9 Owls in Nebraska (With Pictures)

9 Owls in Nebraska (With Pictures)

Nebraska, a state known for its vast prairies and rich biodiversity, is home to an impressive variety of owl species. These nocturnal birds of prey hold a special place in the state’s ecosystem, thriving across different habitats, from dense forests to open grasslands.

In this article, we will explore the owls of Nebraska, highlighting their unique characteristics, behaviors, and the roles they play in maintaining ecological balance.

From the majestic Great Horned Owl, known for its deep hooting calls, to the elusive Snowy Owl, a winter visitor with stunning white plumage, Nebraska’s owls captivate both bird enthusiasts and casual observers alike.

We’ll delve into the lives of these fascinating creatures, their hunting habits, nesting behaviors, and the conservation efforts in place to protect them, providing a comprehensive overview of Nebraska’s nocturnal avian residents.

1. 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: 80 to 95 cm cm (31 to 37 in)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and less common

The Barn Owl, with its ghostly appearance and heart-shaped face, is a widespread resident of open landscapes across the globe. This owl’s ethereal beauty is underscored by its pale, golden-brown and white feathers, which give it an almost otherworldly glow in the moonlight.

Unlike its more woodland-bound cousins, the Barn Owl prefers open fields and farmlands, making use of barns and other human structures for nesting. Its large, dark eyes are windows to its nocturnal soul, set against the stark contrast of its face, which acts as an efficient sound reflector to locate prey in the darkness.

The Barn Owl’s silent flight and distinctive screech contribute to its enigmatic reputation, making it a fascinating subject of both admiration and folklore.

American Barn Owl

Barn Owls, with their ghostly appearance, choose the loftiest of nooks within barns, abandoned buildings, and hollow trees for their nests. These sites offer protection from the elements and predators, crucial for the survival of their delicate, white-plumed chicks.

The bond between the mating pairs and their dedication to their offspring’s care is a poignant display of avian affection and commitment, illustrating the intricate familial structures of these nocturnal creatures.

Specializing in hunting rodents, the Barn Owl plays a critical role in controlling pest populations, benefiting Nebraska’s agricultural landscapes. Their silent flight and exceptional hearing make them adept hunters, capable of navigating through the night to capture mice, voles, and occasionally larger prey.

This diet underscores the importance of Barn Owls in maintaining ecological balance, highlighting their role as natural pest controllers.

The story of Barn Owl conservation is one of collaboration between humans and nature. With their natural habitats dwindling, conservationists and farmers have worked together to provide artificial nesting sites, fostering a mutualistic relationship that benefits both parties.

Education and conservation programs aimed at preserving their habitats have seen positive outcomes, ensuring that Barn Owls remain an integral part of Nebraska’s agricultural and natural landscapes.

2. 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 rare

In the quietude of twilight, the Long-Eared Owl emerges as a figure of grace and mystery within dense woodlands and forest edges across the Northern Hemisphere. This owl’s namesake ear tufts, which it raises or lowers depending on its mood, add to its already distinguished profile.

Its slender, elongated body is adorned with a complex pattern of browns and blacks, perfectly suited for camouflage among the branches. The Long-Eared Owl’s deep orange eyes peer intently from its facial disc, surveying its surroundings with a penetrating gaze. This owl prefers the seclusion of dense foliage, where its silent flight and cryptic plumage make it nearly invisible to all but the most observant onlookers.

When I was a kid, my grandparents backyard had a breeding couple for many years, making them a big part of why I got into birding!

Long-eared Owl

The Long-Eared Owl, with its elusive nature, prefers the dense cover of forests and thickets for its nesting sites. Utilizing abandoned nests of other birds, these owls add a layer of secrecy to their breeding habits.

The protection of their chosen environments ensures a safe haven for their offspring, highlighting the owl’s intrinsic connection to the forest’s quiet and secluded spaces.

The diet of the Long-Eared Owl consists mainly of small mammals, with a particular preference for voles. Their hunting strategy, involving silent, nocturnal flights, showcases their role as efficient predators within their ecosystem.

This specific dietary preference underscores the importance of maintaining healthy vole populations for the survival of the Long-Eared Owl, reflecting the interconnectedness of Nebraska’s natural food web.

The conservation efforts for the Long-Eared Owl emphasize habitat protection and the importance of understanding their secretive nature. Research and monitoring are key components of these efforts, aiming to shed light on their population dynamics and habitat requirements.

Protecting the dense woodlands and ensuring corridors for movement are crucial for the Long-Eared Owl’s continued presence in Nebraska, symbolizing the broader challenge of conserving nocturnal wildlife in an ever-changing landscape.

