In the vast expanse of New Mexico’s diverse landscapes, a fascinating variety of owls make their homes. This article introduces twelve different species that can be found throughout the state. From the majestic great horned owl, which is commonly spotted in various regions, to the elusive elf owl, which is rare in the United States and can only be found in New Mexico. Each species is described in terms of size, appearance, and preferred habitat, ranging from desert to suburban areas and large forests. The article also mentions the national forests in New Mexico, such as Gila National Forest and Carson National Forest, as excellent places to embark on an owl-spotting adventure. For those intrigued by the behavior, diet, and unique calls of these mesmerizing creatures, this article offers a brief glimpse into their world.
The Barn Owl is a majestic bird known for its heart-shaped face and light-colored feathers. It is a medium-sized owl, measuring about 13 to 15 inches in length. This species can be found in various habitats, including deserts, grasslands, and agricultural areas. However, it is more commonly found in suburban areas and near human settlements.
The Barn Owl has excellent low-light vision, which allows it to hunt efficiently during dusk and dawn. Its diet mainly consists of small mammals, such as mice, voles, and rats. This species is also known for its distinctive screeching call, which can be quite eerie to hear at night.
The Boreal Owl, also known as the Tengmalm’s Owl, is a small-sized owl that measures about 9 to 11 inches in length. It has a round face and small, bright yellow eyes. This species can be found in forests and wooded areas, particularly in coniferous forests.
The Boreal Owl primarily feeds on small rodents, such as voles and mice. It is a nocturnal owl, meaning it is most active during the night. If you’re lucky, you might hear its soft hooting call echoing through the forest during quiet evenings.
The Burrowing Owl is a unique species known for its distinctive behavior of nesting in burrows rather than trees. It is a small-sized owl, measuring about 9 to 11 inches in length. This species prefers open habitats, including grasslands, deserts, and agricultural areas.
Unlike many other owl species, the Burrowing Owl is diurnal, which means it is active during the day. It primarily feeds on insects, small mammals, and occasionally small birds. If you happen to come across a burrowing owl, you may witness its interesting behavior of standing upright near its burrow, watching the surroundings for potential prey or predators.
The Elf Owl is one of the smallest owl species in the world, measuring only about 5 to 6 inches in length. It has a unique appearance with a compact body, round head, and bright yellow eyes. This species prefers desert habitats, specifically in areas with mesquite trees and cacti.
Due to its small size, the Elf Owl primarily feeds on insects, including beetles, moths, and grasshoppers. It is a nocturnal owl, and its call is often described as a high-pitched whistle. The Elf Owl is quite rare in the United States and can only be spotted in New Mexico.
The Flammulated Owl is a small-sized owl that measures about 6 to 7 inches in length. It has a mottled brown and gray plumage that serves as excellent camouflage in the forested areas it prefers. This species can be found in coniferous forests, particularly in areas with dense vegetation.
The Flammulated Owl feeds primarily on insects, especially moths and beetles. It is a nocturnal owl and can be quite difficult to spot due to its small size and secretive nature. If you’re lucky enough to see one, you might hear its repeated series of hoots, resembling the soft blowing of a flute.
Great Horned Owl
The Great Horned Owl is one of the most widespread and well-known owl species in North America. It is a large-sized owl, measuring about 18 to 25 inches in length. This species has distinctive ear tufts on its head, giving it a unique appearance.
Great Horned Owls can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, deserts, and even urban areas. They have a diverse diet, which includes small mammals, birds, reptiles, and even larger prey such as rabbits or skunks. Their iconic call, often described as “hoo-hoo-hoo-hoohoo,” is a familiar sound in the nighttime forest.
The Long-Eared Owl is a medium-sized owl species, measuring about 13 to 16 inches in length. It has long ear tufts on its head, making it easily identifiable. This species prefers dense forests and woodlands, particularly in areas with coniferous trees.
Long-Eared Owls primarily feed on small mammals, such as mice, voles, and shrews. They are predominantly nocturnal and can be quite difficult to spot due to their excellent camouflage and secretive nature. If you’re lucky, you might catch sight of a Long-Eared Owl silently perched on a tree branch, blending in seamlessly with its surroundings.
Mexican Spotted Owl
The Mexican Spotted Owl is a medium-sized owl species that measures about 16 to 19 inches in length. It has a mottled brown and white plumage with prominent spots on its body, giving it its name. This species can be found in large areas of forests, particularly in rocky canyons and steep slopes.
The Mexican Spotted Owl primarily feeds on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. It is a nocturnal owl but can sometimes be seen during twilight hours. Unfortunately, this species is considered endangered due to habitat loss and degradation. Therefore, spotting a Mexican Spotted Owl is a rare and special experience.
Northern Pygmy Owl
The Northern Pygmy Owl is a small-sized owl, measuring about 6 to 7 inches in length. It has a compact body, a round head, and striking yellow eyes. This species can be found in various habitats, including forests, woodlands, and even suburban areas.
Despite its small size, the Northern Pygmy Owl can be quite fierce, often preying on small birds and mammals. It is a diurnal owl, meaning it is active during the day. If you’re lucky enough to spot one, you might witness its swift and agile flight as it hunts for prey.
Western Screech Owl
The Western Screech Owl is a small-sized owl species that measures about 8 to 10 inches in length. It has a mottled gray and brown plumage, which provides excellent camouflage in its preferred habitats, such as woodlands, forests, and even urban areas.
The Western Screech Owl primarily feeds on small mammals, birds, and insects. It is a nocturnal owl and can be quite difficult to spot due to its small size and secretive nature. If you hear a series of soft trills and whinnies during the night, it might just be the Western Screech Owl looking for its next meal.
New Mexico offers a diverse habitat for these 12 species of owls. From the deserts to the forests, these majestic creatures have carved out their niches and adapted to their surroundings. National forests, such as Gila National Forest, Lincoln National Forest, Cibola National Forest, and Carson National Forest, are great places to explore if you’re interested in spotting these owls.
Each species has its own unique characteristics, from size and appearance to preferred habitat and behavior. Some, like the Great Horned Owl, can be found throughout New Mexico, while others, like the Elf Owl, are rare in the United States and can only be spotted in the state. Understanding the behavior, diet, and calls of these owls adds to the excitement of seeing them in their natural habitats.
Whether you’re a bird enthusiast or simply appreciate the beauty of these nocturnal creatures, New Mexico’s owls offer a fascinating glimpse into the diverse wildlife of the region. So grab your binoculars and explore the forests, deserts, and woodlands, and who knows, you might just have a close encounter with one of these mesmerizing owls.