Whether you’re an avid bird-watching enthusiast or just looking to catch your first glimpse of an owl, the Garden State is the place to be.
You can find numerous owl species in New Jersey, you just got to know where to look. In most cases, you might run into one on your early morning hike.
If you get the chance to see one, it would be worthwhile to know what species you’re looking at. The good news is that countless indicators can help you out.
Stick around to get to know more about the owls in New Jersey.
1. Great Horned Owl
- Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
- Wingspan: 55 inches
- Size: 18 to 25 inches in length
- Weight: 49 oz
If you’ve already seen an owl in New Jersey, there’s a high chance it could be a Great Horned Owl.
Their exquisite plumage has earned them their nickname, tiger owls. Great Horned Owls have orange-tinted face disks along with black and white blotches around their wings.
This type of owl is a fierce predator. It feasts on larger prey such as squirrels, rabbits, and rodents. It’s not afraid to lay its talons on those who threaten its eggs, yes, even humans. They’re also not above eating their own kind, including other birds like crows.
Top Tip: If you’re adamant to look for a New Jerseyan owl, the Great Horned Owl is here all year round in the garden state.
If you’re having a hard time identifying this owl, just look at its exceptionally long ears. It’s called a great-horned owl for a reason. These horn-like eared owls also have large glaring yellow eyes.
You can spot a Great Horned Owl in woodland areas or even the city. They’re not exactly picky about where they get to stay, since prey is what they’re after.
We recommend heading to your nearest park or forest like the Stokes State Forest to get a better glimpse of the bird.
2. Short-eared Owl
- Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
- Wingspan: 34 to 40 inches
- Size: 13 to 17 inches in length
- Weight: 7 to 17 oz
As their names would let on, Short-eared Owls have circular heads that don’t accommodate much ear space.
This owl species has panda eyes with yellow irises in the middle. They have a spotty feather pattern adorned with colors such as brown, gray, and black.
Short-eared Owls mostly visit New Jersey during the winter, just in time for the breeding season. They prefer to nestle in trees or coniferous forests. The owls can also be found hovering in low grounds and open fields in search of smaller prey.
It might be more difficult to find a short-eared owl since most open fields are occupied to make way for the agriculture sector.
That being so, you have better chances of looking for them during daylight, because that’s when they begin their hunt.
If you want to use your ears to detect a short-eared owl, look out for a puppy bark-line sound. When they’re singing, they emit their signature deep hooting noises.
- Scientific Name: Aegolius funereus
- Wingspan: 20 to 24 inches
- Size: 8.6 to 11 inches in length
- Weight: 4.2 oz
Boreal Owls aren’t constant visitors of New Jersey, but there have been some locals that were able to spot them.
We wouldn’t get our hopes up too much with this kind of owl. If you do find one, you should cherish this moment and try to capture it with your camera. We’re sure the bird watching community would appreciate a record of it as well.
You know when you look at a fluffy cat and it seems fat, but it’s just really fluffy? Well, that’s the case for the boreal owl. It has a lot of feathers, but a significantly tiny body.
Author Note: This owl’s body is mostly covered in a pale brown hue. It also has numerous white spots around its face and body. Its chest hair is mainly white as well.
These tiny birds like a high-tree view, where their intimidating lemon-yellow eyes browse the forest bed for any unsuspecting rodent prey.
Boreal Owls have a special whistling calling note that gets exponentially louder as it progresses. Younger ones give off a “kip” sound.
- Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
- Wingspan: 18 to 24 inches
- Size: 7 to 8.6 inches in length
- Weight: 3.5 oz
Northern Saw-whet Owls are one of the smallest owls you might encounter in the New Jersey area.
They’re round-headed and are brown-colored with specks of dirt-gray and white around their face and body.
Since the Northern Saw-whet Owl is mostly nocturnal, it makes it more troublesome to look for it. They also reside in dense forest areas and tend to roost in tree trunks. Saw-whet owls are also winter guests, like most other owls.
The best chance you have of spotting one is through their distinctive “too-too” whistling calling sounds. You might also hear their trilling sounds blasting through the thick woodlands.
They’ll typically have an insect-filled diet loaded with protein and include lemmings and rodents into the mix.
5. Eastern Screech-Owl
- Scientific Name: Megascops asio
- Wingspan: 19 to 24 inches
- Size: 6 to 10 inches in length
- Weight: 5.6 oz
The first feature you might notice in an Eastern Screech-Owl is the striking V-shape in the center of its face. The pointed ends almost look like their ears.
Their feathers provide these owls with the perfect disguise. It blends in with its wood-colored background since its plumage is mostly brown and mottled with a white shade here and there.
Like the Northern Saw-whet, the Eastern Screech-Owl is often tricky to locate. If you’re attempting to bird watch them, then keep your ears peeled for a screeching, almost shrilling voice. It might sound like a horse whinnying.
If you’re hiking near a river, you might have a higher chance of detecting them, since they’re usually near some water.
Eastern Screech-Owls enjoy nestling in any kind of forest, as long as it has countless trees. You might have a tougher time looking for them in open fields.
