Michigan is home to a wide variety of animals, many of which are resilient to the fairly cold climate of the Northern state. As well as very cold winters, Michigan is also known for having hot and humid summers. These drastic seasonal changes, alongside the vast variety of available habitats, make Michigan an attractive state to owl species. Currently, Michigan is home to 11 unique owls.
List of Owls in Michigan
The great grey owl is a large species, exceeding 30 inches in length, dwarfing the already tiny Northern saw-whet owl which is roughly a quarter of its size.
Morphology is another factor in which these owls differ. The snowy owl can be almost pure white, contrasting greatly with the mottled brown plumage of the long-eared owl.
Despite all being found in Michigan, these owls reside in different regions and habitats of the state, depending on their life history.
Great Gray Owl
Scientific Name: Strix nebulosa
The great gray owl is covered in feathers, a beautiful combination of gray, silver, and brown. Across their neck is a patch of snow-white feathers in the shape of a bow tie, making it seem as though the owl is dressed in a handsome suit.
In length, gray owls are the largest owl species in Michigan and the United States reaching over 30 inches long. However, the majority of their size can be attributed to their tick plumage, meaning they weigh little in comparison to their size.
Great gray owls hunt in the daylight and under the cover of darkness. They consume small mammals such as moles, voles, and lemmings. They can be found in the evergreen forests across the Northern Hemisphere.
Michigan is one of the few states they can be found in but they are most abundant in the Southern regions.
Scientific Name: Tyto alba
Barn owls have a slender physique and can be easily identified by their iconic heart-shaped face. Buff-brown feathers coat their back and wings whilst their underparts are pure white, giving them an elegant appearance.
Small mammals including voles, shrews, and mice make up the bulk of this owl’s diet. Barn owl hunt by sitting on high perches looking for prey. They will silently fly down and grab their prey using their razor-sharp talons.
The barn owl can be found in open farmland and countryside habitats. As their name suggests, they often frequent man-made structures, particularly old barns. They range across every continent apart from Antarctica.
Michigan hosts barn owls all year round, but their range only extends across the Southernmost parts of the state.
Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
The snowy owl can be said to have a somewhat cute appearance due to their round head and fluffy feet. Their plumage can be virtually pure white, which is most common in males, or streaked heavily with brown, which is the most common female coloration.
Primarily, they consume small mammals including lemmings, which are their favored prey. These owls are diurnal and live in the arctic tundra, which provides plenty of vantage points for hunting.
Snowy owls are found in the arctic regions of Eurasia and America. These birds favor open areas and can be spotted anywhere from shorelines to airport lands.
They can be found across the whole of Michigan, but only during their winter range.
Great Horned Owl
Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
The great horned owl gets its name from its long ear tufts that resemble horns. Mottled gray-brown feathers cover their large and robust bodies. Piercing, yellow-orange eyes stand out from their face and are further accentuated by their bushy, V-shaped eyebrows.
The diet of this apex predator is a diverse one. They predominantly consume rodents but are also known for hunting other large birds of prey, sometimes larger than themselves.
The great horned owl can be found in a variety of habitats. They favor evergreen and deciduous forests but also frequent suburban environments, deserts, wetlands, and open areas.
Their range expands across North, South, and Central America. They are one of the largest owl species in Michigan and frequent the entire state all year long.
Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
The plumage of short-eared owls is a mottled mixture of brown, beige, and white. Their whole body is heavily streaked, especially their upper breast. Their underwings are pale with a dark, comma-shaped marking. Piercing, yellow-orange eyes stand out from the ring of surrounding black feathers.
Short-eared owls hunt mainly during the night but are known to be diurnal as well. These birds fly low to the ground, just above the grasslands. They will quickly swoop down and grab prey with their sharp talons.
Their diet mainly consists of rodents, especially voles, but they can also eat smaller species of birds. These owls live in open habitats such as tundra and grassland. They can be found on almost every continent apart from Antarctica and Asia.
When searching for short-eared owls in Michigan, it’s best to look for them in the Southern part of the state, as the Northern region hosts their breeding range only. They are year-round residents.
Scientific Name: Asio otus
As their name suggests, these owls have long ear tufts that point straight up. Along with their white eyebrows and round, yellow eyes, these owls appear to wear a somewhat surprised expression.
Long-eared owls have a mottled brown-orange plumage that is paler on their chest and belly and a rust-orange face. They feed mainly on small mammals such as voles and mice, that they hunt during the night.
These birds live in dense, coniferous woodlands across Eurasia and North and South America. Long-eared owls are a quiet species, becoming most verbal during mating season.
In Central and Southern Michigan, these birds of prey are permanent residents. However, they can only be seen in the Northern parts of the state during their breeding season.
