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8 Owls In Massachusetts – The Rare & Not So Rare Species

Owls in Maine

Massachusetts is a great place for birding! Go birding in Massachusetts, and you can even see owls!

In Massachusetts, at least three owl species are common, and the magnificent Snowy Owl is a regular wintering species. Plus, other rarer owls can also occur.

How many owls can you see in Massachusetts? Which species are common, and which ones are rare?

See this article and learn all about the owls of Massachusetts!

 

Which Owls Live In Massachusetts?

Based on eBird data, there are eight different owl species you can see in Massachusetts. Some of them are rarer than others, but that’s the fun of it!

 

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Photograph © Greg Lavaty.

  • Range: A permanent resident in most forested areas in Canada, parts of some Pacific Northwestern states, and most of the eastern USA.
  • Length: 21 inches
  • Wingspan: 42 inches
  • Call: Makes loud hooting and caterwalling sounds, “Who cooks for you?! Who cooks for youaaaal!”

The Barred Owl is a medium to large owl with a round head and a narrow black border on its pale gray face. It has dark brown upperparts with white markings, and dark brown streaks on its belly.

This species also has a yellowish beak and dark eyes. Both sexes look the same except that females are a bit larger than males.

Barred Owls carry the title of being the most common owls in Massachusetts, but they are not always easy to spot!

Key Identifications:

  • Big owl with a round head that has white marks on dark brown upperparts, and dark brown streaks on pale underparts.
  • Perches and swoops through wooded areas at night but can also be active in the day.
  • Nests in tree cavities and in abandoned nests of crows and hawks.
  • Catches a wide variety of small animals.

 

Great Horned Owl

Great-Horned Owl
  • Range: Permanent resident in much of Alaska, Canada, and the USA.
  • Length: 22 inches
  • Wingspan: 44 inches
  • Call: Makes a low, gruff, “hooo, hoo hoo hoo hoooo”.

The Great Horned Owl is a big, bulky owl with big ear tufts and a black beak. It is mottled gray and brown, has a rufous or gray face, and fine black barring on its underparts. This owl also has a white throat and some dark marks on its breast.

Males and female Great Horned Owls look the same but females are larger. They also have a medium-length tail with dark bands, and long, broad wings.

This nocturnal owl species lives in every possible habitat, including urban areas. Great Horned Owls are known to nest in old stick nests of hawks and other birds, or on ledges, and other situations.

Key Identifications:

  • Big, bulky brown or gray owl with ear tufts and fine barring on its underparts.
  • Nests in old stick nests of other large birds, on ledges, and in other situations.
  • Watches from a perch or glides over open habitats at night, to catch mammals and some birds on the ground.

 

Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern screech owl
  • Range: Permanent resident in parts of southeastern Canada, and in much of the eastern USA.
  • Length: 8.5 inches
  • Wingspan: 20 inches
  • Call: Makes a rather high-pitched, descending whinny call, and a tremulous, vibrating call on the same pitch, “wududududududududududu”.

The Eastern Screech Owl is a small owl with ear tufts. It can be reddish, brown, or mostly gray, has “V”-shaped pale eyebrows, and some black on the edge of its face. It is also mottled above with some white spotting, and has pale underparts with dark barring and streaks.

Males and females look alike but females are a bit larger. This species also has yellow eyes, a pale yellow-gray beak, and some white bands on its broad tail.

Eastern Screech-Owls flap and glide on long, broad wings.

During the day, this owl hides in holes, or in dense vegetation. Eastern Screech Owls are common owls of Massachusetts.

Key Identifications:

  • Small owl with ear tufts and mottled brown or gray plumage that lives east of the Rocky Mountains.
  • Lives in a variety of wooded and park-like habitats.
  • Nests in tree cavities and nest boxes.
  • Swoops down to the ground catch a variety of small animals at night.

 

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
  • Range: Summer resident in northern Alaska and northern Canada. It winters in Canada and the northern USA.
  • Length: 23 inches
  • Wingspan: 52 inches
  • Call: Usually quiet but occasionally makes a low, gruff call, “whew…whuh”.

The Snowy Owl is a big, mostly white owl with a round head and yellow eyes. Some males are mostly white but most have some small dark marks. Females and young birds have white faces and varying degrees of black barring.

Females are a bit larger than males and have more black markings than males. Snowy Owls also have long, broad wings and a broad tail.

This owl species is active during the day and lives in wide-open habitats. Snowy Owls sometimes make their way to Massachusetts and are much more common than you’d think!

Key Identifications:

  • Big white owl with a round head, and varying degrees of black or dark gray barring and spots.
  • Lives in tundra and winters in wide open habitats.
  • Nests on the ground, on elevated spots in Arctic tundra.
  • Watches from a perch and glides low to catch small animals on the ground.

