9 Species of Owls in New Hampshire

New Hampshire is home to a diverse array of owls, with at least 9 different species residing within the state. From the small and elusive Northern Saw-whet Owl to the larger and more commonly spotted Great Horned Owl, each species possesses distinct characteristics and habits. These majestic creatures can be found in various habitats throughout New Hampshire, with some, like the Snowy Owl, appearing only during the winter months. Owls not only add beauty to the landscape but also play a vital role in the ecosystem, making them truly fascinating creatures to observe.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Physical Description

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a small owl species, measuring only about 8 to 9 inches in length. It has a round head with large, yellow eyes and a short, hooked beak. The plumage of this owl is primarily brown with white streaks and spots, providing excellent camouflage in wooded areas. Its wingspan is typically around 17 inches, and it has a distinctive call that sounds like a series of high-pitched whistles.

Habitat

Northern Saw-whet Owls can be found in a variety of forested habitats, including coniferous and deciduous forests. They prefer areas with dense vegetation and plenty of trees for roosting and nesting. These owls are typically found in the northern parts of the United States and Canada, including New Hampshire.

Behavior

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is mostly nocturnal and feeds primarily on small rodents, such as mice and voles. It hunts from a perch, swooping down to capture its prey with its sharp talons. These owls are known for their secretive nature and are often difficult to spot due to their small size and excellent camouflage. They are also known for their unique courtship behavior, which involves a series of bouncing flight displays and calling.

Barn Owl

Physical Description

The Barn Owl is a medium-sized owl with a distinct heart-shaped face. It has long wings, a short tail, and a white, heart-shaped facial disc that helps to funnel sound towards its ears. The plumage of the Barn Owl is predominantly light tan or rust-colored, with specks of white and brown. It has large, dark eyes and a sharp, curved beak.

Habitat

Barn Owls can be found in a variety of habitats, including agricultural areas, grasslands, and open woodlands. They are also known to inhabit man-made structures such as barns, old buildings, and even hollow tree cavities. In New Hampshire, Barn Owls are primarily found in agricultural areas where they can find an abundance of small mammals for food.

Behavior

Barn Owls are primarily nocturnal hunters, taking advantage of their excellent low-light vision and sensitive hearing to locate prey. They feed mainly on small mammals such as mice, voles, and shrews. Unlike other owl species, Barn Owls have a distinctive screeching call that can often be heard at night. They are also known for their silent flight, thanks to specialized feathers that help to reduce noise.

Great Horned Owl

Physical Description

The Great Horned Owl is one of the largest owl species in North America, measuring between 18 and 25 inches in height. It has a large, rounded head with prominent ear tufts or “horns” on top. The plumage of the Great Horned Owl varies but is usually a mottled pattern of brown, gray, and white, providing excellent camouflage in its woodland habitat. It has large, yellow eyes and a powerful, hooked beak.

Habitat

Great Horned Owls can be found in a wide range of habitats, from forests and woodlands to urban areas and deserts. They are adaptable birds that are able to thrive in a variety of environments. In New Hampshire, they can be found in forests, especially near bodies of water where they can find ample prey.

Behavior

The Great Horned Owl is a skilled hunter and feeds on a variety of prey, including small mammals, birds, reptiles, and even other owls. It has incredibly powerful talons and can take down prey larger than itself. This owl is primarily nocturnal but can occasionally be seen during the day perched on tree branches or in hidden spots. It has a deep, resonant hooting call that is often associated with the classic “hoot” sound of an owl.

Long-eared Owl

Physical Description

The Long-eared Owl is a medium-sized owl with long ear tufts that give it a distinctive appearance. It has a rounded head, large yellow eyes, and a hooked beak. The plumage of this owl is primarily brown with buff-colored streaks and spots, providing excellent camouflage in its preferred habitat. It measures between 13 and 16 inches in length and has a wingspan of about 35 inches.

Habitat

Long-eared Owls prefer dense coniferous forests but can also be found in mixed forests and woodlands. They require areas with tall trees for roosting and nesting and are typically found in the northern parts of the United States and Canada, including New Hampshire.

Behavior

Long-eared Owls are nocturnal hunters and primarily feed on small mammals, such as mice and voles. They have excellent hearing and rely on sound to locate prey. These owls are known for forming communal roosts during the winter months, where several individuals gather together to roost. They are elusive birds and can be difficult to spot due to their excellent camouflage and secretive nature.

Short-eared Owl

Physical Description

The Short-eared Owl is a medium-sized owl with a wingspan of about 40 to 44 inches. It has a round head and distinctive yellow eyes. The plumage of this owl is primarily mottled brown, providing good camouflage in grassland habitats. It has long wings and a short, stubby tail.

Habitat

Short-eared Owls prefer open areas such as grasslands, marshes, and agricultural fields. They require large areas of open habitat for hunting and nesting. In New Hampshire, they can often be found in salt marshes and coastal areas.

Behavior

The Short-eared Owl is a diurnal owl species, meaning that it is active during the day, especially at dawn and dusk. It feeds primarily on small mammals, such as mice and voles, as well as birds. These owls are known for their distinctive flight pattern, with slow, buoyant wing beats and a floating sensation as they glide low over the ground. They are also known for their territorial displays, including aerial acrobatics and calling.

Snowy Owl

Physical Description

The Snowy Owl is a large owl species, measuring between 20 and 28 inches in length. It has a rounded head, piercing yellow eyes, and a strong, hooked beak. The plumage of this owl is predominantly white, providing excellent camouflage in snowy habitats. However, males often have more dark markings and females have more extensive barring.