Scientific Name: Strix varia
The barred owl is also known as the Northern barred owl, striped owl, or hoot owl. Barred owls are relatively large and stocky with mottled white and brown plumage. They have horizontal bars on their chest and vertical bars on their belly.
Their eyes are large and ink-black. Barred owls roost in trees during the day and hunt for rodents at night. These birds live in large forests with mixed evergreen and deciduous trees, not far from water sources. They nest in natural tree cavities as well as nest boxes.
Barred owl’s range extends from the Eastern to the Southwestern United States. They are sedentary and non-migratory in nature and can be commonly seen throughout the whole of Michigan.
Northern Hawk Owl
Scientific Name: Surnia ulula
Piercing, yellow eyes stand out from their white face that is surrounded by a black border. These owls are mainly brown above with white speckles. Their belly is white with strong, brown barring.
Northern hawk owls have an oval-shaped body that is emphasized through their long tail and short wings.
Small mammals, such as mice make up the bulk of this owl’s diet. Unusually for owls, they are diurnal so hunt during the day. They have excellent eyesight, perching on the top of trees scanning for prey, which they will swoop down and catch with their talons.
Northern hawk owls frequent open, mixed woodlands and forests or marshy habitats. They require tall trees that provide great perching points. They are distributed in the Northern United States.
Michigan is within the limits of its Southernmost habitat range, meaning it can be rare to observe in the state, despite being a non-migratory species.
Small Owls in Michigan
Northern Saw-Whet Owl
Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
Northern saw-whet owls are very small, measuring around 8 inches tall. They have large, rounded heads and squat bodies. Their plumage is mottled brown and they have a spotted white head. Their bellies are mostly white with pale brown streaking.
Being nocturnal, these owls hunt mainly for small mammals under the cover of darkness but supplement their diet with small birds and invertebrates. They favor dense forests but can be seen in open habitats when hunting for small birds and mammals.
Northern saw-whet owls reside across Southern Canada, the United States, and Mexico. They are not only the smallest owl in Michigan but one of the tiniest birds of prey in the country. They are permanent residents throughout the entire state.
Eastern Screech Owl
Scientific Name: Megascops asio
The Eastern screech owl has a short and stout appearance due to its large head and virtually no neck. Their head is adorned with pointed ear tufts. These owls come in two morphs, either red or gray.
The red morph has red-brown plumage with dark streaks whilst the gray morph has dark and light gray streaked feathers. True to their name, these owls make a screeching noise meaning they are often heard before they are seen.
Their patterned plumage provides cryptic coloration among the trees. They feed on a variety of small animals such as birds, mammals, and reptiles. They live in dense forests near water sources, with plenty of tree cavities to nest in.
Eastern screech owls live in East America and can be found in Michigan all year round. They are found almost everywhere in the state except the Northernmost parts.
Scientific Name: Aegolius funereus
Small and squat, these owls have a large, square-shaped head on top of their stocky body. They are a small species, ranging from 8 to 11 inches in length. Overall, they are brown, with white spots on their back and white bars along their belly.
Small mammals including mice, voles, squirrels, and shrews constitute the majority of their diet. They also consume birds and insects. These birds implement a sit-and-wait hunting strategy, scanning for prey from high perches.
They swoop down and attack their prey with their talons. Similarly to other owl species, they regurgitate pellets of indigestible material like bones and fur.
Boreal owls reside in the boreal forests that stretch across North America and Eurasia. They favor regions that are in high elevation.
Non-migratory, these birds can be found all year round in the state of Michigan.
What Sounds Do Michigan Owls Make?
The great gray owl produces a series of low-pitched ‘hoos’.
Unlike most owl species, barn owls do not ‘hoot’ but instead produce a long, harsh scream sound that lasts roughly 2 seconds.
Both sexes of snowy owls produce low, rasping ‘hoots’. They often give two in a row and are so powerful they can be heard around 7 miles away.
Great horned owls produce deep, soft-sounding ‘hoo’ notes in a stuttering rhythm. They often vocalize in order to advertise their territories.
Short-eared owls are a seldom vocal species. Primarily, it is the males that produce noise, being a series of ‘hoots’ during courtship.
Silent most of the year, long-eared owls can mostly be heard during the breeding season. Males produce a complex repertoire of deep and powerful ‘whoo’ notes.
The barred owl is iconic for its call. They produce a hooting call which sounds like ‘who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?’.
Northern hawk owls produce a sound unique from many other owl species. They sing a whistled, rolling ‘ulululul’ tune that lasts roughly 14 seconds.
Northern saw-whet owls produce a distinctive ‘too-too’ song.
As their name implies, Eastern screech owls produce a high-pitched scream. They also produce low, soft ‘hoots’.
Boreal owls produce a series of low, whistled ‘toots’ that get progressively louder.