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
  • State status: Breeding and common

Within the dense canopies of forests stretching from Canada to the southern United States, the Barred Owl is a sight to behold. Its strikingly large, round eyes, devoid of ear tufts, give it a perpetually surprised expression, adding a touch of whimsy to its demeanour.

The plumage of the Barred Owl is a rich tapestry of browns and whites, marked by distinctive horizontal bars on its chest and vertical streaks on its belly, a pattern that provides it an impeccable disguise among the branches.

This bird’s haunting call, reminiscent of the phrase “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” echoes through the woods, adding to the mystique of its forest home.

Barred Owl

The Barred Owl, with its distinctive hooting call, selects secluded spots within dense forests to raise its young. Preferring natural cavities in aged trees or taking over nests built by other species, these owls create nurturing environments for their offspring. The care with which they select and maintain their nesting sites reflects a deep connection to their forested homes, ensuring their young are sheltered and well-hidden from potential threats.

The Barred Owl’s diet consists mainly of small mammals, but it also includes amphibians, reptiles, and invertebrates. Their hunting strategy is a blend of patience and precision, waiting quietly before swooping down on unsuspecting prey. This varied diet allows them to adapt to different environments, contributing to their resilience and the health of the ecosystems they inhabit.

The conservation narrative of the Barred Owl is complex, intertwined with habitat conservation and the challenges of expanding populations in certain areas. Efforts to preserve the dense, old forests they depend on are crucial for their survival.

While their adaptability has allowed them to expand their range, it has also led to conflicts in areas where they compete with other owl species, prompting targeted conservation strategies to ensure ecological balance.

4. 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 less common

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl, a diminutive and elusive resident of North American forests, is a marvel of avian design. Its tiny stature belies a fierce and determined spirit, encapsulated within a beautifully patterned plumage of rich browns, whites, and tans.

This owl’s large, round, yellow eyes dominate its face, imbuing it with an almost perpetual look of curiosity and intensity. The Northern Saw-Whet Owl’s name derives from its call, a series of toots reminiscent of a saw being sharpened on a whetstone.

Preferring dense forest habitats, it remains hidden among the foliage, blending into the environment with uncanny precision.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl, a diminutive yet determined bird, exhibits fascinating nesting behaviors. Seeking the safety of dense foliage and secluded tree cavities, these owls carefully select their nesting sites to evade detection.

The female’s sole responsibility for incubation highlights the species’ unique approach to parenting, ensuring the next generation’s survival in the quiet corners of Nebraska’s forests.

Despite their small size, Northern Saw-Whet Owls are fierce predators. Their diet primarily consists of insects and small rodents, which they hunt with remarkable efficiency. This dietary habit plays a significant role in controlling pest populations, underlining the owl’s importance in maintaining the ecological balance within their habitat.

Conservation efforts for the Northern Saw-Whet Owl focus on preserving their natural habitats and mitigating threats such as deforestation and climate change. Banding programs and research projects have provided valuable insights into their migratory patterns and habitat needs, guiding conservation strategies.

These efforts aim to ensure that the Northern Saw-Whet Owl remains a mysterious yet vital presence in Nebraska’s nocturnal world.

5. 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: Breeding and rare

Roaming the open country from grasslands to marshes, the Short-Eared Owl is a globe-trotting species known for its wide distribution. This bird’s lack of prominent ear tufts gives it a distinctly rounded head, setting it apart from its more tufted relatives. The Short-Eared Owl’s plumage is a study in earth tones, with a mottled pattern of browns, tans, and whites that mirrors the landscapes it inhabits.

Its piercing yellow eyes, set against a pale facial disc, lend it an intense and focused demeanour. This owl’s preference for ground nesting and its diurnal hunting habits make it one of the more visible owls, often seen gliding low over fields in search of prey. On a recent birding trip in my home country of Denmark, I was lucky enough to see one of these birds hunt; it’s truly spectacular!

Short-eared Owl

The Short-Eared Owl’s preference for open grasslands and marshes dictates its unique nesting behavior. Nesting directly on the ground, these owls craft shallow depressions lined with grasses and feathers, a strategy that blends their nests into the surrounding landscape. This ground-level approach to nesting, while unusual among owls, speaks to the Short-Eared Owl’s adaptability and resilience in the face of environmental challenges.

Primarily hunters of small mammals, Short-Eared Owls play a pivotal role in the ecological balance of Nebraska’s grasslands. Their diet, focused on voles and mice, demonstrates their contribution to controlling rodent populations, benefiting both agricultural and natural habitats. The openness of their hunting grounds allows for a display of their aerial agility, captivating onlookers with their low, sweeping flights at dusk and dawn.

