Last Updated: September 21, 2022
Whether you live in Massachusetts or plan to visit, you don't want to miss out on the state's wildlife.
The state hosts over 300 bird species every year, eight being owls. Known for their mysteriousness, these majestic birds prefer hiding in the wild.
We prepared a guide on how you can identify the eight owls in Massachusetts to prepare you for your next birding trip. Read on!
- Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
- Barred Owl (Strix varia)
- Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)
- Great-Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
- Long-Eared Owl (Asio otus)
- Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)
- Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
- Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
- Watch This!
- Frequently Asked Questions
Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
You can easily recognize a Barn Owl with its white, heart-shaped face. It also has long, exposed legs and lacks ear tufts. Meanwhile, its upperparts are a mix of orange-brown, white, and gray.
Males have white underparts, while females are orange-brown. Both sexes have black spots on their underparts, but they're hardly visible from a distance.
Barn Owls are year-round residents in Massachusetts, although they're pretty uncommon. Mass Audubon's map says they're only found in Cape Cod and the Islands.
You can find them in open foraging areas, such as marshes, grasslands, and farmlands. Barn Owls usually nest in caves and hollow trees. However, they also nest in artificial sites, such as barns, churches, and abandoned buildings.
Barn Owls primarily eat small rodents like rats and mice and other mammals like rabbits and shrews. They rarely eat other birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and fish.
Although owls tend to be nocturnal, the Barn Owl is one of the species seen least during the daytime.
Barred Owl (Strix varia)
Overall, the Barred Owl has a mottled brown and white color. The word "barred" refers to the horizontal stripes on its neck and upperparts, and the vertical stripes on its underparts.
You can also identify this bird with the concentric rings around each eye and its lack of ear tufts. It also has brown eyes, compared to most owl species with yellow eyes.
According to Mass Audubon, Barred Owls are present year-round in most of Massachusetts, except for its southeastern regions. They're usually located in deep, dense forests near waterways.
These relatively large owls usually nest in natural tree cavities or old nests of other animals. They rarely nest on the ground.
Barred Owls primarily eat small mammals. However, they also hunt other birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, and various fish.
The Great-Horned Owl is the biggest predatory threat to the Barred Owl. Although they often share the same habitat, a Barred Owl will move somewhere else when a Great-Horned Owl is nearby.
Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)
The Eastern Screech Owl can be gray or rufous in color, but both share the same patterns. Specifically, it has complex bars and streaks that help it camouflage against tree bark.
Meanwhile, it has yellow eyes, an olive-colored beak, and short ear tufts.
The Eastern Screech Owl is present year-round in the eastern half of the USA. Mass Audubon states that they're absent in the western extremes of Massachusetts.
You can find an Eastern Screech Owl in any habitat with large trees and some open ground. This can be in both rural and urban settings. If there's a nesting box around, you may find one there too. They usually avoid areas where larger owls reside.
Eastern Screech Owls have a varied diet but mostly eat small rodents and large insects. They may also hunt birds, fish, reptiles, and other small animals.
Due to poor breeding conditions, nestling Eastern Screech Owls may kill their smallest sibling while fighting among themselves for food.
Great-Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
The Great Horned Owl is among the largest owls in the state. It's usually mottled gray and dark brown, but the pale variation is grayer.
You may also recognize it through its yellow eyes, distinct facial disk, and prominent ear tufts.
Great Horned Owls have an extensive range and reside year-round throughout most of North America. They're one of the most common owls in Massachusetts.
These owls live in various habitats, including evergreen and deciduous forests, deserts, swamps, canyons, suburbs, parks, and cities. However, they avoid unbroken grasslands and tundra during mating season.
Usually, Great Horned Owls nest in old stick nests of other large birds.
Great Horned Owls can eat various creatures, but mostly birds and mammals. Their thick bodies allow them to consume large prey, including raptors like Peregrine Falcons, Ospreys, and other owls.
Due to its hunting behavior, the Great Horned Owl is often considered the nocturnal counterpart of the Red-Tailed Hawk.
Long-Eared Owl (Asio otus)
As the name suggests, the Long-Eared Owl has long tufts of feathers that resemble ears. These long ears are erect like an exclamation point, giving the owl a surprised expression.
Meanwhile, its gray and dark brown body is heavily-streaked, with yellow eyes, orange facial disks, and white stripes between the eyes.
This owl is a permanent but rare resident of Massachusetts. According to Mass Audubon, the Long-Eared Owl population may be nearly gone from the state as a breeding species.
