Owls in Oklahoma (With Pictures)

Owls in Oklahoma (With Pictures)

Oklahoma’s enchanting avian residents, the owls, hold a mysterious and captivating presence in the state’s diverse wildlife. From the haunting calls of the Great Horned Owl echoing through the night to the stealthy, ghost-like flight of the Barn Owl, these enigmatic birds have long fascinated and inspired both seasoned birdwatchers and curious nature enthusiasts alike.

In the heart of the Great Plains, where prairies and forests intermingle, Oklahoma serves as a crucial habitat for several owl species.

In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of owls in Oklahoma, exploring their unique adaptations, habits, and conservation efforts dedicated to their preservation. From the iconic hoots of the Eastern Screech-owl to the elusive Northern Saw-whet Owl, we’ll uncover the secrets of their breeding and migratory patterns, shedding light on where and when you might encounter these remarkable creatures. Join us on a journey through the night to discover the captivating world of owls that silently grace Oklahoma’s landscapes.

1. 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, renowned for its exceptional adaptability, frequently makes appearances across diverse regions of Eastern North America, extending into Mexico. Impressively, it displays a remarkable indifference to human presence, demonstrating the ability to flourish even in urban environments.

This species exhibits distinct colouration patterns, with reddish hues prevalent in southern populations and greyish tones dominant in the north. Scientists propose that these variations are likely shaped by the colour palette of their native woodland surroundings, providing a striking example of how the environment can influence an owl’s appearance.

An Eastern-Screech owl looking worriedly at the cameraman

The Eastern Screech-Owl is renowned for its solitary disposition, typically forming pairs during the breeding season in April. These owls engage in elaborate bonding rituals during courtship to establish enduring connections. Following mating, they construct nests within the dark, dense hollows of tree trunks in the forest.

While the Eastern Screech-Owl is commonly monogamous, some males have been observed mating with multiple females within the same breeding season, leading to the eviction of the initial female and the laying of a new clutch of eggs.

As a versatile predator, the Eastern Screech-Owl’s prey selection varies according to its surroundings. In regions like Oklahoma, it predominantly hunts small mammals such as voles, mice, shrews, and rats.

However, during periods of low or declining mammal populations, it shifts its diet to include a substantial portion of insects like beetles, moths, and other invertebrates like spiders, worms, and snails. Additionally, it occasionally feeds on small reptiles, birds, and amphibians and may consume fruits and berries. This owl is primarily a nocturnal hunter, relying on its acute hearing to locate prey.

After consuming its prey whole, it regurgitates the indigestible components, such as fur, feathers, and bones, in the form of pellets.

Currently, the Eastern Screech-Owl is not considered endangered. However, like many other owl species, it faces potential threats from secondary poisoning via its prey and disruptions or destruction of its habitat. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List categorises the Eastern Screech-Owl as “Least Concern.”

2. 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

Adorned with brown-speckled feathers, the Great Horned Owl is an adaptable avian that thrives in a wide array of ecosystems, encompassing deserts, wetlands, grasslands, urban settings, and forests.

These remarkable creatures are creatures of the night, expertly blending into their surroundings through their natural camouflage. Their range extends beyond North America, as they can also be found as far south as Brazil. Contrary to their name, the owl’s distinctive “horns” are actually feather tufts referred to as plumicorns.

While these tufts may serve as visual cues or a mode of communication with other birds, their precise function remains shrouded in mystery.

A suspicious-looking Great Horned Owl has spotted the cameraman

The Great Horned Owl, a North American early breeder, kicks off its selection process as early as January. It’s the male owls that take the lead, scouting for ideal nesting spots and impressing potential mates with intricate aerial displays and territorial stomping.

Surprisingly, rather than constructing their own nests, they prefer recycling abandoned nests left behind by larger birds like eagles or hawks. Their nesting preferences are wide-ranging, from the depths of caves and perches on cliffs to unconventional spots like cacti.

These owls are savvy predators, known for their adaptability in hunting and a diverse palate. In Oklahoma, their diet shifts with the seasons and prey availability, favouring small mammals like voles, mice, and rabbits. However, their culinary interests extend far beyond, encompassing a variety of prey, from birds and reptiles to amphibians and insects.

They rely on their sharp talons and beaks for capturing prey, primarily conducting their hunting activities under the cover of darkness.

While not classified as a threatened species, the Great Horned Owl population in North America has seen a significant decline over the last four decades, largely attributed to human activities. Astonishingly, 65% of owl fatalities are linked to human-related causes, including shootings, trapping, car collisions, power line electrocution, and exposure to rat poisons.

