The 12 Owls Of Michigan (And How To Spot Them)

The 12 Owls Of Michigan

Michigan, with its abundant forests and proximity to the Great Lakes, is a haven for a variety of owl species.

From the majestic Great Horned Owl to the elusive Northern Saw-whet Owl, these captivating creatures have found a home in the diverse habitats of the state.

Overall there are 12 owl species that are spotted in Michigan, however several of these species are much rarer and only visit in certain seasons – like winter.

Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher or simply curious about these nocturnal beings, this comprehensive guide will introduce you to the owls of Michigan and provide valuable insights into their behavior, habitat, and unique characteristics so you can easily spot them in the wild.

1. Long-Eared Owl

Long-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio otus
  • Size: 12–16 inches
  • Weight: 10.2–11.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 34–40 inches
  • Lifespan: Up to 12 years
  • Habitat: Secretive, roosts in dense foliage, sociable among own species.
  • What To Look For: Notable for its tufts of feathers that resemble ears.

The Long-Eared Owl is a year-round resident in Michigan, with breeding territories in the middle of the state and wintering grounds in the south.

They can be recognized by their tufts of feathers that resemble ears. Long-eared owls prefer dense vegetation for roosting and open spaces for hunting.

These agile hunters primarily feed on small mammals, such as mice and voles, but they are also known to hunt and eat other birds.

Long-eared Owls remain silent for most of the year, but they showcase a complex repertoire during the breeding season, similar to a songbird’s song. Both sexes emit a variety of alarm calls, including barks, squeals, and a gruff, cat-like mew.

Their unique appearance and secretive nature make them a fascinating addition to Michigan’s owl population.

2. Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
  • Size: 17–25 inches
  • Weight: 2.5–4 pounds
  • Wingspan: 3–5 feet
  • Lifespan: Up to 28 years
  • Habitat: Almost anywhere in North America, adaptable to trees and rocky nesting sites.
  • What To Look for: Distinctive ear tufts resembling horns.

The Great Horned Owl, known for its distinctive ear tufts that resemble horns, is a year-round resident of Michigan.

These magnificent creatures can be found in woodlands, orchards, swamps, and forests, but they have also adapted to suburban and urban areas.

With their diverse diet, Great Horned Owls are considered the top predators in North America. They feed on small rodents, rabbits, skunks, ducks, and even other raptors.

Great Horned Owls are known for their territorial advertisements, which consist of deep, soft hoots with a stuttering rhythm: “hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo.” The adults’ vocal repertoire extends to include whistles, barks, shrieks, hisses, coos, and wavering cries.

Despite being primarily nocturnal hunters, they are known to occasionally hunt during the daytime, making them a formidable presence in Michigan’s wildlife.

3. Barn Owl

Barn Owl
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Size: 11–17 inches
  • Weight: Around 1 lb 4 oz
  • Wingspan: 39–49 inches
  • Lifespan: 2–4 years in the wild, up to 25 years in captivity.
  • Habitat: Found year-round in Michigan, especially in the southern parts.
  • What To Look For: Heart-shaped face and graceful flight.

The ethereal Barn Owl, with its heart-shaped face and graceful flight, is a less common resident of Michigan.

Found mainly in the southern regions of the state, Barn Owls prefer open spaces such as grasslands and pastures. However, they have also adapted to human habitats, including suburban and urban areas.

These nocturnal predators primarily feed on small rodents, which they swallow whole after removing the head and wings.

Barn Owls have a unique vocalization pattern; rather than the typical hooting, they emit a long, harsh scream that lasts about two seconds. There’s also a softer, more wavering version of this call, known as a purring call.

When nesting, Barn Owls store food near the nest to ensure a readily available food source for their offspring.

4. Short-Eared Owl

Short-Eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
  • Size: 13–17 inches
  • Weight: 7.3–16.8 oz
  • Wingspan: 33.5–40.5 inches
  • Lifespan: Around 4 years
  • Habitat: Found in open country; nests on ground in open areas.
  • What To Look For: Golden-yellow eyes and short, ear-like tufts on top of the head.

The Short-Eared Owl is a migratory and resident species in Michigan.

While they breed in the northern region, they can be found throughout the state all year round, particularly in open areas with low vegetation.

These owls have a varied diet that includes small mammals, such as mice and voles, as well as other birds. They are known for tearing the wings off their prey before consuming them.

Short-eared owls are not particularly vocal, but they do have a distinct series of a dozen or more hoots. This primary call is typically given by males during courtship flights, as well as from the ground or an elevated perch.

With their distinctive hunting style and adaptability to different environments, Short-Eared Owls are a captivating sight in Michigan’s landscapes.

5. Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Size: 6.5–9 inches
  • Weight: 1.9–5.3 oz
  • Wingspan: 16.5–22.2 inches
  • Lifespan: 7 years in the wild, 16 years in captivity
  • Habitat: Prefers dense coniferous or mixed hardwood forests.
  • What To Look For: Named for their repetitive tooting whistle call.

