Minnesota is a birder’s heaven with its 10,000 lakes. There are a wide variety of avian companions to locate despite the extreme climate variations, which can vary from bitterly cold to bright and hot across many months.
In Minnesota, there are twelve different species of owl. They are fortunate to dwell in the northern portion of the state where many of these magnificent raptors may be found. It’s one of the few places in the US where you can really see a great gray owl.
Don’t fear; there will still be plenty of opportunities to watch owls even if you reside in a large metropolis like Minneapolis.
Although Minnesota’s winter months may seem unfavorable to birdwatchers seeking to add to their life lists, owls are active year-round, even in the harshest conditions. You could even get lucky and spot the elusive snowy owl.
12 Owls That Live in Minnesota
The following 12 owl species are currently thought to be present in Minnesota either year-round or seasonally during migrations, according to research from allaboutbirds.org and Audubon. However, it is always possible to spot rare owls migrating through or spending time over the border from a neighboring state.
There are 12 different types of owls that may be found in Minnesota, including the Northern Saw-whet Owl, Barn Owl, Great Horned Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Eastern Screech-owl, Snowy Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Burrowing Owl, Barred Owl, Great Gray Owl, and the Boreal Owl.
Great Horned Owl
The truth is that these raptors may be found practically anywhere in North America, from the Arctic south to the tropics. As long as trees and rocky nesting locations are available, its habitat is almost limitless. There are few birds that are more adaptable as the Great Horned Owl.
These owls are fairly huge and appear aggressive. Look for their large feathered tufts on their head, which mimic ears, to identify them. Additionally, notice their menacing eyes. I know I wouldn’t want to compete in a stare-down with one!
Although both sexes hoot, males do so in a lower pitch than females. Males may be heard territorial calling at night from a few kilometers distant. A Great Horned Owl accomplishes hooting better than any other owl species, in my opinion.
These owls often consume greater prey to support their larger bulk. They are looking for rodents, geese, groundhogs, many other bird species, and even other raptors! These owls, however, are also perfectly capable of consuming tiny prey, including mice, scorpions, frogs, insects, and invertebrates. Interesting fact: Skunks can even be attacked and eaten by Great Horned Owls since their sense of smell is so poor.
In some types of light, the Barn Owl might appear to be all white, but in reality, all of its feathers are a light shade of brown or grey, with the exception of its white belly.
One of the most prevalent owl species in North America, this owl has a wide range that covers 48 different states.
You are most likely to spot one of these nests in open grassland settings since females of this species use their breeding nest year-round, which is unusual for many owls.
Even while male barn owls often remain monogamous and create long-lasting breeding couples, this behavior has been seen during breeding season.
Although these birds are year-round inhabitants of Minnesota, not all of the state is home to them. Although their natural habitat is limited to the southern part of the state, sightings in the north east have been documented.
The snowy owl is an impressive bird. The males have vivid, cat-like yellow eyes and are mostly white in color. Dark brown or black patches can be found on the females and young birds. The guys age and becoming whiter.
The Arctic Circle is home to snowy owls, who spend the long summer days hunting for small animals like lemming and ptarmigan. During the winter, they migrate south, visiting Canada, Alaska, and the far north of the US.
They typically may be seen sitting on the ground close to where they hunt. In addition, they will perch atop fences, hay bales, abandoned buildings, and telephone or power lines. They survey the tundra or fields where they hunt from low-flying aircraft.
If food is sparse in their natural habitat, you might not often see these birds in Minnesota. Seabirds, mice, hares, and lemmings are among the prey they consume.
Given that their populations are dwindling, snowy owl sightings are very uncommon.
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Learning the Northern Saw-whet Owl’s call and keeping an ear out at night are your best bets for catching a sight of one. The term “saw-whet” owl refers to its distinctive cry, which resembles a blade being sharpened on a whetstone.
Make sure to keep an ear out for a high-pitched “too-too-too” sound throughout the late winter to early summer when they tend to call more frequently.
The nest of the female Northern Saw-whet Owl is particularly well-kept. After around 18 days, she abandons her babies, and the male takes over feeding them until they leave the nest about 10 days later. Young owls often don’t clean up after themselves, so by the time they leave the nest, it is covered in decaying prey, pellets, and feces.
