Montana boasts one of the highest owl counts in the country

Montana, known for its breathtaking landscapes and diverse wildlife, proudly boasts one of the highest owl counts in the country. With a staggering 15 species of owls found within the state, Montana truly is a haven for these majestic creatures. From the elusive snowy owl to the common great horned owl, birdwatchers and nature enthusiasts alike can feast their eyes on a variety of unique owl species in this beautiful state. Whether it’s the flammulated owl’s elusive nature or the great gray owl’s residence in dense evergreen forests, each species brings its own charm to Montana’s owl population. So grab your binoculars and prepare for an owl-filled adventure in the picturesque state of Montana.

Barn Owl

Overview

The Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is a beautiful and fascinating species of owl found in Montana. Although it is not officially within the standard range of Montana, Barn Owls can still be occasionally spotted in the state. With their unique heart-shaped face and stunning white plumage, these owls are a sight to behold.

Habitat

Barn Owls prefer open grasslands, agricultural fields, and meadows for hunting. They are skilled in low flight and are often seen gliding silently above the ground in search of prey. While they do not typically nest in barns as their name suggests, they will utilize cavities in trees and cliffs for nesting sites.

Behavior

Barn Owls are primarily nocturnal predators, relying on their exceptional hearing to locate small mammals such as mice and voles. Unlike many other owl species, Barn Owls do not hoot but rather produce a screeching sound. These owls are solitary creatures, and pairs will only come together during the breeding season. Barn Owls are known for their distinctive hunting style, swooping down from above to surprise their prey.

Barred Owl

Overview

The Barred Owl (Strix varia) is another remarkable owl species found in Montana. These medium-sized owls are known for their dark eyes and striking barred plumage. Although they can be found throughout the United States, Barred Owls can be spotted in the forests of the western border and northwestern corner of Montana.

Habitat

Barred Owls typically reside in dense forests, favoring areas near water sources such as rivers and swamps. They are known to tolerate human presence and can often be found in suburban areas close to wooded areas. These adaptable owls are highly territorial and will defend their preferred habitat vigorously.

Behavior

Barred Owls are primarily active at night, but they can also be seen during the early morning or late evening hours. They have a diverse diet, feeding on small mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Barred Owls have a distinctive call, often described as “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all.” They are skilled hunters, using their sharp talons to catch prey on the forest floor.

Boreal Owl

Overview

The Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus) is a small and elusive owl species found in the western half of Montana, particularly in national forest areas. With their striking dark eyes and mottled plumage, Boreal Owls are a true marvel of nature.

Habitat

Boreal Owls primarily inhabit dense coniferous forests, especially old-growth forests. They prefer areas with a high density of trees, where they can find suitable nesting sites and ample prey. These owls are well adapted to living in cold, northern regions and can withstand harsh winter conditions.

Behavior

Boreal Owls are mostly active at night and are skilled hunters. They mainly feed on small mammals such as voles and mice. One unique behavior of Boreal Owls is their ability to locate prey using their acute hearing, even under thick layers of snow. They have a soft, flute-like call that is often heard during their breeding season in the spring.

Burrowing Owl

Overview

The Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) is a small and charismatic owl species found in central and eastern Montana. These owls are known for their distinctive appearance and curious behavior.

Habitat

True to their name, Burrowing Owls make their homes underground in burrows, often repurposing burrows created by mammals like prairie dogs. They prefer open grasslands, agricultural fields, and prairies, as they require open spaces for hunting.

Behavior

Unlike many other owl species, Burrowing Owls are active both during the day and night, making them diurnal. They have a unique hunting style, which involves perching low to the ground and catching insects, small mammals, and birds. Burrowing Owls are also excellent diggers and may spend a significant amount of time maintaining and expanding their burrows.

Eastern Screech Owl

Overview

The Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio) is a small owl species that can be found in the eastern half of Montana. With their small size and distinct ear tufts, Eastern Screech Owls are a favorite among bird enthusiasts.

Habitat

Eastern Screech Owls have adapted well to human presence and can be found in a variety of habitats, including farmland, city parks, and suburban neighborhoods. They prefer areas near trees and woodlands, which provide suitable nesting and roosting sites.

Behavior

Eastern Screech Owls are primarily active at night and have excellent camouflage, making them difficult to spot during the day. They have a varied diet, feeding on small mammals, birds, insects, and even amphibians. Eastern Screech Owls are known for their distinctive trilling call, which is often used for communication between mates.

