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Michigan Owls: Top 11 Species (Identification & Location Guide)

Written by Garrett Hayes

Last updated on May 6th, 2024
group of owls on a tree

Most people, then and now, see owls as a symbol of wisdom, while others see them as an omen. These are a few things that make the owls very interesting.


If you're a birder who'd like to know of your chances of encountering owls in Michigan, then congratulations! This article is for all bird lovers but most especially for you.

Let's dive into more details and start seeing these owls of Michigan as more than a part of Harry Potter's stories or a mainstay in a kid's book.

Different Types Of Owls In Michigan

Owls never fail to fascinate humans throughout history because of either the creepy Michigan owl sounds they make or their nocturnal habits.

There are several Michigan owl species that birders can find in this area; here are some of them:

1. Snowy Owl

White spotted owl

Snowy is a Michigan owl known for its white plumage, which makes a good winter camouflage. You will mostly encounter this owl sitting upon its mound or surveying its bleak domain. A considerable part of their population migrates to the United States occasionally.

Unlike most owls that live in Michigan, the snowy is not nocturnal.

It broadly flies in daylight or busy searching rabbits and other four-footed fares in marshes, open plains, and dunes along the sea and would often nest on the ground.

2. Eastern Screech-Owl

small blue and gray owl

This widespread little Michigan owl conforms very well in suburban areas. One of its most common Michigan owl identification is the rolling trill sound it makes.

It doesn't even screech despite its name.

Screech-owls make a familiar hollow whistle on one pitch like the rhythm of a bouncing ball halting to a standstill. They are scarce in places where barred, and great horned owls rule the night since these nocturnal predators commonly eat small-sized owls like them.

Those of their kind coming from the Eastern region have two color phases, while those from western North America are either gray or dull brown, never red. You can recognize this owl species effortlessly with its stocky body, large head, and with almost no neck at all.

3. Barred Owl

Brown owl with big eyes

The barred is among the puffy-headed owls in Michigan, also known as the "hoot owl" of Southern swamps and a frequent mainstay in woodlands. It is a relative of the ural owl, except that the barred owl is more aggressive with a less pronounced facial disc and a shorter tail.

This owl species got the name because of its physical appearance, a series of distinctive horizontal bars on its upper breast. It has brownish upperparts with heavy white spots, dark eyes, and a conspicuously yellowish bill.

While this owl species is primarily a nighttime creature, you would sometimes hear its call or hunt during the day.

It's also fond of perching in silence while observing its prey before it lunges on small birds, reptiles, insects, and spiders.

4. Great Horned Owl

owl with long ears and yellow eyes

It is among the Northern Michigan owls that have ear tufts taller than other owls with tufted ears. You will hardly have any challenges identifying this species.

It's quickly identifiable with its deep hooting sounds mostly dubbed into movie soundtracks with scenes from the cemetery.

Even the slightest rustling of small animals will immediately alert a great horned owl, prompting it to glide through the trees in silence as it prepares to strike swiftly. It effortlessly got its reputation of being the top predator in the food chain for often killing other owls and skunks.

Nonetheless, due to its vast array of distribution, this owl has approximately 13 subspecies, resulting in geographical variation.

5. Long-Eared Owl

Brown owl with big eyes and long ears

Suggestive of its name, this Michigan owl has long ear tufts. It also has a medium-sized body and pale, yellowish-orange eyes. Although they aren't visible when this owl is in flight or perched on a tree, their long ear tufts can be a quick identifier.

Apart from these features above, this species can be indistinguishable due to its timid behavior, cryptic colors, and capability to freeze against a perch with a flattened body.

6. Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Small brown and white owl

If you notice in pictures of owls in Michigan a species immensely fond of nesting in a birch tree, that's probably the Northern saw-whet owl.

You will encounter most of their population using holes made by woodpeckers around woodlands in North America.

This owl is among the tiniest ones you can find, noticeable with its dark bill, lack of ear tufts, chestnut-brown upperparts including dark white buff spots, and white underparts.

It's among the Michigan owls that's often reclusive but would sometimes forage in pairs for rodents or insects.

7. Short-Eared Owl

Brown and white owl with short ears

The short-eared is another worldwide owl species that is often hovering, sometimes soaring slow and lively when in flight. It mainly searches the open fields when looking for prey on cloudy days or toward dusk. Moreover, this owl is considerably territorial during its breeding season.

The short-eared owl has several subspecies, so the owl's appearance greatly varies on its geographical range.

But among its distinctive looks are its enormous head, short neck, tawny to buff-brown plumages, and small ear tufts visible only when it gets agitated.

This owl is commonly active in the daytime, hunting in late afternoons or on overcast days for small rodents or small birds in open spaces.