 

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl
  • Range: Lives in coniferous and mixed hardwood forests of Alaska, a large area of Canada, and parts of the northern and western USA.
  • Length: 8 inches
  • Wingspan: 17 inches
  • Call: Makes a repeated tooting whistle call, over and over, “tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu”.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a small, dark brown owl with a round head and brown streaks on white underparts. It also has some pale streaks on its head, a brown and white face, and some white spotting on its back.

Both sexes look the same but females are a bit larger. This species also has yellow eyes, a dark beak, longish, rounded wings, and a short, broad tail.

This nocturnal owl lives in forested habitats. They have a small year-round population, breeding in mixed forests.

Key Identifications:

  • Small, dark brown owl with a round head, broad white eyebrows, and thick dark streaks on pale underparts.
  • Occurs in dense coniferous and mixed forest.
  • Nests in old woodpecker holes and can use nest boxes.
  • Swoops down to catch insects and small animals at night.

 

Barn Owl (rare)

Barn Owl
  • Range: In Canada, occurs mostly in southwestern British Columbia. In the USA, they live in many areas but are absent from mountains and cold, northern regions. They range north to Washington, Nebraska, Iowa, and New York.
  • Length: 16 inches
  • Wingspan: 42 inches
  • Call: A shrill, loud, hissing “shriiiiii!”

The Barn Owl is a medium to large, pale owl with golden tan and gray upperparts, and white underparts. It has a distinctive, white, heart-shaped face.

Both sexes are alike but females are a bit larger than males and have buff on their chest.

In flight, Barn Owls look like a large, pale, moth-like bird with a big, rounded head.

This owl hunts in grasslands, farms, and other open habitats. Massachusetts is on the outside of their range, but if you’re lucky, you might see them around old buildings.

Key Identifications:

  • Large pale owl with a heart-shaped face.
  • Glides and flutters over fields and other open areas at night.
  • Nests in tree cavities, crevices in church steeples and other structures, and next boxes.
  • Preys on rats and other small animals.

 

Short-eared Owl (rare)

Short-eared Owl
  • Range: Summer resident in Alaska, Canada, and the western and central USA. Northern birds migrate to the USA, south to California and Texas.
  • Length: 15 inches
  • Wingspan: 38 inches
  • Call: Makes a hoarse, raspy, cat-like call, “rehw”.

The Short-eared Owl is a medium-sized, pale brown owl with dark eye patches on a pale face. They have a dark breast and streaks on pale underparts. This species has long wings with buff wing patches.

Both sexes look similar but females are a bit larger and usually darker and buffier.

This owl is active day and night in open fields. Short-eared Owls do not breed in Massachusetts, but if you’re lucky, you might see one in the winter!

Key Identifications:

  • Medium-sized pale brown and buffy owl with very short ear tufts.
  • Dark eye patches on a pale face and long wings with buff patches near the wingtips.
  • Nests on the ground in dense vegetation.
  • Glides over open fields to catch small animals on the ground.

 

Long-eared Owl (rare)

Long-eared Owl
  • Range: Migrant in southern Canada, resident and winters in much of the USA. Absent from parts of the Pacific Northwest and southeastern states.
  • Length: 15 inches
  • Wingspan: 36 inches
  • Call: Makes a single, one second long “Hooo!” call at regular intervals.

The Long-eared Owl is a medium-sized, slender owl with long ear tufts. It has an orange face, is mottled gray above, and has dark brown streaks and marks on pale underparts. This owl also has long wings with a rufous patch in its primaries.

Male and female Long-eared Owls look similar but females are larger. This owl species also has yellow eyes, and some pale markings between its eyes and around its dark beak.

This nocturnal owl frequents coniferous woodlands near meadows. Long-eared Owls are really rare here, even though Massachussets is thought to be one of their wintering states. In the last year alone, there were only a few sightings.

Key Identifications:

  • Medium-sized, slender owl species with long ear tufts, orange on its face, and long wings with an orange-brown patch near the wingtips.
  • Occurs in coniferous and mixed forests near meadows, bogs, and other open areas.
  • Nests in old crow, magpie, and hawk nests.
  • Glides over open habitats near forest at night to catch small animals on the ground.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of owls are there in Massachusetts?

Kinds of owls in Massachusetts include common species like Barred Owls, Great Horned Owls, Eastern Screech-Owls, and uncommon species like Snowy Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owl.

Do Barred Owls live in Massachusetts?

Yes, Barred Owls live in Massachusetts. This is the most common owl species in the state.

What is the largest owl in New England?

The largest Owl in New England is the Great Gray Owl, a very rare winter visitor to the region.

What is the most common owl in the Northeast?

The most common owl in the Northeast is the Barred Owl.

About the Author

Patrick O'Donnell

Patrick O'Donnell has been focused on all things avian since the age of 7. Since then, he has helped with ornithological field work in the USA and Peru, and has guided many birding tours, especially in Costa Rica. He develops birding apps for BirdingFieldGuides and loves to write about birds, especially in his adopted country of Costa Rica.

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