Flammulated Owl

Overview

The Flammulated Owl (Psiloscops flammeolus) is a small owl species with a limited breeding population in far western Montana. These owls are known for their charming appearance and elusive nature.

Habitat

Flammulated Owls inhabit coniferous forests, particularly those with a mix of high-elevation pine and aspen trees. They prefer areas with dense vegetation and are often found in forested canyons and mountainous regions. Due to their small breeding population, spotting a Flammulated Owl in Montana can be rare.

Behavior

Flammulated Owls are primarily nocturnal, although they may also be active during the twilight hours. They feed mainly on insects, such as moths and beetles. These owls are skilled at catching their prey on the wing, making nimble flight maneuvers to secure their meal. Flammulated Owls have a distinctive hooting call that sounds like a series of clear and musical whistles.

Great Gray Owl

Overview

The Great Gray Owl (Strix nebulosa) is a magnificent and iconic owl species found year-round in western Montana. With their large size and unique facial disk pattern, Great Gray Owls are a true symbol of the state’s wildlife.

Habitat

Great Gray Owls inhabit dense evergreen forests, particularly those with a high abundance of mature coniferous trees. They prefer areas near open meadows, bogs, and marshes, where they can find suitable spots for nesting and hunting. The western part of Montana provides an ideal habitat for these majestic owls.

Behavior

Great Gray Owls are primarily active during the twilight and night hours, making them well-adapted to hunting in low light conditions. They have a varied diet, feeding on small mammals, birds, reptiles, and insects. Great Gray Owls are skilled hunters and have exceptional hearing, allowing them to locate prey even under thick vegetation or snow cover. They have a deep hooting call that carries through the forest and is often heard during their breeding season in the spring.

Great Horned Owl

Overview

The Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) is one of the most common owl species in Montana and can be found in various habitats throughout the state. With their distinctive ear tufts and impressive size, Great Horned Owls are a true representation of Montana’s diverse wildlife.

Habitat

Great Horned Owls are highly adaptable and can be found in a wide range of habitats, including forests, grasslands, deserts, and even urban areas. They nest in a variety of locations, including abandoned nests of other birds and tree cavities.

Behavior

Great Horned Owls are primarily nocturnal predators, relying on their exceptional vision and hearing to locate prey. They have a diverse diet and will feed on small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and even other owls. Great Horned Owls have a deep and resonant hooting call, which is often associated with their mysterious presence in the night.

Long-eared Owl

Overview

The Long-eared Owl (Asio otus) is a medium-sized owl species that can be found in Montana during the spring and summer breeding season. These owls are known for their striking orange eyes and prominent ear tufts.

Habitat

Long-eared Owls typically inhabit dense woodlands and forests, particularly those with a mix of coniferous and deciduous trees. They prefer areas with open fields nearby, as they rely on both woodlands and open spaces for hunting. Montana provides suitable habitat for Long-eared Owls, especially during the breeding season.

Behavior

Long-eared Owls are primarily nocturnal and are most active during the twilight hours. They feed primarily on small mammals, such as mice, voles, and shrews. These owls have an interesting behavior known as “perch-skimmer” hunting, where they perch on a branch and skim low over the ground to catch their prey. Long-eared Owls have a soft hooting call, which can be heard during the breeding season.

Western Screech Owl

Overview

The Western Screech Owl (Megascops kennicottii) is a small owl species that can be found in Montana. With their striking yellow eyes and compact size, Western Screech Owls are a delight to encounter.

Habitat

Western Screech Owls inhabit a range of habitats, including woodlands, forests, and often urban areas with suitable nest sites. They prefer areas with a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, providing both ample hunting opportunities and suitable nesting spots.

Behavior

Western Screech Owls are primarily active at night and have excellent camouflage, making them difficult to spot during the day. They have a diverse diet, feeding on small mammals, birds, insects, and reptiles. Western Screech Owls have a soft trilling call, which is often used for communication between mates and in defense of their territory.

Conclusion

Montana offers a remarkable diversity of owl species, with 15 different species found in the state. From the elusive Boreal Owl to the iconic Great Gray Owl, each species has its own unique traits and habitats. Whether you are exploring the forests, grasslands, or even urban areas, there is a chance to encounter these extraordinary creatures. Montana truly serves as a haven for owl enthusiasts and nature lovers alike, providing ample opportunities to observe and appreciate these magnificent birds in their natural habitats. So grab your binoculars and explore Montana’s owl extravaganza – you never know what wonders you might discover in the night sky.

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