Nevertheless, Long-Eared Owls are usually located around an open country for foraging and dense trees or shrubs for nesting. They use the old nests of other birds.
Long-Eared Owls mostly eat small mammals, feeding heavily on the region's rodent population. However, they may also hunt small birds, reptiles, amphibians, and other small creatures.
The Long-Eared Owl may have communal nesting during winter, an unusual characteristic for owls.
Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)
The Northern Saw-whet Owl is about the size of a robin, making it one of the smallest owls. Some of its prominent characteristics are its large head, big, yellow eyes, and lack of ear tuft feathers.
This tiny owl also has brown upperparts with some white spots, while its underparts are white with thick, brown stripes.
Northern Saw-whet Owls are present year-round in Massachusetts. Their elusive nature makes them difficult to record, but Mass Audubon stated that their population has increased since the late 1970s.
They're usually located in dense forests, especially the coniferous kind. However, they may also be in mixed woods.
These birds typically nest in tree cavities, particularly in holes abandoned by woodpeckers. Additionally, they may use artificial nest boxes.
Northern Saw-whet Owls primarily eat rodents, especially mice that live in the forest. However, they may also eat large insects and small birds.
When there's plenty of food, it's common for the Northern Saw-whet Owl to eat only the head of the prey and save the rest for later.
Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
The Short-Eared Owl is characterized by its short ear tufts, although they're difficult to observe from afar.
Its upperparts are mottled light and dark brown, while its underparts are pale with thin, dark streaks.
Finally, the Short-Eared Owl has yellow eyes, a black bill, a short tail, and broad wings with a rounded end.
Short-Eared Owls migrate to Massachusetts during winter after their breeding season in more northern states and Canada.
However, their population significantly decreased due to habitat loss. According to Mass Audubon, there have only been two sightings on Nantucket's Tuckernuck Island.
They prefer being in open spaces like grasslands, prairies, tundra, and marshes. Furthermore, they usually nest among shrubs and tall grass on the ground.
Short-Eared Owls mostly eat rodents, especially voles. However, they may also feed on other mammals and birds. They also hunt during the day, unlike most owl species.
A female Short-Eared Owl is usually reluctant to leave its nest. If the parent is forced to go, it will poop on its eggs to keep predators away.
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)
The Snowy Owl is a relatively large owl, about the size of a robin. You can easily recognize it by the all-white body with some brown markings. These markings are considerably denser on females.
Besides that, the Snowy Owl has yellow eyes, no tufts, and thick feathers on the legs, protecting it from the cold.
Snowy Owls are residents of the arctic regions, only visiting Massachusetts and other northern states during winter. You can find these large owls on shorelines, marshes, fields, and prairies.
Additionally, Snowy Owls may roost on buildings in towns and cities. They usually breed in the treeless arctic tundra, nesting on a raised site.
Snowy Owls have a varied diet consisting of mammals, birds, and sometimes fish and carrion.
They may feed almost exclusively on lemmings in the Arctic so long as they're available. Meanwhile, they consume many birds in coastal areas.
The Snowy Owl is white because its feathers lack pigment. This leaves more space for air, increasing the insulating ability of the feathers.
Birdhub Speak: We're not done yet, avian buddies! Keep reading for more interesting facts about owls in this state -- Owls Of New Jersey.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there any owls in Massachusetts?
Yes, here is a quick recap of the eight owl species in Massachusetts, arranged in alphabetical order:
- Barn Owl
- Barred Owl
- Eastern Screech Owl
- Great-Horned Owl
- Long-Eared Owl
- Northern Saw-Whet Owl
- Short-Eared Owl
- Snowy Owl
Is it good to have owls in your yard?
Yes, because they eat a lot of rodents. Owls can help improve your living conditions by hunting the mice and squirrels around your house. If you have a farm, then encouraging the Barn Owl species to stick around can be beneficial since they provide free pest control.
Are there Great Gray Owls in Massachusetts?
Yes, but they're pretty rare. Like the Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus) and Northern Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula), the Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) resides in Canada but may visit Massachusetts during winter.
Note: Boreal Owls, Northern Hawk Owls, and Great Gray Owls are three rare visitors to New England.
Owls are truly fascinating creatures you don't want to miss. These animals are pretty reclusive, so seeing one in action can really thrill you.
You don't even have to explore the wilderness to see one of these eight owls - some of which can be seen in residential neighborhoods!
So then, keep your eyes peeled and your ears open. You never know what you may stumble across in the Bay State.