14 Owls in Idaho (With Pictures)

14 Owls in Idaho (With Pictures)

Owls, the enigmatic and captivating birds of prey, hold a special place in Idaho’s diverse wildlife. This article delves into the fascinating world of Idaho’s owls, exploring their unique behaviors, habitats, and the pivotal role they play in the state’s ecosystems. Idaho, with its vast wilderness and varied landscapes, ranging from dense forests to rugged mountains, provides an ideal habitat for a variety of owl species.

These include the Great Horned Owl, the elusive Barn Owl, and the diminutive Saw-whet Owl, each contributing uniquely to the natural balance.

We will explore how these nocturnal hunters adapt to their environments, their significance in controlling rodent populations, and the challenges they face in a changing climate. Additionally, the article highlights conservation efforts participate in preserving the natural habitats of these mysterious birds.

Through this exploration, readers will gain a deeper appreciation for these remarkable birds and the importance of protecting Idaho’s natural heritage.

1. Great Horned Owl

  • Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
  • Life span: 25 – 50 years
  • Size: 43 to 64 cm (17 to 25 in)
  • Weight: 1200 to 1600 g (2.64 to 3.52 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 91 to 153 cm (3ft 0in to 5ft 0in)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Great Horned Owl, a symbol of might and mystery, reigns across North America, extending from the northern forests of Canada to the southern edges of South America. Its appearance is striking: a large, robust body with tufts of feathers resembling horns atop its head.

The bird’s plumage is a mottled mix of browns, grays, and whites, creating a camouflage perfect for forested and open habitats. Its fierce, yellow-eyed gaze is unforgettable, a hallmark of its nocturnal prowess.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owls don’t craft their own nests. Instead, they claim abandoned nests of other large birds, displaying a resourceful and opportunistic nature. These nests are often perched high in trees, offering a strategic vantage point.

The Great Horned Owl’s nesting behaviour reveals their dominance in the avian world, as they fearlessly take over nests in a variety of environments, from deep forests to urban settings.

The Great Horned Owl is a formidable predator. Its diet is impressively diverse, ranging from small mammals like mice and rabbits to other birds, including hawks and even other owls. This owl’s hunting prowess is unmatched, with powerful talons and acute night vision, making it a master of the nocturnal hunt.

Conservation efforts for the Great Horned Owl have been largely successful due to its adaptability to various habitats. Historically, these owls faced challenges from habitat loss and pesticide use, but they have shown remarkable resilience. Conservationists focus on protecting nesting sites and educating the public about the importance of these majestic birds in the ecosystem.

2. American Barn Owl

  • Scientific name: Tyto furcata
  • Life span: 10 years
  • Size: 34 to 38 cm (13 to 15 in)
  • Weight: 400 to 600 g (0.88 to 1.3 lbs)
  • Wingspan: 29 to 36 cm (11 to 14 in)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The American Barn Owl, widespread across the Americas, prefers open areas like farmlands and grasslands for its hunting grounds. This owl’s heart-shaped face, pale in color, and contrasting dark eyes create an almost ethereal appearance. Its body is slender, adorned with golden-brown feathers on the back and soft, white feathers on the underparts, making it a mesmerizing sight in the moonlight.

American Barn Owl

American Barn Owls prefer to nest in secluded, quiet places like barn lofts, abandoned buildings, or tree hollows. They exhibit a mysterious aura, often nesting away from human eyes. Their choice of nesting sites highlights their preference for undisturbed, peaceful environments to raise their young.

The diet of the American Barn Owl mainly includes rodents, making them a farmer’s friend by naturally controlling pest populations. They hunt with precision and grace, swooping silently over fields and open areas at night. Their dietary habits play a crucial role in maintaining the ecological balance in their habitats.

Conservation of American Barn Owls has involved creating and protecting nesting sites, especially in agricultural areas. Historically, the loss of traditional barns and farmlands impacted their populations. Conservationists have encouraged the installation of nest boxes, which has seen positive responses from these adaptable owls.

3. Barred Owl

  • Scientific name: Strix varia
  • Life span: 8 years
  • Size: 40 to 63 cm (15 to 25 in)
  • Weight: 610 to 1,150 g (1.34 to 2.54 lb)
  • Wingspan: 96 to 125 cm (38 to 49 in)
  • Status: Least Concern

Inhabiting dense woodlands across the eastern United States and parts of Canada, the Barred Owl is a creature of serene beauty. It is easily recognized by its distinctive “hooting” call, reminiscent of a warm, southern night.

