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Owls in Colorado: 12 Diverse Species (Identification Tips)

brown owl on a tree branch

Colorado is home to a beautiful variety of owl species. The most popular of them, a giant owl widespread across the state.

Any clue?

You'd notice these apex predators lurking in the woods behind your house just after reading this article. The trick is to listen for the owls rather than find them.

Learning as little as to how they call or their behavior also helps.

Now, let's talk about all the twelve owls that live or visit our Centennial State.

The Great Horned Owl seems to be stealing the show, so we'd get at them first.

Colorado Owls Identification Tip

Most of these owl species are Colorado birds that would take up nest boxes if you have a forested backyard.

The 12 Types Of Owls In Colorado

1. Great Horned Owl

Brown and white owl in the forest
  • Length: 18 to 24.8 inches
  • Wingspan: 39.8 to 57.1 inches
  • Weight: 910 to 2500 grams

The great horned owl is always a sight to behold despite its popularity in Colorado.

They are found practically anywhere, from evergreen forests to deserts and suburbs to city parks. Colorado Parks and Wildlife even boast there's a great horned owl in every Colorado park.

It would be an easy task yet a breathtaking sight to find a great horned owl in Colorado.

If you decide to explore, listen for their famous hoot call, to begin with, you might just find your neighborhood occupant.

Great horned owls don't really have horns, but an ear tuft with no use for hearing.

The tuft is only an extension of an owl's skin, covered in feathers, called plumicorns. Their actual ears are on the side of the head, protected by feathers or flaps in some species.

These big guys have bright yellow eyes and mottled gray-brown feathers that blend with their habitat.

As formidable avian predators, they hunt prey thrice their size and settle for smaller animals, minuscule and deadly as scorpions. It's easy to see why their numbers are a "least concern".

It's also why a school of American Crows would mob a great horned owl for hours on end if they cross paths. If you hear crows cawing, you'd possibly spot one at the crime scene.

2. Long-Eared Owl

Brown owl with big eyes and long ears
  • Length: 13.8 to 15.8 inches
  • Wingspan: 35.4 to 39.4 inches
  • Weight: 220 to 435 grams

Long-eared owls are lanky and especially known for their long ear tufts. But they have a strange facial resemblance to cats.

A buff, orangey cheek intensifies their bulgy yellow eyes and pointed ear tufts, giving them the look of a startled cat.

These cat owls are found in dense trees and forests of the Western Slope and sporadically across the state in winter.

Long-eared owls are unique social owls who'd roost with other birds to survive cold winters - not what you'd expect of a predator.

Also called lesser owls, they are talkative and loud during the breeding season. They'd hoot anywhere from twenty to two hundred times daily, their calls heard in over half a mile radius.

Unrelated to their long ear tufts, these owl species have astounding hearing that enables them to snatch prey in pitch-black darkness. 

3. Barn Owl

White and orange brown owl
  • Length: 12. 6 to 15.8 inches
  • Wingspan: 39.4 inches to 4.2 inches
  • Weight: 400 to 700 grams

Barn owls are the world's most widespread owls globally, and Colorado is home to many. They breed across the state and stay all year, too.

These heart-shaped owls appear a tad different from many owls because they aren't true owls. They are the only owls in Colorado that come from the Tytonidae family.

Barn owls typically have brownish-buff plumage across the back and upper wings. They have a white face and chest. At night, they may even strike you as white birds.

The barn owls earn their name from nesting in abandoned barn houses and silos.

They'd take up a man-made nest box if your area is safe and close enough to food. Many of them nest in tree cavities like owls do and even in caves.

These predators hunt in vast open areas with only a few trees like prairies, marshes, or swamps.

4. Eastern Screech Owl

Gray little owl
  • Length: 6.3 to 9.8 inches
  • Wingspan: 18.9 to 24 inches
  • Weight: 121 to 244 grams

The eastern screech owl is the more popular screech owl in Colorado. It's a lot smaller than the species we've touched, more like an overweight robin.

Eastern screech owls might be small but are particularly mean-looking—owl stereotype aside. Their yellow-colored eyes, bulging black eyeballs, and pointed ear-tufts give them a menacing look.

