15 Species of Owls Found in Washington State

In Washington State, a diverse range of owls thrives, with a total of 15 different species calling it their home. These captivating creatures include the likes of the Northern Saw-Whet Owl, Boreal Owl, Barn Owl, and the majestic Great Horned Owl. Some owls can be spotted year-round, while others grace the state with their presence during certain times of the year. To catch a glimpse of these magnificent birds, one can rely on listening for their distinct calls or even set up nesting boxes to attract them. While these owls bring joy to many, the Northern Spotted Owl population has faced challenges due to habitat loss and competition with Barred Owls. Washington State truly showcases the diversity and splendor of these fascinating creatures.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is one of the 15 owl species found in Washington State. This small owl is known for its distinctive call, which sounds like the whetting of a saw. These owls can be found year round in the state, but they are more easily spotted during the winter months when they migrate to lower elevations in search of food. Despite their small size, Northern Saw-Whet Owls are powerful hunters, feeding primarily on small mammals such as mice and voles. Their camouflaged plumage makes them excellent at blending into their surroundings, making them a challenge to spot.

Boreal Owl

The Boreal Owl is a secretive owl that is found in the boreal forests of Washington State. These owls have a unique call that has been described as a mournful trill. They are primarily nocturnal hunters, feeding on small rodents and birds. Boreal Owls are well adapted to life in the boreal forests, with dense feathers that provide insulation in the cold winter months. They nest in tree cavities and are known to use old woodpecker holes as their nesting sites. These owls can be found year round in Washington State, although they are generally more active at night and are rarely seen during the day.

Barn Owl

The Barn Owl is a stunning owl species that can be found in Washington State year round. These owls have a distinct heart-shaped face and are known for their striking white plumage. Barn Owls primarily feed on small rodents such as mice and voles, making them an important predator in the ecosystem. They have excellent hearing and are able to locate prey using sound alone. Barn Owls are adaptable birds and can be found in a variety of habitats, from open fields to wooded areas. They are known to nest in barns, abandoned buildings, and tree cavities.

Northern Pygmy-Owl

The Northern Pygmy-Owl is one of the smallest owl species found in Washington State. Despite its small size, this owl is known for its aggressive behavior and its ability to take down prey that is larger than itself. The Northern Pygmy-Owl has a distinctive call that sounds like a series of toots, and they can be found year round in the state. These owls prefer dense forests with a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, where they can blend in and use their excellent camouflage to their advantage. They primarily feed on small birds and mammals, but they have been known to take down prey as large as an American Robin.

Western-Screech Owl

The Western-Screech Owl is a small owl species found in Washington State year round. These owls are known for their distinctive call, which sounds like a horse whinnying or a bouncing ball. Despite their name, Western-Screech Owls don’t actually screech. They are primarily nocturnal hunters and feed on a variety of prey, including insects, small mammals, and birds. Western-Screech Owls are adaptable birds and can be found in a variety of habitats, from forested areas to urban parks. They often nest in tree cavities or use nest boxes if available.

Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl is one of the most well-known and widespread owl species in North America, and Washington State is no exception. These large owls have distinctive ear tufts that give them a horned appearance, hence their name. Great Horned Owls are powerful hunters and have been known to take down prey as large as a skunk or a domestic cat. They have a wide range of vocalizations, including hoots, screams, and barks. Great Horned Owls can be found year round in Washington State and can adapt to a variety of habitats, from forests to deserts. They nest in trees and are often seen perched high up in the branches.

Short-Eared Owl

The Short-Eared Owl is a medium-sized owl species that can be found in Washington State during the winter months. These owls have a unique hunting behavior; they fly low over open fields or marshes, searching for small mammals such as mice and voles. Short-Eared Owls are diurnal hunters, meaning they are active during the day, unlike most owl species which are primarily nocturnal. They have a distinctive call that sounds like a raspy barking or a yapping dog. Short-Eared Owls are known for their impressive courtship displays, where they perform aerial acrobatics and extravagant moth-like flights.

Great Gray Owl

The Great Gray Owl is one of the largest owl species in North America. These owls have a large wingspan and distinctive facial disc, which helps to funnel sound towards their ears. Great Gray Owls are primarily nocturnal hunters and feed on small mammals such as voles and mice. They are well adapted to life in the forests and can be found year round in Washington State. Despite their large size, Great Gray Owls are often difficult to spot due to their excellent camouflage and their ability to blend into their surroundings. They nest in tree cavities or use old raptor nests as their nesting sites.

Long-Eared Owl

The Long-Eared Owl is a medium-sized owl species that can be found in Washington State year round. As their name suggests, these owls have long ear tufts that are often mistaken for horns. Despite their intimidating appearance, Long-Eared Owls are actually quite small and have a slender body structure. They are primarily nocturnal hunters and feed on small mammals such as mice and voles. Long-Eared Owls prefer dense forests and can often be found roosting in dense coniferous trees during the day. They have a variety of vocalizations, including hoots, barks, and hisses.

Finding Owls in Washington State

Washington State is a fantastic place for owl enthusiasts, as it is home to 15 species of owls. Some species can be found year round, while others are only found during certain times of the year. If you’re looking to spot owls in Washington State, here are some tips to help you in your search:

Listening for Owl Calls

One of the best ways to find owls is to listen for their calls. Each owl species has a distinctive call that can help you identify them. Owls are often most vocal during the breeding season, which can vary depending on the species. By learning the calls of different owl species, you can increase your chances of spotting them in the wild. It’s important to note that owls are most active at night, so it may require some late night or early morning outings to hear their calls.

Setting up Nesting Boxes

Another way to increase your chances of finding owls in Washington State is to set up nesting boxes. Some owl species, such as the Western-Screech Owl and the Barn Owl, will readily use nest boxes if they are available. By providing suitable nesting habitat, you can attract owls to your property and increase your chances of seeing them up close. Nest boxes should be placed in suitable habitat and at the appropriate height, as different species have different nesting preferences.

It’s important to remember that owls are protected wildlife in Washington State, and it is illegal to disturb or harm them or their nests. If you do decide to set up nesting boxes, make sure to follow all regulations and guidelines to ensure that you are providing a safe and suitable habitat for owls.

In conclusion, Washington State is a fantastic place for owl enthusiasts, with 15 species of owls calling the state home. From the tiny Northern Saw-Whet Owl to the majestic Great Horned Owl, each species has its own unique characteristics and behaviors. By listening for owl calls and setting up nesting boxes, you can increase your chances of spotting these elusive creatures in the wild. So grab your binoculars and head out into Washington’s beautiful forests and open spaces to search for these amazing birds of prey. Happy owl spotting!

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