The owl’s plumage is an intricate pattern of brown and white vertical stripes, giving it its name. Its dark, soulful eyes, set against a rounded face, evoke a sense of wisdom and tranquility, typical of the owl family.

Barred Owl

Like American Barn Owls, Barred Owls form lifelong monogamous pairs during mating season. Courtship rituals involve males spreading their wings, awaiting female acceptance in February. These devoted owls construct nests in hollow tree trunks within dense forests.

Barred Owls have a diverse diet, focusing on small mammals like mice and voles. They also prey on smaller birds, reptiles, and insects. Occasionally, they target larger prey such as rabbits and squirrels. They locate their quarry using acute hearing near forest rivers and wetlands, adapting by scavenging when food is scarce.

With a global population of around 3 million, Barred Owls are widespread in North America and are classified as “Least Concern” by the IUCN. However, they face threats such as prey contamination and the destruction of their forest habitats.

4. Short-eared Owl

  • Scientific name: Asio flammeus
  • Life span: 12 years
  • Size: 34 to 43 cm (13 to 17 in)
  • Weight: 206 to 475 g (7.3 to 16.8 oz)
  • Wingspan:  85 to 110 cm (33 to 43 in)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and uncommon

The Short-eared Owl, a nomadic bird, is found in open habitats around the globe, including North America, Europe, and Asia. It has a distinctive, endearing appearance with mottled brown and buff plumage and short ear tufts that are often difficult to see.

Its yellow eyes, outlined in black, stand out against the paler facial disk. This owl’s subtly patterned feathers allow it to blend seamlessly into grasslands and marshes.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owls are ground nesters, making their homes in tall grasses of open fields and marshes. They display a unique adaptability to various landscapes. Their nesting behaviour, which involves creating a simple scrape on the ground, reflects their unpretentious and hardy nature.

The diet of the Short-eared Owl consists mainly of small mammals, particularly those found in open fields, like voles and mice. They are daytime hunters, often seen gliding low over grasslands. Their hunting style is a graceful dance in the sky, as they navigate through their open habitats in search of prey.

Conservation of Short-eared Owls has been focused on preserving open grassland habitats that are essential for their survival. Agricultural development and urban sprawl have posed significant threats to their nesting grounds. Conservationists work to maintain and restore these open areas to ensure the owls have suitable hunting and nesting sites.

5. Long-eared Owl

  • Scientific name: Asio otus
  • Life span: 10 to 27 years
  • Size: 31 to 40 cm (12 to 16 in)
  • Weight: 160 to 435 g (5.6 to 15.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 86 to 102 cm (2ft 10in to 3ft 4in)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and uncommon

Inhabiting various regions across the Northern Hemisphere, the Long-eared Owl is a model of elegance and stealth. Its most distinctive feature, as its name suggests, are the long ear tufts that stand erect when alerted.

The owl’s slender body is adorned with intricate brown and black patterning, resembling the bark of trees. Its deep orange eyes add a splash of color to its otherwise earth-toned appearance, making it a mesmerizing sight.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owls often use abandoned nests of other birds, especially crows and hawks. They prefer dense tree cover for nesting to avoid predation. The female incubates the eggs while the male provides food.

Their diet primarily includes small rodents, making them important for controlling rodent populations. They hunt at night using their acute hearing to detect prey in complete darkness.

Conservation efforts for Long-eared Owls focus on preserving their nesting habitats and minimizing disturbances. They are sensitive to human activity, so protecting their breeding areas from development is crucial.

6. Northern Saw-whet Owl

  • Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Life span: 7 to 17 years
  • Size: 17 to 22 cm (6.7 to 8.7 in)
  • Weight: 54 to 151 g (1.9 to 5.3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 42 to 56.3 cm (16.5 to 22.2 in)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and uncommon

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl, an enchanting sight, has plumage that is a rich brown dappled with white, providing excellent camouflage among the trees. The bird’s large, round, yellow eyes dominate its cute, rounded face. Despite its small size, this owl’s appearance is captivating, with its fine feather detailing and endearing expression.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-Whet Owls use tree cavities for nesting, often those created by woodpeckers. They will also use nest boxes. The female is responsible for incubation and brooding, while the male provides food for the female and the chicks.