- Scientific Name: Tyto furcata
- Wingspan: 39 to 49 inches
- Size: 12.5 to 15.7 inches in length
- Weight: 15 to 21.8 oz
They have a large flat nose that looks like an upside-down triangle, which covers the majority of their face. Their hairline is curved, resembling a sweetheart neckline.
A barn owl’s face disk is all white, while the frame is a light caramel color, like the rest of its wings. On the near edge of its wingtips, the color gets darker, looking like a burnt caramel shade.
Meanwhile, their eyes are all one shade of a deep dark brown.
Author Note: Barn Owls are unsurprisingly fans of open areas, like, well, barns. You can generally find them in vast fields, meadows, and ditches.
When looking for an owl, you might try to hear your average hooting noises, but that’s not true for this owl. Barn Owls give out this scream-like squawk that’s hard to miss.
7. Long-eared Owl
- Scientific Name: Asio otus
- Wingspan: 37.4 inches
- Size: 12 to 16 inches in length
- Weight: 8.8 to 11.5 oz
Long-eared Owls look like they have furry antennas attached to their heads. It’ll be easy to figure this bird of prey out.
Apart from its long ear shape, the owl has a wood-like pattern on its feathers, concealing it from potential predators lurking around.
This owl, like most other owls, is nocturnal, meaning it’ll have regular night hunts. Long-eared Owls mostly scout for small animals like squirrels and rabbits. They swoop in to catch their prey and sometimes do so while in mid-flight.
Long-eared Owls are opportunistic survivors. They don’t usually go to the trouble of making their nests. Instead, they try to locate any old ones from other birds like crows.
This species gravitates to rich forests, filled with a plethora of branches where they can find suitable shelter.
- Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
- Wingspan: 48 to 60 inches
- Size: 25 to 29 inches in length
- Weight: 70.5 oz
Snowy Owls are probably one of the most coveted owls to bird watch, and how not? It’s like a snowy angel with contrasting fair yellow eyes.
If you’re a Harry Potter fan, we’re sure you’ll want to take a glimpse of a snowy owl like Hedwig. Apart from its powder-white feathers, you might also notice its black flecks covering its wings.
Their round heads coupled with their thin beaks give them an adorable appearance.
You might have to keep your eyes especially focused on this kind of owl since it comes during the winter. A snowy owl in the snow is practically invisible.
Luckily, they have a particular scratchy-sounding hoot that can be easily heard. The best places to look for Snowy Owls are Island Beach State Park, Merrill Creek Reservoir, and Liberty State Park.
- Scientific Name: Strix varia
- Wingspan: 43 inches
- Size: 19 to 20 inches
- Weight: 22 to 28 oz
Barred Owls aren’t as commonly sighted as other owls. That might be because Great Horned Owls are actually one of the several predators that prey on Barred Owls.
Nevertheless, you might just get lucky enough to spot one. Their plumage is mostly brown-based with several bars of white wrapped around its wings.
Barred Owls have dark irises, accompanied by a yellow beak. You could categorize this owl as a mixture between a Barn Owl and a Great Horned Owl. Its face shape resembles the prior, while the feather coloration is similar to the latter.
They’re medium-sized owls that feed on several forest prey from minuscule insects to larger rodents and sometimes even fish.
If you’re trying to listen to a Barred Owl, it almost sounds like it came from a horror flick and we’re not talking about its hoot. Its calling resonates when a rusty door moves ajar a few times.
10. Northern Hawk Owl
- Scientific Name: Surnia ulula
- Wingspan: 18 inches
- Size: 14 to 17 inches
- Weight: 11 oz
The Northern Hawk Owl resides in dense forestry. Their favorite perching spots are treetops where they can have a wider view angle.
While they look like most owls, their morning hunting habits have earned them the hawk name. You’re more likely to come across this hawk owl during the colder months as they migrate higher north to the Canadian region.
During the night, they huddle up inside tree trunks for shelter. They can easily blend in the tree background with their horizontal bark-colored and white striped feathers.
Author Note: Northern Hawk Owls have a v shape in the middle of their heads along with bright black-rimmed yellow eyes and a pale yellow beak.
They emit a trilling “ululululul” that can go for up to 14 seconds or so. These owls don’t typically hoot as much as others.
After getting a good run-down of each owl you might find in New Jersey, what are you waiting for? Grab those binoculars and start your bird-watching venture.
Always take your precautions and back off if the owl feels threatened, you don’t want to be its target, trust us.
If you’re trying to entice one into your backyard, a nest box and some can go a long way. Owls are efficient creatures. Once they find proper shelter, they won’t turn up their beaks. On the plus side, they’ll provide you with ideal pest control.
We hope that you’ll catch sight of these majestic birds soon. We hope you enjoyed this guide on the most common owls in New Jersey!
Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Stokes State Forest, Island Beach State Park, Merrill Creek Reservoir, and Liberty State Park are all great places to look for owls.
You are most likely to find the Barn and Great Horned Owl in New Jersey.
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.