This unfortunate trend can be traced back to historical misconceptions of these owls as pests, driven by their occasional predation on domestic chickens and small game, leading to persecution by farmers and hunters, which still persists through illegal poaching to this day.

3. 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 rare

The American Barn Owl is a unique and intriguing bird, known for its distinctive appearance and nocturnal habits. This species is part of a subspecies group that includes Western and Eastern Barn Owls.

It stands out with its pale brown upper body and wings, contrasting sharply with its creamy white face, chest, and belly. One of the most notable characteristics of the American Barn Owl is its preference for staying hidden during the day, often concealed within dense foliage or within the hollows of tree trunks.

It comes to life at night when it actively hunts for prey.The unique facial features of the American Barn Owl have led to various myths and legends portraying it as a mysterious or celestial creature. However, it’s important to note that these features primarily serve functional purposes in terms of hunting and sound localization rather than having any mystical significance.

The American Barn Owl and its otherworldly look

The American Barn Owl is a fascinating and elusive nocturnal bird that spends its daylight hours concealed within trees or vegetation and exclusively hunts during the night. During the nesting season, which typically spans from March to June, American Barn Owls form monogamous pairs for life. The male owl takes on the responsibility of locating an optimal nesting site, which can include tree cavities or cliffs. To establish his territory, he energetically patrols the area, engaging in courtship behaviours such as chasing and sweeping towards the female before breeding.

In Oklahoma, American Barn Owls primarily feed on small mammals, including voles, shrews, and mice. Their unique asymmetrically placed ears enable them to pinpoint prey through sound, granting them the ability to hunt effectively in complete darkness.

These owls have a higher metabolic rate compared to other owls of similar size, necessitating a greater intake of food. While they occasionally consume small birds and insects, their diet predominantly consists of the small rodents abundant in Oklahoma’s agricultural landscape.

Although the American Barn Owl is not globally threatened, its population in North America has faced a decline attributed to increased pesticide and rodenticide use. These chemicals can contaminate the owl’s food sources, leading to significant fatalities. Despite these challenges, the species has demonstrated resilience and possesses the capacity to rebound from these losses in the short term.

4. 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

The Barred Owl, a majestic bird known for its distinctive appearance, boasts a captivating mottled brown plumage. Its feathers are adorned with striking horizontal barring that extends across its belly, wings, and back, creating a unique and mesmerizing pattern.

Perhaps one of its most intriguing features is its facial disc, which is framed by a dark border, encircling large, soulful eyes that radiate an air of wisdom and intrigue. This remarkable owl is a denizen of the extensive woodlands and lush forests that span eastern North America, including the United States and Canada.

Its haunting hoots reverberate through the dense foliage, adding an eerie yet enchanting note to the region’s natural symphony.

A couple of Barred Owls with blank eyes taking a break on a mossy branch

Barred Owls in Oklahoma are known for their unique nesting behaviours. They usually opt for natural tree cavities or often take over abandoned nests of other large birds like hawks or crows. These adaptable owls can sometimes be found nesting in artificial structures such as nest boxes or even the cavities of buildings.

They primarily feast on small mammals like voles, mice, and squirrels, but they are also known to include birds, amphibians, reptiles, and insects in their diet. Their versatile diet allows them to thrive in the state’s varied ecosystems.

While not a threatened species in Oklahoma, Barred Owls have faced habitat loss due to urbanisation and deforestation. Conservationists monitor their populations to ensure their survival in the state’s changing landscape, while also conducting studies to understand their interactions with the threatened Spotted Owl, which shares their range.

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: Migratory and rare

The Short-eared Owl is a captivating avian creature that graces various regions of the world with its remarkable appearance. Its medium-sized frame is adorned with a distinctive mottled brown and buff plumage, adorned with bold facial markings that lend it a striking and memorable presence.

What truly sets this owl apart is its large, lemon-yellow eyes, which seem to pierce through the shadows of its chosen habitat. Renowned as a versatile traveller, the Short-eared Owl extends its range across North America, Europe, Asia, and South America.

It is most commonly found in open habitats such as grasslands, marshes, and meadows, where its unique looks are a testament to its adaptability and resilience.

A Short-Eared Owl in flight

Short-eared Owls don’t breed in Oklahoma but often choose ground nests, concealed in grasslands or marshes further north. Unlike many owls, they don’t build nests but instead scrape shallow depressions in the ground, where they lay their eggs. They are quite secretive during nesting, making it a challenge to spot their nests.

Short-eared Owls have a penchant for rodents, favouring voles, shrews, and mice in Oklahoma. They are efficient hunters in the state’s grasslands, feeding primarily on small mammals that thrive in these environments.