Their diet consists of small mammals, particularly mice, and insects. They are nocturnal hunters, using their excellent hearing and night vision to locate prey.

Conservation for Northern Saw-Whet Owls includes habitat preservation and management, as well as monitoring programs to better understand their population status and trends. Loss of old-growth forests poses a threat to their habitat.

7. Burrowing Owl

  • Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
  • Life span: 6-8 years
  • Size: 8-11 inches (20-28 cm)
  • Weight: 5.3-8.5 oz (150-240 g)
  • Wingspan: 20-24 inches (51-61 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and rare

The Burrowing Owl, found in open landscapes of the Americas, lives in burrows on the ground, often in prairies or deserts. Its appearance is distinctive: long-legged, with a mottled brown and white body and bright yellow eyes. The owl’s rounded head lacks ear tufts, adding to its quirky charm. Its plumage provides perfect camouflage in the scrubby, sunbaked terrain it inhabits.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing Owls are unique among their kin, making their homes in underground burrows, often those abandoned by prairie dogs or ground squirrels. Their choice of nesting site is a reflection of their adaptability to the open grasslands and deserts they inhabit. These owls bring a sense of liveliness to their otherwise desolate environments.

The diet of the Burrowing Owl is diverse, including insects, small mammals, and occasionally small birds. They are opportunistic feeders, adapting their diet to the available prey in their habitat. Their hunting strategy is a mix of waiting patiently near their burrows and actively pursuing prey on foot or in flight.

Conservation efforts for Burrowing Owls focus on protecting their unique ground-level habitats. They have faced challenges from agricultural development and urbanization, which destroy their burrowing sites. Conservationists work to safeguard existing burrows and create artificial ones, ensuring these charismatic ground dwellers have a place to call home.

8. Snowy Owl

  • Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Life span: 9-10 years
  • Size: 20-28 inches (52-71 cm)
  • Weight: 3.5-6.5 lb (1600-2950 g)
  • Wingspan: 4.2-4.8 ft (130-150 cm)
  • Status: Vulnerable
  • State status: Migratory and rare

The Snowy Owl, thriving in the open tundra of the far north, has stunning white plumage interspersed with black markings. This large owl’s bright yellow eyes are mesmerizing against its predominantly white face. The bird’s appearance embodies the stark, pristine beauty of its icy habitat, making it one of the most striking owl species.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owls nest on the ground, creating shallow depressions in open areas. Unlike many owls, they don’t use trees or cliffs. The female incubates the eggs while the male hunts. Nesting sites are usually in open, undisturbed areas, reflecting their preference for Arctic tundra-like environments.

Their diet mainly consists of small mammals, especially lemmings. Snowy Owls are opportunistic hunters and may also eat rabbits, rodents, and birds. Their hunting strategy involves patiently watching from a perch and then swooping down on prey.

Conservation efforts for Snowy Owls focus on protecting their habitats, especially wintering grounds in Idaho. Climate change and human disturbance are major threats. Research and monitoring programs are crucial for understanding their migration patterns and adapting conservation strategies.

9. Northern Hawk-Owl

  • Scientific name: Surnia ulula
  • Life span: 8-10 years
  • Size: 14-16 inches (35-40 cm)
  • Weight: 8-14 oz (225-400 g)
  • Wingspan: 28-35 inches (70-90 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Migratory and rare

The Northern Hawk Owl, a unique resident of the boreal forests across Canada and Eurasia, has long, narrow wings and tail, giving it a raptor-like silhouette. The owl’s plumage is brown with white spotting, and its face is framed by a stark, black outline around the eyes. This distinctive look, along with its bright yellow eyes, makes it an impressive and unforgettable sight.

Northern Hawk-Owl

Northern Hawk Owls prefer nesting in open habitats, using tree stumps or snags. They may also use abandoned nests of other large birds. The female incubates the eggs, while the male hunts and brings food.

Their diet is mainly small mammals, with a preference for voles. They hunt during the day, using a perch-and-pounce technique.

Conservation efforts for Northern Hawk Owls involve protecting nesting and hunting habitats from logging and other forms of development. Research on their population and breeding habits is essential for effective conservation strategies.

