Skip to Content
Learn   >   Owls   >   State + Birds

The 12 Common and Rare Owls in Michigan (That You Can See)

Owl in michigan

Michigan is a wonderful state for birding, especially for owls! Although most owl species in Michigan hide in the day, several are common birds.

Some of the owls in Michigan only visit during the winter months, but several species live in the state all year long. See this article to identify all of the owls that live in Michigan!

 

Owls in Michigan That You Can See

According to sightings in eBird, Michigan has seven species of owls that are regularly seen and fairly common. Five other rare species also occur, mostly in the winter. With some luck, maybe you will see those rare owls of Michigan too!

To help identify owls in Michigan, we have included information about their behavior and identification. The birds are arranged from the most common to the least common.

 

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.

The Barred Owl flaps and glides on big, broad wings. It also has a medium-length, broad tail with a few dark brown bands.

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.

The Barred Owl lives in deciduous and coniferous forest and woodlands. It nests in the abandoned nests of raptors and crows, and in tree cavities. Barred Owls are recognized by their round head and dark streaks on pale underparts. Male and female Barred Owls make bizarre, loud laughing sounds when they call together.

 

 

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.

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.

The Great Horned Owl lives in every type of habitat in much of North America, including Michigan. It nests in old stick nests of hawks and other birds, or on ledges, and other situations. Great Horned Owls are easily recognized by their big, bulky size, ear tufts, and finely barred underparts. The talons and grip of this species are so strong, once closed, 28 pounds of pressure are needed to open them!

 

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 in Michigan.

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.

The Eastern Screech-Owl lives in wooded and park-like habitats east of the Rocky Mountains in Canada and the USA. Eastern Screech-Owls are identified by their ear tufts, small size, range, and voice. This species is more common than most people realize and often lives in urban situations. Put up a nest box in the backyard and one might move in!

 

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.

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.

The Snowy Owl lives in Arctic habitats but also winters in open areas in Alaska, Canada, and the northern USA. It nests on elevated spots on the ground in the Arctic tundra. This species is unmistakable; it is the only big, mostly white owl. The wide open terrain at airports are ideal for this species and are some of the best spots to see a Snowy Owl.

 

Short-eared Owl

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.

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.

The Short-eared Owl lives in open habitats in Alaska, Canada, and much of the USA. Short-eared Owls can be spotted in Michigan. It nests on the ground in dense vegetation. This species is identified by its dark eye patches on a pale face, and long wings with buff patches near the wingtips. On account of their long migrations, Short-eared Owl have become established on Hawaii, and the Galapagos Islands.

 

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.

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.

The Northern Saw-whet Owl breeds in coniferous and mixed forest in Canada and the northern and western USA, including Michigan. It nests in old woodpecker holes and is identified by its small size, round head, thick white eyebrows, and thick streaks on pale underparts. The name of this owl refers to the similarity of its call to the sound made by sharpening an antique old saw blade.

 

 

Long-eared Owl

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.

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.

The Long-eared Owl occurs in forest with open areas in Canada and much of the lower 48 states. This owl nests in old magpie, crow, and hawk nests. Long-eared Owls can be recognized by their long ear tufts, orange face, slender appearance, and long wings with orange-brown patches near the wingtips. Wintering roosts of Long-eared Owls in Serbia can host thousands of birds!

 

Rare Owls in Michigan

Northern Hawk Owl

Northern Hawk Owl after a successful hunt

© Elaine R. Wilson

  • Range: Permanent resident in Alaska and a large area of Canada. In the winter, some birds reach the northern USA and southern Canada.
  • Length: 16 inches
  • Wingspan: 28 inches
  • Call: Makes a long, somewhat high-pitched bubbling call.

The Northern Hawk Owl is a slender, smallish to medium-sized owl with a square-shaped head and long, pointed tail. It has a black and white head, and fine barring on pale underparts. It also has some white spotting on dark brown upperparts.

Both sexes of this owl species look the same although females are a little bit bigger than males.

Northern Hawk Owls perch on the top of trees. They fly with deep, quick wing beats and glide low over the ground.

This diurnal owl frequents coniferous forest habitats.

Key Identifications:

  • Smallish to medium-sized, slender black and white owl with a square head, white spots above, and dark barring on pale underparts.
  • Lives in boreal forest but some also winter in semi-open areas just south of its breeding range.
  • Nests in tree cavities and in broken off stubs of dead trees.
  • Watches from a high perch before quickly flying and gliding low to catch prey on the ground.

The Northern Hawk Owl lives in boreal forest in Alaska and Canada, some also winter in southern Canada and the northern USA, including Michigan. They can be recognized by their black and white plumage, square head, and long tail. This species has incredible eyesight; it can see a small mammal a half mile away!

 

Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl

© Alan D. Wilson

  • Range: Permanent resident in Alaska, northern Canada east to Ontario, and in the northern Rocky Mountains south to Yellowstone. Some birds winter in the northern USA and southeastern Canada.
  • Length: 27 inches
  • Wingspan: 52 inches
  • Call: Makes ten, low hoot calls, the first and final notes lower than the others, “woot…hoo..hoo..hoo..hoo..hoo..hoo..hoo..hoo..hoo”.