These gray-brown birds also have a mastery of camouflage. The mottled pattern of their feathers mimics the tree trunks they roost in.

Unless you are observant and have laser-sharp eyes, you'd only hear their whiny hoot tune.

Eastern screech occupies woods close to rivers in Northeastern Colorado, along the Kansas border, and even down to the Denver metro.

Screech owl locations can be exposed by songbirds during the day. When the birds find their predator at its weakest, inside a trunk, they harass it, sometimes forcing a change of location. 

5. Western Screech Owl

Side view of a gray owl
  • Length: 7.5 to 9.8 inches
  • Wingspan: 21.6 24.4 inches
  • Weight: 100 to 305 grams

Western screech owls are about the same size as their eastern counterparts. And second, of the only two screech owls in colorado, western screech owls are about the same size as their eastern counterparts.

Like their cousins, they are adept at blending into tree trunks they roost in. You could miss one even if you were staring right at it, in front of its entrance.

The western screech owls, however, sing a different song - the Bouncing ball Song.

Ever heard a ball drop on hardwood? They make the same melody in a tune of 5-9 whistled hoots, often heard at dusk and at night.

These nocturnal birds hunt rodents, insects, reptiles, or even bigger creatures that dare step into their territory.

Western screech owls can be seen in Southwest Colorado and near the Arkansas River. Their population is okay, so they should be easy to find.

Western screech owls are particularly tolerant of humans, you may even spot one in a crowded park.

6. Barred Owl

Brown owl with big eyes
  • Length: 16.9 to 19.7 inches 
  • Wingspan: 39 to 43.3 inches
  • Weight: 470 to 1050 grams

The barred owl, an archenemy of spotted owls, is a rare and spectacular find in Colorado. They are mostly found in the southeastern parts of the state, near the Oklahoma panhandle.

Barred owls are one of the larger owls of Colorado. They are just as lethal as great-horned owls, who also happen to be their greatest enemies.

These heavily spotted birds threaten the survival of their look-alike cousins, spotted owls - they both battle for supremacy in north-central Colorado.

You'd recognize their distinct "who cooks for you" hooting. Barred owls call during the day at times but are active and vocal at night.

A nest box will attract a breeding pair if you have mature deciduous or evergreen trees in your backyard.

7. Short-Eared Owl

Brown and white owl with big eyes
  • Length: 13.4 to 16.9 inches
  • Wingspan: 33.5 to 40.5 inches
  • Weight: 206 to 405 grams

Short-eared owls are one of the most widely distributed bird species. And one of only a few crepuscular - active at twilight hours - owls in the world.

As it seems, Colorado has a penchant for housing rare spectacular owls.

These owls can be found all over the state in grasslands, marshes, prairies, airports, and agricultural fields. You'd have luck finding them in their favorite spots during winter, at dusk or dawn.

Short-eared owls have small, almost invisible ear tufts, so their heads are well-rounded.

Their face lights up seeing with black-rimmed yellow eyes. And their plumage, mainly brown, with streaks of buff and white like dry grass.

As a result, they blend into their habitat in grasslands. That trait makes these mid-sized owls phenomenal vole hunters and elite predators.

Short-haired owls are known for crisscrossing great distances. So, if one flies out of sight, relax, it would likely reappear.

8. Flammulated Owl

black and blue owl
  • Length: 5.9 to 6.7 inches
  • Wingspan: 15.9 to 16.1 inches
  • Weight: 43 to 63 grams

The flammulated owl is the smallest in Colorado, no more than the size of a juice can, a half-full one too.

Unsurprisingly, they are elusive and also have a low population in the state.

Flammulated owls have roughly mottled brown and white plumage that's well camouflaged against trees.

It becomes harder to spot them because they roost at the top of large coniferous or deciduous trees.

Flammulated owls feed almost entirely on insects, again, not a surprise for their size. But these owls eat small vertebrates like bats and mice as well.

Even the call of the flammulated owl is elusive. They have a low-pitched hoot that's considering their size, and this Colorado owl sounds farther away than it really is.