10. Great Grey Owl

  • Scientific name: Strix nebulosa
  • Life span: 8-10 years
  • Size: 24-33 inches (60-84 cm)
  • Weight: 24-60 oz (680-1700 g)
  • Wingspan: 54-60 inches (137-152 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and rare

The Great Gray Owl, dwelling in the boreal forests of North America and Eurasia, is notable for its large size and the concentric circles of gray that pattern its face, creating a striking, disk-like appearance. The plumage is a mix of different shades of gray, giving it an air of elegance and mystery. This owl’s piercing yellow eyes stand out against the subtle hues of its feathers, captivating onlookers.

Great Grey Owl

The Great Gray Owl’s nesting behaviour is a reflection of its solitary nature. They often nest in the cavities of large trees, or on the abandoned nests of other large birds. They prefer dense forest regions, where their nests are hidden away from potential threats. The nesting habits of these owls are shrouded in mystery, much like the birds themselves.

The Great Gray Owl primarily feeds on small rodents, particularly voles. Their incredible hearing allows them to detect and capture prey under the snow or in thick vegetation. This owl’s hunting technique is a spectacular display of precision and patience, showcasing its status as a master hunter in its boreal forest realm.

Conservation efforts for the Great Gray Owl focus on protecting its boreal forest habitat. These birds have faced challenges due to logging and climate change, which impact their hunting grounds. Conservation initiatives have aimed at habitat preservation and monitoring population trends to ensure their survival in their northern territories.

11. Western Screech Owl

  • Scientific name: Megascops kennicottii
  • Life span: Up to 10 years
  • Size: 20-25 cm (8-10 in)
  • Weight: 170-230 g (6-8 oz)
  • Wingspan: 46-61 cm (18-24 in)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and uncommon

The Western Screech-Owl, native to the western regions of North America, is known for its camouflaged plumage of gray, brown, and white. Its “screeching” call is distinctive, as are its yellow eyes and “ear” tufts that add to its expressive face. This owl’s cryptic appearance makes it a master of concealment in its forested home.

Western Screech Owl

Western Screech-Owls nest in tree cavities, including natural holes or abandoned woodpecker nests. They sometimes use nest boxes provided by conservation programs. The female incubates the eggs, and the male provides food during the nesting period.

Their diet is varied, including insects, small mammals, and occasionally small birds. These owls are nocturnal hunters, relying on their excellent night vision and hearing to locate prey.

Conservation of Western Screech-Owls involves habitat preservation and providing nest boxes to compensate for the loss of natural nesting sites. Urbanization and deforestation are significant threats to their habitat.

12. Northern Pygmy Owl

  • Scientific name: Glaucidium californicum
  • Life span: Up to 7 years
  • Size: 15-18 cm (6-7 in)
  • Weight: 57-85 g (2-3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 15 inch (38 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and uncommon

The Northern Pygmy-Owl, found in the forests of North America, is distinguishable by its small stature and mottled brown plumage speckled with white. Its most striking feature is its piercing yellow eyes, which contrast sharply with the darker feathers surrounding them. The bird’s appearance is a perfect blend of subtlety and boldness, embodying the spirit of the smaller owl species.

Northern Pygmy Owl

Northern Pygmy-Owls are cavity nesters, utilizing holes in trees often created by woodpeckers. They exhibit a preference for mixed coniferous and deciduous forests. Their nesting behaviour reflects their adaptability and resilience, often nesting in close proximity to human activity, undeterred by the presence of larger animals.

Despite their small size, Northern Pygmy-Owls have a voracious appetite, mainly for small birds and insects. They are bold hunters, often taking prey as large as themselves. Their hunting style is a display of agility and fearlessness, darting through the forest with remarkable speed.

Conservation of the Northern Pygmy-Owl involves protecting their forest habitats from development and deforestation. They face challenges from habitat loss and competition for nesting sites. Efforts include promoting the preservation of mature forests and providing nest boxes to mitigate the loss of natural cavities.

13. Flammulated Owl

  • Scientific name: Psiloscops flammeolus
  • Life span: Up to 8 years
  • Size: 15-18 cm (6-7 in)
  • Weight: 57-85 g (2-3 oz)
  • Wingspan: 38-43 cm (15-17 in)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and rare

The Flammulated Owl inhabits the pine forests of North America’s mountainous regions. Its plumage is a delicate blend of grays and browns, with subtle flame-like markings, lending it its name.