The conservation narrative of the Short-Eared Owl in Nebraska is a call to action for habitat preservation. Threatened by the loss of open grasslands to development and agriculture, conservation initiatives have focused on protecting and restoring these critical habitats.

Public awareness campaigns and habitat management strategies aim to ensure that the Short-Eared Owl continues to grace Nebraska’s landscapes, a reminder of the importance of conservation in maintaining biodiversity.

6. 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

Majestic and otherworldly, the Snowy Owl reigns over the frozen landscapes of the Arctic tundra, a vision of pure white against the endless expanse of snow and ice. This large owl’s immaculate plumage, interspersed with scattered black markings, provides it with impeccable camouflage in its polar environment.

The Snowy Owl’s piercing yellow eyes, set against its snowy facade, offer a stark contrast to the monochromatic hues of its surroundings. Unlike many of its nocturnal kin, the Snowy Owl is also diurnal, adapting to the continuous daylight of the Arctic summer. Its solitary and nomadic lifestyle, combined with its stunning appearance, has cemented the Snowy Owl’s status as an iconic symbol of the northern wilderness, evoking awe and wonder in all who witness it.

Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl, a visitor from the north, brings a touch of Arctic mystery to Nebraska during its winter migrations. Preferring the wide-open spaces of fields and airports, which mimic their tundra home, these owls are ground nesters.

The temporary nature of their stay does not diminish the importance of Nebraska’s landscapes for resting and feeding during migration, underscoring the state’s role in the broader migratory patterns of these majestic birds.

Adapted to the harsh conditions of the Arctic, the Snowy Owl’s diet in Nebraska consists mainly of small mammals and birds, mirroring their prey in the north. Their presence in Nebraska during winter months highlights the adaptability of their hunting skills, capable of navigating different terrains and seizing opportunities to feed in preparation for their long journey back to the Arctic.

The Snowy Owl’s occasional presence in Nebraska brings attention to the importance of conserving wide-open habitats that serve as critical stopovers during their migrations. Conservation efforts are focused on monitoring their movements and ensuring that these majestic visitors have safe havens during their stay.

Education about the Snowy Owl’s migratory habits and the challenges they face due to climate change and habitat loss is vital in fostering a conservation-minded public, ready to protect these icons of the winter sky.

7. Eastern Screech-Owl

  • Scientific name: Megascops asio
  • Life span: 8 to 10 years
  • Size: 16 to 25 cm (6.5 to 10 in)
  • Weight: 121 to 244 g (4.25 to 8.5 oz)
  • Wingspan: 46 to 61 cm (18 to 24 in)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and common

The Eastern Screech Owl, a small yet charismatic bird, is found throughout the eastern regions of North America, from the dense forested areas to suburban backyards. Its plumage offers an exquisite palette of grays, reds, and browns, blending seamlessly into the bark of trees where it roosts.

This owl’s masterful camouflage is complemented by its compact body and almost earless silhouette, making it a whisper in the woods, elusive and discreet. The Eastern Screech Owl’s expressive eyes, an intense yellow, stand out against the intricate patterns of its feathers, creating a visage that is both enigmatic and engaging.

This bird’s presence in its habitat is as unassuming as it is integral, playing a silent yet pivotal role in the ecosystem’s balance.

Eastern Screech-Owl

The Eastern Screech Owl, a smaller yet equally fascinating inhabitant of Nebraska, showcases unique nesting behaviors. Preferring the cozy confines of tree cavities, these owls often take over spaces carved out by woodpeckers or other natural processes.

Their ability to adapt to urban environments has seen them nesting in provided nest boxes, drawing them closer to human proximity. The nurturing of their young is a quiet affair, hidden from the prying eyes of predators and humans alike.

An opportunistic feeder, the Eastern Screech Owl’s diet mirrors the rich biodiversity of Nebraska. From insects and small rodents to the occasional small bird or fish, their diet varies with the seasons and available prey. Their adaptability in hunting both in wooded areas and open fields supports their survival in a changing landscape, highlighting the owl’s role as a versatile predator within its ecosystem.

Eastern Screech Owls face challenges from habitat destruction and vehicle collisions, particularly in more urbanized areas. Conservation efforts have included the establishment of nesting box programs and habitat restoration projects aimed at providing safe havens for these owls.

Through community involvement and increased awareness, the Eastern Screech Owl continues to hold its place in Nebraska’s nocturnal symphony, a beacon of successful coexistence between humans and wildlife.