Also, flammulated owls nest/roost almost exclusively in mature trees, so it might be hard to draw them to a nest box.

9. Burrowing Owl

small brown burrowing owl
  • Length: 7.5 to 9.8 inches
  • Wingspan: 21.6 inches
  • Weight: 150 grams

Burrowing owls happen to be my favorite among owls native to Colorado because they are so cute; like most hawks in Colorado. But with a distinctly large, rounded head and prominent eyes, you'd recognize they are owls.

As their name implies, they live in burrows, especially those abandoned by prairie dogs in arid plains.

It's intriguing to see an owl active during the day, more spectacular with burrowing owls dwell on the ground.

Since they cohabit with prairie dogs, you can find them in the Eastern plains of Colorado foraging insects.

10. Mexican Spotted Owl

Brown spotted Owl
  • Length: 18.5 to 18.9 inches
  • Wingspan: 39.8 inches
  • Weight: 500 to 700 grams

Remember the calm and smaller cousins barred owls harass?


They are called Mexican spotted owls (the only spotted owl species—out of three, found in Colorado).

These large owls are already listed as endangered, but their numbers still decline from habitat loss. Worse, they are sensitive to the slightest habitat disturbance.

The few spotted owls you'd find in old-growth forests are in heavy competition with the much aggressive barred owls.

11. Boreal Owl

brown owl on a tree branch
  • Length: 8.3 to 11 inches
  • Wingspan: 21.6 to 24.4 inches
  • Weight: 93 to 215 grams

Boreal owls are one of the smaller owls of Colorado. They are only about the size of a robin, but more stocky.

These owls have distinguishable large, squarish heads like a depiction out of a cartoon.

While female owls are larger than males, female boreal double the size of their male counterparts - the largest gap among American owls.

Boreal owls can be seen year-round in the central mountains of Colorado, and in fir and spruce forests.

12. Snowy Owl

White spotted owl
  • Length: 20.5 to 27.9 inches
  • Wingspan: 49.6 to 57.1 inches
  • Weight: 1600 to 2950 grams

If you ever spot a snowy owl in colorado, you'd know right away. Its white plumage would be out of place anywhere it finds itself, outside the snow-white arctic regions.

Snowy owls breed in the arctic regions of Canada and Alaska, rarely ever visiting Colorado, most times during the winter, when food is scarce.

During an irruptive winter, which happens about every four years, you may find young snowy owls near Colorado Springs, Denver, and Fort Collins.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Type Of Owls Live In Colorado?

Large-sized owls like the Great Horned and Barred owls can be found in Colorado. The Centennial State is also home to the smallest owl species in the world, like Flammulated Owls and Boreal Owls as well as diurnal owls like the Short-eared owls and the Burrowing owls, respectively. 

What Is The Largest Owl In Colorado?

The largest owl in Colorado is the Great Horned Owl. Also known as the Tiger Owl, or Hoot Owl, it stands over twenty-five inches, from crown to tail, with a wingspan nearly five feet long. The Tiger Owl weighs in at over five pounds.

How Big Do Owls Get In Colorado?

Colorado is home to a variety of large owls and smaller guys alike. Great Horned Owls, the largest of them all, weigh up to five pounds and have a claw pound-force of 20 pounds.

Flammulated owls are the smallest owl you'd ever see in Colorado. They weigh less than two gold and are no bigger than chickadees, only more stocky.

Are There Barn Owls In Colorado?

Barn owls, the most widespread owl species in the world, can be found year-round, all around Colorado. They nest in tree cavities, burrows, and also man-made structures like barns and abandoned warehouses.

Watch as a barn owl tries to hunt during daytime here:

Is It Illegal To Kill An Owl In Colorado?

Yes, it's illegal to kill or shoot an owl or any bird of prey in the state of Colorado. The birds are protected by state and federal laws, so you'd be committing a felony if you killed one. 

Wrapping Up 

Owls are stunning all the time; whether in a cute, creepy, or stunning way.

Sometimes, mastering how a Colorado owl sounds might just help you find one halfheartedly on one night.

Which is your favorite?

You can tell from looking at our pictures of owls in Colorado. Mine's the burrowing owl.

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