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is a year-round resident in the northern regions of Michigan, while the central and southern areas serve as wintering grounds.

These small owls are named for their repetitive tooting whistle call, which resembles the sound of a saw being sharpened.

In addition to their distinctive call, Saw-whets also emit a variety of sounds including whines, guttural noises, high tssst calls, squeaks, and high-pitched barks.

They prefer mature forests near rivers, where they nest in man-made boxes.

Northern Saw-Whet Owls primarily feed on small mammals and insects, making them valuable contributors to the ecosystem.

Their cinnamon-colored bodies and striking facial markings make them a delight for bird enthusiasts in Michigan.

6. Barred Owl

Barred Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix varia
  • Size: 16–25 inches
  • Weight: 1–2.75 pounds
  • Wingspan: 38–49 inches
  • Lifespan: Up to 24 years
  • Habitat: Common throughout Michigan, resides in mature forests.
  • What To Look For: Known for its haunting hooting call.

The Barred Owl, known for its haunting hooting call, is one of the most common owl species in eastern North America.

These year-round residents can be found throughout Michigan, particularly in mixed forests near freshwater sources.

Barred Owls have a diverse diet that includes small mammals, birds, and amphibians. They are skilled hunters, capable of consuming their prey whole and later regurgitating indigestible parts.

The Barred Owl, although not a songbird, is known for its unique call that sounds like “Who cooks for you?” This distinctive hooting sequence of 8-9 notes carries well through the woods and can be easily imitated.

During courtship, mated pairs engage in a lively duet of cackles, hoots, caws, and gurgles. Additionally, both adult and young Barred Owls may produce a snapping sound with their bills during disputes, adding to their diverse array of sounds.

With their distinctive vocalizations and striking plumage, Barred Owls add a touch of mystery to Michigan’s woodlands.

7. Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl
  • Scientific Name: Megascops asio
  • Size: 6.3–9.8 inches
  • Weight: 4.2–8.6 oz
  • Wingspan: 18–24 inches
  • Lifespan: Up to 14 years
  • Habitat: Found in wooded areas of Michigan, avoids areas with larger owls.
  • What To Look For: When spotting the Eastern Screech-Owl, look for a short, stocky bird with a large head, almost no neck, rounded wings, a short square tail, and distinctive silhouette due to often-raised pointed ear tufts.

Eastern Screech Owls are year-round residents of Michigan, thriving in a variety of habitats as long as there are trees for roosting and nesting.

These small owls come in two main morphs: the red morph and the gray morph.

They are monogamous birds, often forming lifelong partnerships with their mates.

Eastern Screech Owls have a diverse diet that includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.

Both male and female owls are known to sing, producing sounds such as an even-pitched trill, commonly referred to as a “bounce song” or tremolo, and a high-pitched, descending whinny.

The Eastern Screech-Owl also uses a range of calls including soft, low hoots; sharp, loud barks indicating alarm or agitation; and screeches usually emitted by adults protecting their nests or young ones.

Their adaptability and distinct vocalizations make them a delightful presence in Michigan’s forests and parks.

8. Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Size: 20.7–25.2 inches
  • Weight: 3.2–4 pounds
  • Wingspan: 48–60 inches
  • Lifespan: Average 10 years, up to 23 years
  • Habitat: Migrates seasonally, found in northern tundra during summer, in northern USA during winter.
  • What To Look For: These owls are short and stocky, with a large head and almost no neck.

Snowy Owls, also known as Arctic Owls, are winter visitors to Michigan, spending their summers in the northernmost regions of North America.

These majestic owls have striking white plumage, with males being completely white and females and juveniles showcasing brown markings.

Snowy Owls prefer open landscapes, such as coastal dunes and prairies, where they can perch and survey their surroundings. They primarily feed on small mammals and other birds.

Both male and female owls, with males being particularly prominent, create deep, robust, and faintly harsh hooting sounds. These hoots typically come in pairs but can extend to a series of up to six consecutive hoots. Remarkably, the sound of these hoots can traverse as far as seven miles across the tundra, often prompting a chorus of responsive hoots from other nearby owls.

When it comes to self-defense, Snowy Owls have a varied vocal repertoire, including hoots, whistles, and hisses. Moreover, when they find themselves in stressful or unsettling situations, they produce a unique clacking noise by snapping their beaks shut.

With their captivating appearance and unique winter presence, Snowy Owls bring a touch of the Arctic to Michigan’s landscapes.

9. Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl
  • Scientific Name: Surnia ulula
  • Size: 14.2–17.75 inches
  • Weight: 11–12 oz
  • Wingspan: 31–35 inches
  • Lifespan: Around 5 years
  • Habitat: Prefers northern climates and boreal forests, rare in Michigan​.
  • What To Look For: When spotting the Northern Hawk Owl, look for yellow eyes set in a white face framed by a distinctive black border.

The Northern Hawk Owl is a rare visitor to Michigan, with no significant resident or migratory population recorded.

