The name of the State of Kansas comes from the Kanza tribe of the Sioux family, which translates to wind people. And in their culture, owls were respected and sometimes feared because they believed they were shape-shifters or spirits.
Today, a visit to Kansas will provide you with an excellent chance to see a lot of owls. Some of them are all-year-round residents that can be found in parks and even near suburban areas, while others are rarer to spot.
Keep on reading to learn more about the most common owls that you can find in Kansas and what makes every species special.
Owls are unique birds of prey with attractive looks and have always played a prominent role in interesting folk tales. In this section, we’ll talk about these wonderful birds in detail.
1. Great Horned Owl
- Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
- Length: Between 17 and 25 inches
- Weight: Between 32 and 88 ounces
- Wingspan: Between 36 and 60 inches
The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl that can be found all year round in Kansas. It can be found in open grasslands but will look for nests in trees during the breeding season. Pairs usually stay close to each other after the breeding season.
Author Note: The name of the Great Horned Owl is misleading because these owls have no horns. Instead, they have ear tufts that give them a distinctive and fearful look.
The owl is gray-brown and usually hunts at dusk and dawn. However, it extends hunting hours, especially in the winter. Both males and females hoot, but the male’s hoot is more low-pitched.
The Great Horned Owl has a diverse diet and feeds on multiple rodents, birds, reptiles, fish, insects, invertebrates, and even smaller owls and other birds of prey. If there’s a Great Horned Owl nesting nearby, you need to bring your cat or dog inside.
Although the owl rarely attacks pets, it’s possible. Even if it doesn’t successfully carry your dog or cat away, it will probably leave them with some serious injuries.
2. Barn Owl
- Scientific name: Tyto alba
- Length: Between 13 and 15 inches
- Weight: Between 14.1 and 24.7 ounces
- Wingspan: Between 31 and 37 inches
The Barn Owl is quite common in Kansas, and some owls spend the whole year there. However, others fly further to the south in winter, where it’s warmer. These owls scream rather than hoot, and their calls can be quite annoying. Moreover, their plumage gives them a scary look.
The Barn Owl is medium-sized and has a gray and buff plumage with a heart-shaped face and black eyes. In low light conditions, the owl can appear white, and this ghost-like look is the reason why some people call it the Ghost Owl.
Male owls are highly territorial and will spend their time protecting the nest, while the female owl will incubate the eggs and wait for the food brought by the male. The males tend to favor females that have more spotted plumage and are likely to bring them and their nestlings more food when they’re in the nest.
The Barn Owl has very sensitive hearing as the heart-shaped face allows the sound waves to hit the ears to improve the owl’s ability to locate its prey. Since this owl hunts in pitch-black darkness, this sense of hearing makes it one of the most accurate night hunters.
This owl feeds on small rodents, and some eat as many as 1000 mice a year. It stores food in the nest when it’s incubating.
3. Eastern Screech-Owl
- Scientific name: Megascops asio
- Length: Between 6.3 and 9.8 inches
- Weight: Between 4.3 and 8.6 ounces
- Wingspan: Between 18 and 24 inches
The Eastern Screech-Owl lives along the western borders of Kansas and usually remains in its habitats all year long. This is a stocky owl that can be found in woodlots, suburban areas, and woods, inhibiting small tree burrows and cavities.
The owl’s gray and red plumage resembles the look of tree bark, making it undetectable. It has ear tufts, and there’s no evidence that these tufts improve the owl’s hearing, but some scientists believe that the birds use them for communication.
Top Tip: Just like the Barn Owl, the female Eastern Screech-Owl remains in the nest, incubating the eggs, while the male brings her food.
This small owl is usually attacked and mobbed by songbirds that try to push it away. It feeds on rodents, reptiles, birds, and even invertebrates. But its favorite prey is larger insects and rodents.
After eating, the owl regurgitates the remains in pellets that birders use to locate it. You can also study these pellets to learn information about the owl’s diet.
4. Short-eared Owl
- Scientific name: Asio flammeus
- Length: Between 13 and 17 inches
- Weight: Between 7.3 and 16.8 ounces
- Wingspan: Between 33 and 43 inches
The Short-eared Owl is common in winter in Kansas, especially around the marshes, grasslands, open meadows, prairies, and fields. It usually builds its nest in wheat and alfalfa fields.
Author Note: Although this owl has two tufts, they’re barely seen because they’re too short and covered in feathers. It has a brown body with some white spots on the wings and belly.
The Short-eared Owl is a diurnal owl, so even if you don’t want to go on birdwatching trips at night, you’ll still be able to find it. However, it’s easier to spot at dawn and dusk. It feeds on different types of small mammals like moles, mice, rabbits, shrews, and bats, in addition to songbirds.
Before eating the prey, this owl eviscerates and decapitates it.
The owl has a unique way of driving predators away from the nest. It defecates on the eggs, and the horrid smell will mask the nest’s odor. The owl will also jump out of the nest and pretend to be injured to lure the predator away from the eggs and nestlings.