Habitat

Snowy Owls breed in the Arctic tundra and are considered nomadic, meaning they frequently migrate in search of food. During the winter, they can be found in more southern regions, including New Hampshire. Snowy Owls in New Hampshire are often found in open areas such as beaches, marshes, and agricultural fields.

Behavior

Snowy Owls are diurnal hunters, meaning they are active during the day. They have incredibly keen eyesight and can spot prey from a great distance. Their diet primarily consists of small mammals, such as lemmings, but they will also feed on birds if necessary. Snowy Owls are known for their distinctive hunting behavior, which involves sitting on elevated perches and scanning the area for prey. They do not hoot like other owl species but instead make low grunting sounds.

Barred Owl

Physical Description

The Barred Owl is a medium-sized owl with a round head and striking dark eyes. It has a large, hooked beak and a distinctive facial disc with dark bars. The plumage of this owl is primarily brown with white barring, providing excellent camouflage in wooded areas. It measures between 16 and 24 inches in length and has a wingspan of about 38 to 49 inches.

Habitat

Barred Owls are found in a variety of forested habitats, including both deciduous and coniferous forests. They prefer areas with large trees and plenty of undergrowth for nesting and hunting. In New Hampshire, they can often be found near rivers and wetlands.

Behavior

Barred Owls are primarily nocturnal hunters and feed on small mammals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. They are skilled hunters and can catch prey on the ground or in the trees. These owls have a distinctive call that sounds like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” and is often associated with their presence. Barred Owls are territorial and will defend their nesting sites vigorously.

Eastern Screech-owl

Physical Description

The Eastern Screech-owl is a small owl species, measuring between 6.3 and 9.8 inches in length. It has a rounded head with ear tufts and bright yellow eyes. The plumage of this owl can vary between red, gray, and brown, providing excellent camouflage in its preferred habitats. It has a short, curved beak and small feet with sharp claws.

Habitat

Eastern Screech-owls can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, suburban areas, and parks. They nest in tree cavities or use nest boxes provided by humans. In New Hampshire, they can be found in wooded areas, especially near water sources.

Behavior

Eastern Screech-owls are primarily nocturnal hunters and feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. They are agile birds and can catch prey on the ground or in the air. These owls have a distinctive call that sounds like a high-pitched trill or screech. They are known for their ability to blend in with their surroundings, using their camouflage to escape detection.

Great Gray Owl

Physical Description

The Great Gray Owl is one of the largest owl species in North America, measuring between 24 and 33 inches in length. It has a large, round head with bright yellow eyes and a facial disc with concentric rings. The plumage of this owl is predominantly gray with white markings, providing excellent camouflage in its forest habitat. It has a wingspan of about 53 to 60 inches.

Habitat

Great Gray Owls prefer dense coniferous forests, especially those with an abundance of old-growth trees. They require large territories for hunting and nesting and are typically found in the northern parts of the United States and Canada, including New Hampshire.

Behavior

Great Gray Owls are primarily nocturnal hunters and feed on small mammals, such as voles and mice. They have incredibly sharp hearing and can locate prey underneath deep snow. These owls are known for their silent flight and can glide through the forest without making a sound. They have a deep, resonant hooting call that is often heard during the breeding season.

Owl Observation and Conservation

Importance of Owl Conservation

Owls play a vital role in the ecosystem and are important indicators of the health of their habitats. As top predators, they help to control populations of small mammals and birds, which can have significant impacts on ecosystems. Owls also provide valuable ecosystem services by controlling rodent populations that can damage crops and spread diseases. Protecting owl populations is crucial for maintaining the balance of our natural ecosystems.

Tips for Observing Owls

Observing owls can be a rewarding and exciting experience. Here are some tips for observing owls in the wild:

  1. Be patient and quiet: Owls are often elusive and may take some time to locate. Move slowly and avoid making loud noises that might scare them away.

  2. Look for signs of owl presence: Pay attention to owl pellets, which are compact collections of indigestible material regurgitated by owls. Finding pellets can indicate that owls are nearby.

  3. Research specific owl species: Each owl species has different habits and habitats. Researching the specific owl species you are interested in observing can greatly increase your chances of success.

  4. Scout potential owl locations: Look for areas with suitable habitat, such as forests, woodlands, or open fields. Owl sightings are more likely in areas where they are known to reside.

  5. Use optics: Binoculars or spotting scopes can be helpful for observing owls from a distance without disturbing them.

  6. Be mindful of the time of day: Many owl species are nocturnal or crepuscular, meaning they are most active during the twilight hours. Plan your observation time accordingly.

Reporting Owl Sightings

Reporting owl sightings can provide valuable information for research and conservation efforts. If you observe an owl, consider reporting your sighting to local wildlife organizations or online databases. Include details such as the species, location, date, and any behaviors or characteristics observed. By sharing your observations, you can contribute to citizen science and help researchers better understand owl populations and their distribution.

In conclusion, New Hampshire is home to a diverse array of owl species, each with its own unique characteristics and behaviors. From the small and elusive Northern Saw-whet Owl to the magnificent Great Gray Owl, these beautiful birds are a treasured part of the state’s natural heritage. By learning about these owls and observing them in the wild, we can deepen our appreciation for these fascinating creatures and contribute to their conservation.

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