The smallest owl in Minnesota, they are year-round residents of the majority of the state. They are distinguishable by their petite height and large eyes and enormous spherical heads. These owls are famously difficult to find for a few other reasons in addition to their little stature.
Their brown mottling makes them blend in with the surrounding trees, especially when they are poised motionlessly on a limb. These owls are also inherently reclusive, preferring to keep to themselves and be undetected. They are only active at night, much like the majority of owls.
North America is home to a large population of this medium-sized tawny-brown mottled owl. Since voles are their preferred diet, these birds primarily hunt throughout the day. They are one of the owls you may see most frequently during the day, which is interesting!
Usually found in open terrain, short-eared owls. On Minnesota, dawn or dusk in fields, grasslands, meadows, or even airports, offer the best chances to see them.
In open spaces, these owls construct their ground nests. The parent will poop on the eggs to make them smell bad enough to deter predators if it must abandon the nest to deter one. Short-eared Owls, like Kildeer, use hopping and acting like they are disabled to frighten predators away from their nest.
The Short-eared Owl does not make a lot of noise. But when they do make noise, these birds have a strange cry that remarkably resembles a cat purring for a partner.
Eastern Screech Owl
The Eastern Screech-Owl has long, pointed ear tufts and a distinctive pattern of grey feathers that help it blend in with trees.
These owls are not extremely picky about where they choose to nest; any region with sufficiently thick trees will do. However, it appears that in more recent years they have increased their nesting range to include more suburban locations, including sites like city parks.
Males establish permanent mating pairs with either one or two females and are very territorial in their defense of their areas.
The mating couple will work together to raise the young, and the male will deliver food to the female who is caring for the fledglings.
The majority of the state’s areas are home to these owls, who are year-round inhabitants of Minnesota.
Their mating seasons are when they are most active, and the south-eastern region of the state has the most sightings reported.
Great Gray Owl
The biggest owls in the US are great gray owls. They are a little bit lighter than a Great Horned Owl, but they are bigger. They are in the size range of a goose and a crow.
They are gray, as their name implies, with silver, white, and brown bars or streaks. They have brown rings around their brilliant yellow eyes, and a white “X” divides their eyes. They don’t have ear tufts but do have a big, rounded skull.
They are elusive because they avoid being around people or populated areas. You normally observe them rather than hear them since they are silent while they fly and don’t scream out frequently.
Great Gray Owls hunt small animals such voles, mice, squirrels, and shrews in coniferous woods where they reside. Even little birds are hunted. This owl can only be found in the northern portion of Minnesota. During the winter, they migrate significantly farther south.
Long Eared Owl
When roosting in deep vegetation, the Long-Eared Owl is most at ease. According to allaboutbirds.org, the Long-eared Owl mostly breeds in Minnesota, while southern regions of the state occasionally see them year-round.
Therefore, even if they are not very frequent in the state during the entire year, they are there and may be found if you know when and where to search. They like the woodlands for roosting, but they require wide-open spaces for hunting.
The Long-Eared owl is known for having ear tufts on its head, but that is not all that makes it unique. A male owl’s cry may be heard from one kilometer (a little more than half a mile) distant. The Long-Eared Owl emits a range of sounds, including a standard “hoot” and a barking noise.
The Long-Eared Owl is a skilled hunter with acute hearing that allows it to catch insects in complete darkness. Although they are quite secretive creatures, you may find them by checking for their pellets on the ground. Every owl has pellets that are uniquely formed. Additionally, they can be simpler to identify throughout the winter when they roost in flocks.
American Barn Owl
The face of a barn owl, also known as a church owl, ghost owl, or monkey-faced owl, is heart-shaped and sandy in color with a dark brown edging. It’s interesting to note that an owl’s face is shaped in a way that directs sound into its ears, making them the most effective test subjects for sound-based hunting.
Because of their keen hearing, they can easily find small creatures hiding in snow or deep vegetation. They even hunt bats!