8. Northern Hawk Owl

gray and brown owl standing on a pole

A hawk species that is often mistaken as a diurnal bird of prey, the northern hawk owl is one powerful flier with crow-sized, hawklike features. It also has yellow eyes, a long tail, and a wing shape similar to a falcon.

You will mainly notice it prominently perching on top of a conifer tree, typically shifting territories depending on its food source availability.

It widely feeds on voles and lemmings, dwelling in places distant from human settlement and nesting in cavities or hollows.

9. Great Grey Owl

Brown owl standing on a wood log

This species is among the owls native to Michigan that weighs fifty times heavier than most owls. You can easily distinguish it with its flat, rounded face and staring yellow eyes, with face channels toward its ears, helping it pinpoint small mammals on the ground.

Some people would also call this the Lapland owl or the dark wood owl, and it has a remarkable ability to detect movement up to two feet under the snow.

Additionally, it is an active bird in the daytime, impressive for deep, slow wingbeats contributing to its steady flight.

10. Barn Owl

White and orange brown owl

A barn owl in Michigan is something you can barely call as common since its last sighting was way back in 2020.

It is infamous for its faint-colored upper parts, white underparts, rounded head, heart-shaped face, some spotting on the chest, and no ear tufts.

It enjoys companionship with humans than with other owls, prefer roosting in buildings and foraging in meadows and pastures.

You will more likely encounter it patrolling over fields and open grasslands in silence while searching for voles, shrews, and mice.

11. Boreal Owl

brown owl on a tree branch

The boreal owl is relatively a small owl with distinctive wide yellow eyes having an astounded expression, flat-topped head, and whitish-grey facial disks highlighted by black borders.

You will rarely have a chance of encountering it due to the owl's elusive, nocturnal habits and its preference for isolated mountain ranges.

However, when it goes out in the daytime, you have an increased likelihood of seeing it sitting discreetly on the trunk of a thick conifer.

It mainly preys on small rodents, occasionally birds and insects, detecting them merely by sound. The boreal's hunting style is lunging for its prey from an elevated perch and sometimes even stores it.

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of owls live in Michigan?

You will be delighted to know that Michigan is an excellent place to begin an owl adventure since the state is a haven filled with owls' natural habitats. As previously mentioned in this article, here are several of the owls you can encounter in Michigan: Snowy, Eastern screech, barred, great horned, long-eared, Northern saw-whet, short-eared, Northern hawk, great grey, barn, and boreal owls.

What is the largest owl in Michigan?

The great gray owl occasionally makes an appearance in the northern part of Michigan, and it is the largest of the forest owls. This owl species is also remarkable for its aggression when defending its territory.

How do you attract owls in Michigan?

Owls do not create their nests, so people often refer to them as settlers of nature. Therefore, they will most likely stay in any potential nesting sites that they can find.

For this reason, if you find it appealing to attract these nocturnal creatures into your backyard, here are a few pointers to ensure your success:

  • Create a nest box with an oval hole as an entrance. These owls will appreciate it if you could place it high on a tree or a pole.
  • Check and monitor your nest box since starlings are invasive species that would often start dwelling in it even before an owl discovers the box.
  • Like how you would attract any other birds, ensuring that there's a steady food source and clean water in your area will effectively draw the attention of owl visitors.
  • Make your space an owl-friendly environment that they will find hard to resist. Provide the owls some perches and turn off exterior lights at night since they are most active at night.
  • Attract creatures that owls hunt so you can effortlessly lure them into making your property their home. It includes insects and small animals.

If you're interested in building your own owl house, here's a guide for you:

Where to find owls in Michigan?

Learning more about the different species in your area can help you maximize your owl-watching experience and allow you to have a fun, memorable exploration.

Here are some of the infamous birding spots in Michigan where you can find these beautiful creatures:

  • Lake Erie Metropark
  • Port Huron State Game Area
  • Allegan State Game Area
  • Nayanquing Point State Wildlife Area
  • Huron-Manistee National Forest
  • Muskegon County Wastewater Treatment System
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
  • Seney National Wildlife Refuge
  • Whitefish Point Bird Observatory
  • Isle Royale National Park

When do owls mate in Michigan?

Most owls pair for life, but some species, like the great horned owls, begin their courtship display during the fall. Consequently, a significant number of the other species will mate during the winter in Michigan.

Final Thoughts

A significant part of owls being fascinating creatures aside from their distinctive looks is the fact that they rely on the element of surprise to catch prey. They also have good hearing despite not having external ears, making them twice as astonishing.

Most people describe them as cats with wings capable of muffling sounds, allowing them to swoop onto the undoubting target discreetly.

With creatures as mesmerizing as the Michigan owls, it's hardly surprising that more people start to see birdwatching as an enriching, exciting pursuit—inexpensive and enjoyed at any time.

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