These owls have experienced habitat loss in Oklahoma due to agricultural and land-use changes. Conservation efforts aim to protect their habitats in grasslands and marshes, ensuring their survival in the state’s dynamic landscape.

6. 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: Migratory and rare

The Long-eared Owl is an avian wonder characterized by its delicate and cryptic appearance. Its plumage, a harmonious blend of brownish-grey tones, is adorned with intricate streaks, offering the owl superb camouflage against the backdrop of woodlands and forests it calls home.

One of its most arresting features is its striking orange eyes, framed by a charming ruff of feathers that add an elegant touch to its overall appearance. The Long-eared Owl is a well-traveled species, with its range spanning across North America, Europe, and Asia.

It prefers to inhabit diverse habitats, including woodlands, meadows, and coniferous forests, where its understated yet captivating looks make it an intriguing presence.

A Long-Eared Owl sitting on the ground

Long-eared Owls too don’t breed in Oklahoma but prefer concealed nests in dense woodlands further north and west. They often take over old crow or hawk nests or even use tree cavities for nesting. They are secretive and solitary during nesting, carefully guarding their nests.

Long-eared Owls are skilled hunters, preying on small mammals like voles, mice, and shrews in Oklahoma’s woodlands. Their hunting skills are finely tuned to capture these elusive creatures.

Long-eared Owls face habitat loss in the state due to urbanisation and deforestation. Conservationists work to protect their woodland habitats and raise awareness about their importance in maintaining the ecosystem’s balance.

7. 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 rare

The Northern Saw-whet Owl, a diminutive yet captivating owl species, boasts an endearing visage characterized by its charming plumage. With feathers speckled in delightful shades of brown and white, this owl’s appearance provides excellent camouflage against tree bark, allowing it to blend seamlessly into its woodland surroundings.

Its most notable features are its large and expressive eyes, which add an irresistible charm to its overall look. This owl species primarily calls North America its home, with its range extending from coast to coast. It thrives in dense woodlands and coniferous forests, where its captivating appearance and enigmatic personality have made it a cherished symbol of the natural world.

A close-up photo of a surprised Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owls in Oklahoma demonstrate a remarkable nesting behaviour, often selecting tree cavities or repurposing old woodpecker holes as cozy homes for their young. This preference for concealed spots ensures the safety and security of their precious offspring, creating an ideal environment for their growth and development.

These owls are known for their keen hunting skills, specializing in capturing small mammals like voles and mice that abound in the woodlands of Oklahoma. Their nocturnal habits and hunting prowess make them efficient and effective predators within the state’s diverse ecosystem.

While not currently listed as threatened, Northern Saw-whet Owls face challenges due to habitat loss stemming from deforestation in Oklahoma. Conservation efforts are centred on preserving the woodlands they call home and raising awareness about the significant role these charming owls play in local ecosystems.

8. 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, a small and long-legged owl species, boasts a distinctive and eye-catching appearance. Its sandy-brown plumage is adorned with bold white markings, creating a striking contrast that sets it apart from its avian counterparts. Perhaps one of its most remarkable features is its bright yellow eyes, which exude a sense of vitality and curiosity.

These owls are primarily found in the vast landscapes of North and South America, where they thrive in open habitats such as prairies, grasslands, and deserts. Notably, they have a unique nesting habit of burrowing into the ground, making their appearance in these regions all the more intriguing and memorable.

A Burrowing Owls peeking out from its hole

The Burrowing Owls in Oklahoma exhibit a truly unique nesting habit, relying on burrows excavated into the ground. These distinctive birds are known to make use of abandoned prairie dog burrows or even human-made burrows, adding to their distinctiveness in the state’s rich tapestry of wildlife.

With an affinity for insects and small mammals like voles and mice found in the open grasslands of Oklahoma, Burrowing Owls are closely tied to the prairie ecosystem. Their diet and nesting habits are intricately intertwined with the unique environment they inhabit.

Conservationists in Oklahoma are dedicated to safeguarding the open grasslands and ensuring suitable burrow availability for these owls. Human activities and habitat loss have impacted their populations, underscoring the critical importance of ongoing conservation efforts.

9. Western Screech Owl

  • Scientific name: Megascops kennicottii
  • Life span: 6-8 years
  • Size: 8-10 inches (20-25 cm)
  • Weight: 4.3-8.6 oz (122-244 g)
  • Wingspan: 18-24 inches (46-61 cm)
  • Status: Least Concern
  • State status: Breeding and rare

The Western Screech Owl, a diminutive and charismatic avian species, is distinguished by its tufted “ear” feathers, a feature that adds an element of charm to its overall appearance. Its plumage exhibits a range of colours, from grey to rufous, blending seamlessly with the woodlands, canyons, and urban parks it calls home.