Barn owls come in more than 40 different kinds. The Galapagos Islands are home to the smallest species (260 grams/9.2 oz), with the American (Tyto furcata) variety being the biggest (555 grams/1 lb. 4 oz.).
These nocturnal critters frequently reside in vacant barns (hence the name). Many areas of their distribution are severely threatened by extinction. Nevertheless, farmers like them because they help maintain the surrounding land relatively rodent-free and shield other animals from the illnesses that mice and rats transmit.
Their distinctive screeching noise is much more akin to a red-tailed hawk. Males occasionally clap their wings together while flying as a form of flirtation with females.
Northern Hawk Owl
The Northern Hawk Owl receives its name from its behavior rather than from how it appears.
It has a huge round head and thick, brown and white feathers, which give it an appearance that is comparable to many other owl species.
These owls nest in burned-over portions of woods and are found in coniferous woodlands. They will often hunt throughout the day and catch their prey by swooping.
Males exclusively engage in territorial hunting and courtship during the breeding season.
Despite being monogamous, the pairs of these birds only mate for one breeding season. Despite spending the remainder of the year alone, they don’t attack other Northern Hawk Owls who enter their region.
These owls are not a regular sight in Minnesota because they are not year-round inhabitants of the state. They exclusively spend the harsh winters in Minnesota. The northwestern parts of the state have seen the majority of sightings.
The majority of owls reside in trees or bushes, although burrowing owls may run along the ground in prairies, deserts, and grasslands because they have long legs.
They engage in rodent hunting before settling in tunnels that other creatures, such as ground squirrels and prairie dogs, have abandoned. If it is not possible, they will reside inside of tubes or pipelines.
They mostly consume insects, such as beetles, grasshoppers, moths, crickets, and centipedes, in addition to rodents. They even like to eat scorpions.
They have evolved a high tolerance for carbon dioxide, which accumulates in subterranean places, as a result of their adaptation to living beneath.
To recognize them, look for long-legged owls with brown mottling and brilliant yellow eyes. Their heads are flat.
During the summer, burrowing owls can be found in Minnesota’s westernmost reaches, so keep an eye out for them then.
In mature woods and marshes with trees, the hooting call of the Barred Owl, which sounds like “Who cooks for you? Who prepares meals for you all? It was originally an eastern bird, but it has gradually moved south into California after first moving through the Pacific Northwest.
Large raptors, barred owls have stocky bodies and smooth, rounded heads. Their large, dark brown eyes give the impression that they are entirely black. Their entire body is covered in white and brown mottling, and the upper and lower regions of their bodies feature vertical brown bars.
Barred owls can be seen all year long in many parts of Minnesota. These owls’ primary habitat is in the eastern United States, although they are gradually moving west. The greatest areas to seek for them in Minnesota are in woodlands and forests close to sources of water.
Numerous bird watchers take advantage of the barred owls’ propensity for territorial behavior. You might try mimicking their call with your voice if you happen to be in the woods at night and hear it. One of these owls could, if you’re lucky, fly over to you to inspect you and see whether you’re another owl invading their domain.
They frequently coexist with Great Horned Owls in these locations, but they will leave their range as soon as one comes close since the Great Horned Owl is their greatest predatory danger. Because of this, the juvenile Barred Owls have developed incredible camouflage and can climb trees by “walking” up them.
Even though they are genetically the same owl, they can be difficult to distinguish since they come in a variety of hues (from reddish-brown to gray) and patterns. On the top or bottom of the body, they may have spots, streaks, or occasionally both.
Boreal Owls are found in aspen, poplar, spruce, fir, and birch tree stands in the boreal woods, where they reside. These owls are relatively rare and difficult to research and observe due to their isolated settings, and little is known about their population trends.
With their extraordinarily keen hearing, these owls prefer to sit low in coniferous woods and alpine regions where they may tilt their heads back and forth to listen for prey noises. Once they’ve located a prey, they swoop in to offer food. Voles, bats, frogs, beetles, birds, and young squirrels are the main feeds for boreal owls since they are tiny.
They make a brief sequence of louder and louder whistled toots as their call. Males normally only hoot to attract a female during the mating season.