, and the sound can travel 7 miles in the tundra. Females seldom hoot, but both sexes produce other sounds by snapping their beaks, cackling, hissing, and shrieking. At a length of 25.1 in, you wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of things if you were the prey!

Burrowing Owl

Athene cunicularia

Burrowing owl

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing owl landing

Burrowing Owl coming into land

Burrowing owl head tilt

Burrowing Owl tilting its head

Juvenile burrowing owls

Pair of juvenile Burrowing Owls

Length:

19cm to 25cm

Wingspan:

51cm to 61cm

Weight:

170g

Seen :

All year

Have you ever heard of an owl that lives underground like a mole? Meet the burrowing owl in the prairie dog towns of Colorado. This threatened species nest in underground burrows made by prairie dogs and dig new holes with their feet. Burrowing owls have officially been classified as a threatened species because their prairie dog towns are rapidly disappearing.

Athene cunicularia has a wingspan of 21.6 inches, weighs 150.3 grams, and stands at 8 inches tall. It is one of the few owl species active during the day and naturally resides on the ground. When you go bird spotting next time, look for these insect-eating birds in the eastern Colorado plains, although they migrate west with the start of winter. Surprisingly the burrowing owl is known for decorating its burrows with animal droppings to attract juicy insects. Call it insect farming if you like!

Spotted Owl

Strix occidentalis

Spotted owl

Spotted Owl

Spotted owl getting ready to take off

Spotted Owl getting ready to take off

Spotted owl in hollow of tree

Spotted Owl resting in the hollow of a tree

Spotted owl preched on branch

Spotted Owl perched on a branch

Length:

46cm to 48cm

Wingspan:

114cm to 120cm

Weight:

449g to 775g

Seen :

All year

There are three sub-species of Spotted Owls. One of these, the Mexican Spotted Owl, is a permanent resident of Colorado. The huge strong predator has an average length of 18.7 inches with a wingspan of 39.8 inches and can weigh up to 700 grams. They also have unique identifiable white patterns on their tails, breasts, and backs. You can also identify them by their prominent facial discs.

Hardwood dense forests are the natural habitat of Strix occidentalis, and the birds prefer nesting on the edges of deep, narrow canyons probably to safeguard their nests. Due to deforestation of the natural habitats and competition from other owl species, the spotted owl has been dwindling fast and is protected by the federal government.

Small mammals, including woodrats and flying squirrels, make the main diet of spotted owls. Surprisingly they are pretty intelligent, judged by their ability to hide surplus food and remember the exact location later.

Long-Eared Owl

Asio otus

Long eared owl

Length:

35cm to 37cm

Wingspan:

84cm to 95cm

Weight:

210g to 370g

Seen :

Winter

Long-eared Owls have prominent cat-like facial features punctuated by ear points that mimic exclamation marks, giving them a "surprised" look. Their wings span 30 to 34 in, and they can weigh up to 327grams. If you have ever spotted one of these guys, pat yourself on the back because they are very secretive, choosing to camouflage in thick foliage.

Surprisingly, the cat owls are social birds because they sometimes share nests. The quickest way to spot them in Colorado is by tracking their sounds during the mating seasons when the males make a low "hoo" sound every few seconds.

Short-Eared Owl

Asio flammeus

Short eared owl close up
Short eared owl

Close up of a Short-Eared Owl

Short eared owl flying

Short-Eared Owl in flight

Short eared owl perched

Perched Short-Eared Owl on a fence post

Short eared owl flying 1

Short-Eared Owl flying

Short eared owl chicks and nest

Nest of a Short-Eared Owl with chicks and eggs

Length:

34cm to 42cm

Wingspan:

90cm to 105cm

Weight:

260g to 350g

Seen :

Winter

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.

This light brownish or orange-brownish average-sized bird is one of the few diurnal owls meaning that you can spot them during the day when voles, their staple diet, are active. Your best chance of photographing one in Colorado is during late evenings or dawn in meadows, fields, grasslands, or even airports.

The short-eared owl has a wingspan of 40.85 inches, stands at an average height of 15 inches, and weighs up to 475 grams. They are not as secretive as the long-eared owl and make nests in open areas on the ground. When threatened, a brooding short-eared owl will poop on the eggs to fend off a predator or pretend to be wounded to lure it away from the nest.

Boreal Owl

Aegolius funereus

Boreal owl

Boreal Owl

Boreal owl in winter

Boreal Owl during winter

Boreal owl in flight

Boreal Owl in-flight searching for prey

Boreal owl sitting in tree hollow

Boreal Owl sitting in tree hollow

Length:

21cm to 28cm

Wingspan:

55cm to 62cm

Weight:

93g to 215g

Seen :

All year

The most striking feature about the boreal owl is a protruding group of feathers on the otherwise flat head, giving them a crew-cut look. The bird stands at 8.3 to 11 inches, weighs 93.6 to 215.5 grams, and has a wingspan of up to 24.3 inches. Aegolius funereus love residing in high elevations of northern Colorado, probably for protection and finding suitable food.

This northern owl is silent and nocturnal and will only break the silence during the mating season to attract a suitable mate. The best chances of seeing one are between March and April, and they only appear at night. So, good luck with that!

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Aegolius acadicus

Northern saw whet owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern saw whet owlets

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern saw whet owl perched

Northern Saw-Whet Owl perched on branch

Length:

18cm to 21.5cm

Wingspan:

45cm to 60cm

Weight:

100g

Seen :

All year

This tiny permanent Colorado resident closes this list. The chances are that most tiny owls you may have seen in Colorado forests belong to this group. You can call it owl segregation if you like. The natural habitat for the threatened birds is mixed hardwood or dense coniferous forests close to a river. Usually, the Northern Saw-whet Owl will nest in old woodpecker holes made in deciduous trees, although they have been observed nesting in artificial boxes.

An adult raptor has a length of up to 9 inches, 16.5 to 22 inches wingspan, and weighs up to 150.3 grams. During the mating seasons, the females are polygamous and will mate with several males leaving to find a new mate as soon as the current brood grows feathers. Dad will have to finish the rest of the parenting.

The term saw-whet comes from the sound these small birds produce, which resembles that produced when you sharpen a saw. However, they produce a completely different sound during the mating season.

There you have it, folks! Next time you go bird spotting, you know what to look for.

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