The Great Gray Owl is a huge owl with a big, round head, and is dark gray with some pale mottling. It has a narrow black border on its face and two white marks on its throat.

Both sexes of the Great Gray Owl look the same although females are larger. They have yellow eyes, a yellowish beak, and a broad, medium-length tail.

This owl species also has long, broad wings with dark barring and a buffy patch near the wingtips.

Key Identifications:

  • Huge, dark gray owl with a big round head, and two small white patches on its throat.
  • Lives in boreal forests with bogs and other openings.
  • Nests in old raptor nests and on platforms.
  • Catches voles and other small rodents on the ground.

The Great Gray Owl in boreal forests with open areas in Canada and the northwestern USA, making it a common owl in Michigan. It nests in old raptor nests and on platforms, and is identified by its big size, and dark gray plumage with a couple small white marks on its throat. Great Gray Owls routinely catch rodents by diving into and breaking through, heavy, hard snow.

 

Barn Owl

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.

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.

The Barn Owl lives in many urban and open habitats in regions with mild or no winters. It nests in church steeples, barns, tree cavities, and other similar situations. They are uncommon owls in Michigan. This species is easily recognized by its white, heart-shaped face, and unstreaked, pale plumage. Barn Owls have incredible hearing that helps them catch prey in total darkness.

 

Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl

  • Range: A permanent resident in a large part of Canada, Alaska, and parts of the Cascades and Rocky Mountains. Some migrate to southern Canada and the northern USA.
  • Length: 10 inches
  • Wingspan: 21 inches
  • Call: Makes a slightly rising, rapid serious of twelve brief hoot notes, “too, too, too, too, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu, tu”.

The Boreal Owl is a small owl species with a round or square-shaped head, and white face with a broken black border. It is dark brown with white spotting and has a black and white head.

Males and females look alike although females are larger. This species also has yellow eyes, and a pale beak. Juvenile birds are mostly dark brown.

Boreal Owls have a few pale narrow bands on a broad tail, and glide on long, broad wings.

Key Identifications:

  • Small, dark brown and white owl with white spotting and a squared, black and white head.
  • Lives in boreal and montane forest, some also winter at lower elevations and just south of its breeding range.
  • Nests in old woodpecker holes and nest boxes.
  • Watches from a perch before swooping down onto small animals at night.

The Boreal Owl mostly occurs in cold, boreal and montane forest. It nests in old woodpecker holes and nest boxes. Boreal Owls are identified by their small size, black and white squared head, and pale spots on their dark brown upperparts. Female Boreal Owls can be twice as heavy as their male counterparts.

 

Burrowing Owl

Pair of Burrowing Owls

© Alan D. Wilson

  • Range: Summer resident in central-southern Canada, the Great Plains, and much of the western USA. Permanent resident in California, Texas, and Florida.
  • Length: 9.5 inches
  • Wingspan: 21 inches
  • Call: Makes a raspy, chattering call, “rap, rip,rip,rip,rip”, and a quail-like, “whup waaah!”.

The Burrowing Owl is a small, long-legged owl with a white throat and white eyebrows. It has a round head, is dark brown with white spots above, and has pale underparts with dark barring.

Males and females look alike although females are a bit larger. Young birds are uniform dark brown and buff.

Adult Burrowing Owls in Florida are more heavily marked below than western birds but juveniles from Florida are paler.

The Burrowing Owl is active day and night in grasslands, deserts, and other open habitats.

Key Identifications:

  • Small, long-legged owl with a round head, and some brown barring on pale underparts.
  • Lives in grasslands and other wide-open habitats.
  • Nests in burrows made by prairie dogs and other animals although birds in Florida make their own burrows.
  • Catch small animals on the ground at any time of the day or night.

The Burrowing Owl occurs in open habitats in south-central Canada, the western USA, and Florida. It nests in burrows. Burrowing Owls are easily identified by their small size, round head, barred underparts, and terrestrial behavior. Like some other animals that live in burrows, this species is more tolerant of carbon dioxide than other birds.

 

Owls in Michigan – Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of owl lives in Michigan?

Several kinds of owls live in Michigan. There are seven fairly common species and five other rare owl species.

Are there owls in Detroit?

Yes, there are owls in Detroit. The Great Horned Owl preys on small mammals and birds at night, and the Eastern Screech-Owl lives in parks and other wooded areas. Other owl species can also occur during migration and winter.

Are there owls in southeast Michigan?

Yes, there are owls in southeast Michigan. We don’t see them very often because they hide during the day, but Great Horned Owls live in urban areas and other habitats, and other owls are also present.

What is the biggest owl in Michigan?

The biggest owl in Michigan nu weight is the Great Horned Owl. This big owl is 22 inches long and weighs 3.1 pounds. A larger but less heavy owl in Michigan is the Great Gray Owl. This owl of the Upper Peninsula is 27 inches long and weighs 2.4 pounds.

What is the rarest owl in Michigan?

The rarest owl in Michigan is the Burrowing Owl. This small diurnal owl occasionally occurs in the state as a rare vagrant migrant.

Related To Michigan:

 

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of Birdzilla.com. He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

Let others know your thoughts or ask an expert

Would you like to get new articles of birds (Once a month?)

No SPAM! We might only send you fresh updates once a month

Thank you for subscribing!

No thanks! I prefer to follow BirdZilla on Facebook