The bird’s round face, accentuated by dark eyes set against a relatively light facial disk, creates a striking contrast. This owl’s ability to blend into its wooded environment is a testament to its adaptation and survival skills.

Flammulated Owl

Flammulated Owls are secretive nesters, preferring the cavities of old-growth trees in coniferous forests. They showcase a deep connection to the forest, with a preference for quiet, undisturbed areas. Their nesting behaviour is a delicate balance, choosing sites that offer protection and proximity to hunting areas.

Primarily insectivorous, the Flammulated Owl’s diet is unusual among owls. They feast on moths, beetles, and other flying insects, which they catch in mid-air with agile maneuver. Their diet reflects their specialized hunting skills and adaptation to forest life.

Conservation efforts for Flammulated Owls center around preserving old-growth forests, which are crucial for their nesting and feeding. These owls face challenges from logging and forest management practices that reduce their habitat. Conservation strategies involve habitat protection and research to understand their ecological needs better.

14. Boreal Owl

  • Scientific name: Aegolius funereus
  • Life span: 8-10 years
  • Size: 8-10 inches (22-27 cm)
  • Weight: 3.5-7.5 oz (100-210 g)
  • Wingspan: 20-24 inches (51-61 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and uncommon

Residing in the dense coniferous forests of the Northern Hemisphere, the Boreal Owl is a symbol of the wilderness. Its plumage is a mottled brown with white spots, providing excellent camouflage against tree bark.

The bird’s face is framed by a white outline, highlighting its captivating, large, yellow eyes. This owl’s appearance reflects its adaptation to the harsh, remote environments it calls home.

Boreal Owl

Boreal Owls exhibit a strong preference for dense, old forests where they nest in tree cavities. Their nesting habits are a testament to their secretive nature, often going unnoticed in their remote, forested homes. They choose nesting sites that offer seclusion and protection, embodying their elusive character.

The Boreal Owl’s diet mainly consists of small mammals, such as voles and shrews. They are skilled nocturnal hunters, using their exceptional hearing to locate prey under the cover of darkness. Their diet is a crucial part of the forest ecosystem, controlling rodent populations.

The conservation of Boreal Owls is closely tied to the preservation of old-growth forests. They have been impacted by logging and habitat fragmentation. Conservation efforts include habitat protection and monitoring to understand their population dynamics, ensuring these mysterious birds of the northern forests continue to thrive.

Where to look for Owls in Idaho

Finding owls in Idaho can be a rewarding and exciting experience for bird enthusiasts. Owls are often elusive and primarily active during the night, so locating them requires a combination of research, patience, and the right locations. Here are some tips on where to find owls in Idaho and four excellent areas to explore:

  • Wildlife Refuges and Nature Reserves: Idaho is home to several wildlife refuges and nature reserves, making them ideal owl-watching spots. Places like the Kootenai National Wildlife Refuge and Camas National Wildlife Refuge offer protected habitats for various owl species.
  • Forested Areas: Dense forests, especially coniferous forests, are prime habitats for owls. Areas like the Idaho Panhandle National Forests and Payette National Forest provide opportunities to spot species like the Great Gray Owl and Northern Pygmy-Owl.
  • Agricultural and Grassland Regions: Burrowing Owls are commonly found in open, grassy landscapes. The Snake River Plain and surrounding agricultural areas often host these charming little owls. Scan fence posts and burrows in the ground during daylight hours.
  • Riparian Zones: Owls are known to inhabit riparian areas, particularly near water bodies. Places like the Boise River Greenbelt and Henrys Lake State Park offer the chance to spot owls like the Western Screech-Owl and Great Horned Owl along riverbanks and lakeshores.

To increase your chances of finding owls, consider going out during dawn or dusk when many owl species are active. Use binoculars or spotting scopes for long-distance viewing, and listen for owl calls or hoots, as their vocalizations can help locate them. Remember to be respectful of wildlife and their habitats by maintaining a safe distance and minimizing disturbance.


Idaho’s owls are not just fascinating creatures of the night; they are vital components of the state’s ecosystem. Their presence and health are indicators of our environmental stewardship. As we continue to respect and protect their habitats, we ensure the survival of these majestic birds and the balance of nature.

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