8. Burrowing Owl

  • Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
  • Life span: 6-8 years
  • Size: 8-11 inches (20-28 cm)
  • Weight: 4.9-8.5 oz (140-240 g)
  • Wingspan: 20-24 inches (51-61 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and rare

Dwelling not in the treetops but in the ground, the Burrowing Owl is a unique spectacle of the avian world, found in the open landscapes of North and South America. Its habitat, often shared with prairie dogs and ground squirrels, showcases this owl’s remarkable adaptability. The Burrowing Owl’s stature is small yet sturdy, with long legs that it uses to navigate its terrestrial domain.

Its plumage is a muted blend of browns and whites, with distinctive spots and bars that add texture and depth to its appearance. The bright yellow eyes and white eyebrows give it a distinctive, alert look, always watchful for threats or opportunities.

This owl’s ground-level lifestyle, combined with its charismatic demeanour, makes it a fascinating deviation from the typical arboreal owl narrative.

Burrowing Owl

The Burrowing Owl stands out in Nebraska’s avian community, not for towering flight but for its ground-dwelling habits. These small, yet spirited owls take residence in abandoned burrows, showcasing an unusual adaptation among their kind.

This choice reflects a pragmatic use of available resources, offering protection for their young against predators and the elements. The communal aspect of their nesting sites fosters a unique social structure rarely observed in other owl species.

Burrowing Owls’ diet is as grounded as their nesting habits, consisting of insects, small mammals, and occasionally reptiles and amphibians. Their hunting techniques, which can include daylight foraging, demonstrate their adaptability and crucial role in controlling local pest populations. This varied diet helps them thrive in a range of environments, from prairie landscapes to urban outskirts, underlining their ecological significance.

The conservation story of the Burrowing Owl in Nebraska is marked by challenges and triumphs. Habitat loss due to agricultural expansion and urban development has posed significant threats to their populations.

Conservation strategies have focused on habitat preservation and the creation of artificial burrows to support their nesting needs. These efforts, combined with community engagement and education, aim to secure a future for the Burrowing Owl within Nebraska’s diverse ecosystems.

9. 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

Nestled within a wide range of habitats across the Americas, from the Arctic tundras of Canada to the tropical rainforests of South America, the Great Horned Owl stands as a testament to adaptability and power.

This bird’s imposing presence is accentuated by its distinctive ear tufts, which resemble horns, lending it an air of majesty and mystery. Its plumage is a mottled array of browns, blacks, and whites, which serves as excellent camouflage against the bark of trees, where it often resides during the day.

The face of the Great Horned Owl is framed by a striking facial disc, which helps to funnel sound to its ears, and its yellow eyes pierce the dim light of its nocturnal world with startling clarity.

Great Horned Owl

In the wilds of Nebraska, the Great Horned Owl avoids the idea of traditional home-building, instead opting to commandeer the nests of other large birds or finding solace in the nooks of trees or cliff ledges. This majestic creature’s approach to nesting is both practical and opportunistic, reflecting its status as a top predator.

The Great Horned Owl’s diet is as diverse as the landscapes of Nebraska itself. This formidable hunter preys on a wide array of creatures, from rodents scurrying through the underbrush to the occasional unwary bird flying too close. Its powerful talons and sharp beak make it a master of the night, capable of a silent hunt that ends as swiftly as it begins.

Efforts to conserve the Great Horned Owl in Nebraska have been a testament to the resilience of nature and the dedication of conservationists. Historically, these birds faced challenges from habitat destruction and human persecution. However, protective laws and a growing public awareness of the importance of owls in the ecosystem have led to a stable and even thriving population.

Where to look for Owls in Nebraska

In Nebraska, finding owls involves understanding their habitats and behaviors. Owls can be located in diverse environments ranging from wooded areas to open prairies and even urban settings, depending on the species.

The key to spotting these nocturnal birds is to venture out during dusk or dawn when they are most active. Listening for their distinctive calls can also lead you to their vicinity. Four notable areas in Nebraska where owls are commonly observed include:

  • Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, known for its dense woodlands and diverse bird life.
  • Indian Cave State Park, offering vast areas of forests and bluffs where owls nest and hunt.
  • Niobrara Valley Preserve, which hosts a variety of ecosystems, making it ideal for different owl species.
  • Pioneers Park Nature Center in Lincoln, providing a habitat for owls within an urban setting.

Each of these areas offers unique opportunities to observe and learn about Nebraska’s owls, showcasing the rich avian biodiversity of the state.


Nebraska’s owls, ranging from the stately Great Horned to the migratory Snowy Owl, are vital to the ecosystem, managing pest populations and enriching biodiversity. Their future depends on persistent conservation efforts, underscoring the significance of protecting habitats and raising awareness to sustain Nebraska’s vibrant owl community.

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