One of its most captivating traits is its piercing yellow eyes, which give it an alert and engaging expression. These owls are native to the western regions of North America, where they have adapted to diverse environments, showcasing an appearance that is both subtle and captivating.

A couple of Western Screech-Owls enjoying the sun

Western Screech-Owls in Oklahoma are renowned for their adaptable nesting behaviour. They frequently select tree cavities as their nesting sites but readily embrace man-made nest boxes when natural sites are scarce. This adaptability ensures their survival in a changing landscape.

Thriving in the woodlands of Oklahoma, these owls maintain a diverse diet that primarily includes small mammals, insects, and occasionally small birds. Their nocturnal hunting skills make them valuable contributors to the state’s ecosystem.

Western Screech-Owls face habitat loss in Oklahoma due to urbanisation and deforestation. Conservation initiatives focus on preserving their woodland habitats and actively promote nest box programs to support their nesting needs.

10. 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 is a majestic and iconic bird known for its stunning and pristine appearance. Its large frame is adorned with immaculate white plumage, making it an emblem of the Arctic wilderness it calls home.

One notable aspect of this owl’s appearance is the absence of ear tufts, a feature present in many owl species. These owls are well-adapted to the frigid climates of the Arctic tundra, and while their primary habitat is in northern regions of North America and Eurasia, they occasionally make appearances in other areas, adding a touch of regal elegance to their surroundings.

A couple of Snowy Owls sitting on the ground

Snowy Owls are ground nesters, often selecting tiny mounds nestled deep within the expansive tundra far away from Oklahoma. Alternatively, they might utilize natural depressions in the ground. However, it’s more common for them to repurpose the abandoned nests of other avian inhabitants, such as Arctic Terns or other shorebirds. These majestic owls are monogamous creatures and exhibit the remarkable habit of returning to the same nesting site year after year, reinforcing their strong bond with their chosen habitats.

As for their dietary preferences, Snowy Owls predominantly indulge in lemmings, though they are known to diversify their menu with occasional servings of rodents, birds, and even fish. Their adaptability shines through as opportunistic hunters, making the most of whatever food sources are available in their environment.

Unfortunately, the Snowy Owl has earned a “Vulnerable” status according to the IUCN due to population declines in certain regions. The primary culprits behind this decline are habitat loss and the disruptive impacts of climate change on their natural habitats. Historically, these captivating creatures were also hunted for their prized feathers, which were sought after for clothing and ornamental purposes.

Where to look for Owls in Oklahoma

Oklahoma offers a diverse landscape that provides excellent opportunities for owl enthusiasts to spot these captivating birds. Whether you’re a seasoned birder or a beginner looking to embark on an owl-watching adventure, here’s a guide on where to find owls in Oklahoma and how to do it:

  • Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: Located in southwestern Oklahoma, this refuge is a prime owl-watching destination. The refuge’s varied terrain, including grasslands and rocky outcrops, attracts a variety of owl species. To spot owls here, plan a visit during the late afternoon or early evening and listen for their distinctive calls, such as the haunting hoots of Great Horned Owls and the eerie trills of Eastern Screech Owls.
  • Tallgrass Prairie Preserve: This vast expanse of preserved prairie in northern Oklahoma is another ideal location for owl sightings. Focus on areas with dense shrubs and trees along the edges of grasslands. Look for Barn Owls and Burrowing Owls perched on fence posts or flying low over the fields, especially during dusk and dawn.
  • Black Mesa State Park: Located in the panhandle region, Black Mesa is a haven for birdwatchers. Explore the park’s trails, such as the Black Mesa Summit Trail, during the evening hours to increase your chances of spotting Long-eared Owls and Western Screech Owls in the surrounding woodlands.
  • Tishomingo National Wildlife Refuge: In southern Oklahoma, this refuge boasts a mosaic of habitats, including bottomland hardwood forests and wetlands. Northern Saw-whet Owls and Barred Owls can often be found in these lush woodlands. Use a flashlight with a red filter to avoid disturbing the owls while searching for them.


In the heart of Oklahoma’s diverse landscapes, owls offer a captivating glimpse into the natural world. These enigmatic birds, whether nesting in the Wichita Mountains or gliding over the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, remind us of the delicate balance of ecosystems. To witness these silent, majestic hunters is to embrace the essence of wildlife in Oklahoma.

So, whether you’re a dedicated birder or a casual nature enthusiast, the state’s rich owl population invites you to explore, admire, and connect with the enchanting world of these nocturnal wonders.

Join the discussion