5. Northern Saw-Whet Owl
- Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
- Length: Between 6.7 and 8.7 inches
- Weight: Between 1.9 and 5.3 ounces
- Wingspan: Between 16.5 and 22.2 inches
The Northern Saw-Whet Owl is one of the tiniest owls that you can find in Kansas, especially during the non-breeding season. The body is covered in mottled brown feathers, and it has a yellow-eyed spotted head.
The owl gets its name from its loud consecutive hoots, which resemble the sound of a blade when a whetting stone sharpens it.
This owl prefers nesting in densely wooded areas but will also be present in open areas as long as there are suitable nesting sites. You can also attract a pair to your backyard by setting up a nesting box.
It’s a nocturnal owl that feeds on mice, squirrels, voles, and chipmunks, usually hunting from a perch. Its favorite prey is deer mice and usually eats the mouse over two meals, unlike other owls that swallow its prey as a whole.
The Northern Saw-Whet Owls are monogamous, but some males are known to mate with several females. The female keeps the nest clean, but she eventually leaves, and it becomes messy by the time the young owls are ready to fly.
Although this owl is difficult to locate, songbirds can help you find it because they usually attack and mob this predator to drive it away.
6. Barred Owl
- Scientific name: Strix varia
- Length: Between 16 and 25 inches
- Weight: Between 16.6 and 37 ounces
- Wingspan: Between 38 and 49 inches
The Barred Owl is found in South-Central and East Kansas and can be seen at dusk and dawn. It has a distinctive call that can help you locate it at night while it’s perching. The best time to watch out for this owl is during April and May.
The owl’s “Who cooks for you?” call is used for communicating with other owls, usually to warn them of the presence of the Great Horned Owl. This call is also the reason why this owl is called the Hoot Owl.
Author Note: It has a mottled brown and white plumage with some vertical markings on the owl’s lower body. The Barred Owl is highly territorial, and females tend to become extremely aggressive during the breeding season.
However, it’s a curious bird and might be watching you while you’re on a birdwatching trip. It also doesn’t mind staying in a nest set up in your backyard.
The Barred Owl prefers to feed on rodents, but if it’s nesting near a water body, it will feed on fish. It also feeds on reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates.
7. Long-eared Owl
- Scientific name: Asio otus
- Length: Between 12 and 16 inches
- Weight: Between 7.8 and 15.3 ounces
- Wingspan: Between 34 and 40 inches
The Long-eared Owl is found in Eastern Kansas during the non-breeding season. Also known as the Cat Owl because of its face, this medium-sized owl has a dark brown body with a narrow face and long ear tufts with fringes on the top. The longer ear tufts give the owl a surprised look.
Unlike other owls that tend to be highly territorial, Long-eared Owls are highly sociable and prefer to live in large clusters, sometimes of more than 100 individuals, and build their nests in dense woodlands.
Some owls even share roosts together. The owls won’t roost together during the breeding season, but they’ll stay close, usually occupying nests left by other birds and animals.
The Long-eared Owl is quite hard to see, but the males are quite noisy as they repeat their hoots every few seconds. The owl’s cylindrical face and asymmetrical ears improve its hearing to locate its prey accurately.
This owl lives in grasslands and pastures, where it can find its favorite prey of mammals. It swallows its prey as a whole and then regurgitates the indigestible remains in pellets that can be used to locate the owl. It hunts from a perch or hovers over the prey to take it by surprise.
8. Snowy Owl
- Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
- Length: Between 20 and 25 inches
- Weight: Between 46.4 to 88 ounces
- Wingspan: Between 46 and 65 inches
It’s somehow rare to spot the Snowy Owl in Kansas, but you can find it near Cheyenne Bottoms in winter when the birds migrate to the south as the temperature drops in Northern Canada.
It’s a large owl with an overall white plumage and some black markings that are more common in female owls. Male owls tend to get whiter as they age, but female owls retain their markings all throughout their lives.
Top Tip: The Snowy Owl is known for its loud hoot, which can be heard up to 7 miles away. Female owls rarely hoot, but together with the males, they produce a lot of noises to communicate and drive intruders away.
The Snowy Owl is an agile owl that catches other birds while flying, and in Kansas, it usually feeds on mice, voles, rabbits, hares, weasels, and squirrels. Although it’s rare in Kansas, you might be able to spot one on the ground, where the plumage makes it look like a snowball.
This owl prefers to sit, usually staying in the same spot for hours. It can run on the snow or fly to land on its prey, grabbing it by the head. Snowy Owls are quite territorial and are known to attack other owls, wolves, and even humans if they feel threatened.
Encountering an owl is a dream come true for every bird lover, and if you’re in Kansas, there’s a big chance you might encounter more than one species. Although these birds usually prefer to nest in quiet, densely wooded areas, some of them are curious and might accept nesting boxes set up in a backyard.
Some owls are migratory birds and will only be found in Kansas in winter or spring, but some of them can be found in various parts of the state all year long.
The Barn Owl can be found year round in Kansas and the Short-eared is often seen during winter.
To find out where recent sightings of owls have been, try eBird. You can search for the latest sightings or particular species or what has been seen in a certain area.