These owls are typically found in northern regions but may venture south when food becomes scarce.

Northern Hawk Owls behave more like hawks than traditional owls, with long tails and daytime hunting habits.

Male owls emit a rhythmic, whistling melody of ‘ulululululul’ that carries on for about 14 seconds during their display flights, aimed at enticing a partner. The females reciprocate with a similar tune, albeit shorter and more gruff in tone.

When alarmed, these owls let out a sharp, piercing screech which is swiftly followed by a quick succession of raspy ‘kip’ sounds. The young ones, or fledglings, express themselves with a shrill scream.

Their distinct black facial border and perching behavior make them stand out in Michigan’s landscapes.

10. Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl
  • Scientific Name: Strix nebulosa
  • Size: 24–33 inches
  • Weight: 1.5–4 pounds
  • Wingspan: 5 feet
  • Lifespan: Up to 18 years
  • Habitat: Prefers forests near clearings, non-breeding range in Michigan.
  • What To Look For: Look for the characteristic ‘X’ formed by two pale arcs between the eyes.

The Great Gray Owl is a rare species in Michigan, with occasional sightings during the winter months.

These large owls are residents of boreal forests in Canada, occasionally venturing south to the northernmost parts of Michigan.

Great Gray Owls are known for reusing nests built by other birds or squirrels.

They primarily feed on small rodents, using their keen eyesight and silent flight to hunt.

Throughout the breeding period, which generally spans from March to July, both male and female owls emit a sequence of deep, resonant hoots that endure for 6 to 8 seconds, with approximately half a minute of silence between each call. Notably, the male’s call has a lower pitch than the female’s.

In addition to this, adult owls produce a gentle, two-note hoot when they are marking their territories or during the transfer of food.

With their impressive size and elusive nature, Great Gray Owls are a sight to behold in Michigan’s forests.

11. Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owl
  • Scientific Name: Athene cunicularia
  • Size: 7–11 inches
  • Weight: 5–8 oz
  • Wingspan: 20-24″
  • Lifespan: 9 years wild, over 10 years captivity
  • Habitat: Burrowing owls thrive in wide-open, sparsely vegetated areas such as prairies, deserts, grasslands, and agricultural fields. In Michigan, the Burrowing Owl is considered a rare or accidental species​.
  • What To Look For: Pay special attention to dirt mounds around burrow entrances where they often stand, sometimes showing only their head and eyes, especially during early morning and late evening when they are more active.

The Burrowing Owl is an intriguing species known for its adaptation to wide-open, sparsely vegetated areas such as prairies, deserts, grasslands, and agricultural fields.

Demonstrating a unique ability to adapt to urban environments, these owls can also be found nesting in vacant lots, road medians, and airports, often associating themselves with prairie dog towns and using the burrows of other animals for nesting.

Unlike most owls, Burrowing Owls exhibit diurnal behavior during the breeding season, meaning they are active during the day. Their diet primarily consists of insects and small rodents, which they hunt close to the ground using various methods including swooping from a perch, hovering, or walking and running along the ground before clutching prey in their talons.

They are not especially vocal but can produce a variety of sounds, with the most common call being a two-note cooing sound made by males.

In Michigan, Burrowing Owls are considered a rare or accidental species with no significant resident or migratory population recorded.

12. Boreal Owl (Tengmalm’s Owl)

Boreal Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius funereus​
  • Size: 8.3–11 inches
  • Weight: 3.3–7.6 oz
  • Wingspan: 19.7″-24.4″
  • Lifespan: 7-8 years
  • Habitat: They breed in dense coniferous forests across northern North America and in mountain ranges like the Rockies. In Michigan, Boreal Owls are found in the northern parts of the state. They are elusive and primarily active at night, making them difficult to observe​.
  • What To Look For: Listen for their low-hooting calls at night. Note they usually make sounds from mid-February to April.

The Boreal Owl, known for its preference for dense coniferous forests, is a resident of the northern parts of North America, including Michigan.

These owls are elusive and nocturnal, making them challenging to observe. Their significant physical attributes include large bright eyes, a squared head, a whitish-gray facial disk outlined in black or dark gray, and a streaked brown body with white spots.

As ambush predators, Boreal Owls feed on small mammals and occasionally other birds, lying in wait on a branch until prey comes into range before swooping down to snatch it with their strong talons.

Entirely nocturnal, these owls are active solely at night. They breed across northern North America and in mountain ranges such as the Alps and the Rockies. While this species is generally not migratory, some individuals may move further south during certain autumns.

Male Boreal Owls create a series of 8-20 low, whistled toots that progressively amplify until they find a mate or when the female starts nesting, after which their song frequency reduces almost to silence.

Additionally, males, females, and juveniles produce a short ‘kip’ or ‘kew’ sound throughout the year.

In Michigan, Boreal Owls are found primarily in the northern regions of the state. Their nocturnal habits and preference for dense boreal forests make them a difficult species to study.

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