owls in Oregon

Owls in Oregon: 15 Stunning Species to Spot with Pictures

For thousands of years, owls have been studied, scrutinized, feared, and adored. It could be because of their earless heads or heart-shaped faces. Or maybe it’s their nocturnal habits that make them so fascinating.

Whatever the reason, we just can’t get enough of these birds. The good news is that they like to set up their habitats in various locations. You just have to know where to look.

It’s estimated that there are nearly 20 owl species in North America, with a whopping 15 of them living in Oregon. The state has an assortment of topography that ranges from mountains to fields to deserts. There are even plenty of forests full of coniferous and deciduous trees to match each owl’s hunting style and living preference.

If you’re an avid owl lover like we are, you’re in the right place. This post will tell you everything you need to know about the 15 species of owls in Oregon.

Let’s get started.

15 Species of Owls in Oregon You Must Check Out

Here are some of the world’s most amazing owls to look for in Oregon, otherwise known as The Beaver State.

1.   Western Screech-Owl

western screech owl in oregon
  • Scientific Name: Megascops kennicottli
  • Length: 7.5 – 10 in
  • Weight: 3.5 – 11 oz
  • Wingspan: 21.5 – 24.5 in

The Western Screech-Owl is famous for its square-shaped head. In fact, it’s one of the traits that make it easy to spot and identify, along with its short, pointy ear tufts.

Author Note: These nocturnal owls are covered in gray plumage with dark bands that run across its body. They also have two dark streaks above their eyes that make them look aggressive.

Yet, their plumage makes it easy for them to blend in with their surroundings. Their camouflage also helps them catch food, ranging from small mammals to insects to birds and reptiles.

2.   Snowy Owl

snowy owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
  • Length: 20.5 – 28 in
  • Weight: 56.5  104 oz
  • Wingspan: 49.5 – 57 in

Snowy Owls look cute and cuddly with their pure white plumage and reddish-brown marks covering their bodies. Yet, up close, these are some of the fiercest predators around. They’re also the heaviest owls found in North America, all thanks to those layers of thick feathers that help keep them warm and cozy.

Migrating from Canada, Snowy Owls usually spend their winters in the northern parts of the US. Luckily, Oregon is one of their preferred places to call home.

These flying predators like to hunt small mammals, such as lemmings. You’ll typically find them perching silently on tree branches. Then, they swoop down in one graceful dive, catch their prey in their claws, and rush off like nothing happened.

3.   Northern Pygmy-Owl

northern pygmy owl
  • Scientific Name: Glaucidium gnoma
  • Length: 6 – 7 in
  • Weight: 2 – 2.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 14.5 – 15 in

Northern Pygmy-Owls are brownish-gray with white spots covering their heads and backs. One of their most exciting features is the two dark spots on the back of their necks that look like eyes. It’s their way of warding off any attacks from behind.

These raptors are diurnal, which should make them easier to spot. You can usually find them in regions with thick forests, like the Blue Mountains or the Cascades.

The Northern Pygmy-Owl is one of the smallest and lightest on our list. Yet, don’t let that fool you. They can easily take down prey twice their body weight, including reptiles and mammals. Yet, their favorite is songbirds.

4.   Northern Spotted Owl

Spotted Owl roosting
  • Scientific Name: Strix occidentalis
  • Length: 18.5 – 19 in
  • Weight: 17.5 – 25 oz
  • Wingspan: 40 – 48 in

Unfortunately, the numbers of the Northern Spotted Owl are slowly dwindling. One reason is that their habits, primarily of old forests, are being cut down. Plus, they’re in constant competition with the much fiercer Barred Owls, and it’s not going well for the Northern Spotted.

Northern Spotted Owls get their names from the white spots on their bellies, chests, and underparts. Other features include their large round heads and the distinct white ‘X’ mark right in between their eyes.

Author Note: These nocturnal raptors like to ambush their prey with silent, deadly attacks. They mostly eat small mammals, such as rats, voles, and other rodents.

5.   Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl in oregon
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Length: 7 – 8.5 in
  • Weight: 2.5 – 5.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 16.5 – 19 in

Northern Saw-whet Owls got their name from the calls they make. They sound more like the sharpening or whetting, of a saw than an actual owl call. Even though they’re rarely seen, you’ll know there’s a Northern Saw-whet Owl nearby because their calls are pretty common most evenings.

Unfortunately, they’re nocturnal and extremely shy. Then, if that weren’t enough, they prefer perching up on high branches of coniferous or deciduous forests, where they take over nests left behind by woodpeckers.

They prefer hunting small mammals, mostly deer mice. Yet, they’ll also eat large insects, small birds, and even young squirrels.

6.   Northern Hawk Owl

northern hawk owl on snow
  • Scientific Name: Surnia ulula
  • Length: 14 – 18 in
  • Weight: 8.5 – 16 oz
  • Wingspan: 28 – 35 in

Northern Hawk Owls are endangered list and are considered pretty rare in Oregon. Yet, they typically migrate to The Beaver State from boreal forests in either Canada or Alaska during the winter.

Their name might be a bit misleading. Even though they act like hawks, they’re still part of the owl family with white facial disks, brown plumage, and smatterings of white spots.

They’re nocturnal and rely heavily on their keen sense of sight and whizzing speeds to catch their prey. They usually hunt hares, weasels, and other small mammals.

7.   Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl
  • Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
  • Length: 13.5 – 17 in
  • Weight: 7.5 – 17 oz
  • Wingspan: 33.5 – 40.5 in

Short-eared Owls are easy to spot because they like perching on low branches. They’re also known to fly low over fields and marshes looking for food. Not only that, but these raptors like to nest on the ground in areas covered with vegetation and weeds.

Covered in brown plumage, these medium-sized predators have white upperparts. Their chests and underparts have brown streaks to help keep them hidden when they fly over open areas.

They use their acute hearing and the element of surprise to hunt. What they do is usually pounce on their prey.

8.   Long-eared Owl

long eared owl in a tree perched
  • Scientific Name: Asio otus
  • Length: 13 – 16 in
  • Weight: 8 – 15 oz
  • Wingspan: 35.5 – 39.5 in

Technically, owls have internal hearing organs, not ears that stick out like us. So, the ‘long’ actually refers to the relatively long tufts of feathers found near their ear openings.  Another distinctive feature is their two half facial discs and yellow eyes with sharp black outlines.

Long-eared Owls are highly nocturnal. They like hunting in the dead of night, particularly in open fields. When roosting, they prefer dense foliage where they can stay hidden from predators.

Their prey consists of mainly mammals, which they swallow whole. Then, they get rid of all the undigested parts by coughing them up and spitting them out.

9.   Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
  • Scientific Name: Bubo viginianus
  • Length: 18 – 25 in
  • Weight: 32  88 –oz
  • Wingspan: 40 – 57 in

Great Horned Owls don’t have horns. What they do have is a pair of tufts that stick out sideways, making them appear as if they have horns. They’re one of the largest owls in Oregon. They’re also one of the most intimidating, thanks to their reddish faces and piercing eyes also make them one of the most intimidating.

They rely on their mottled plumage to keep these year-round residents of Oregon hidden from view. Yet, you’ll know they’re nearby when you hear their distinct soft but deep hoots.

Author Note: These fierce raptors are voracious eaters and will hunt anything from mammals to amphibians to insects. They’ll even feed on prey larger than they are with no qualms.

10.    Great Gray Owl

great grey owl in oregon
  • Scientific Name: Strix nebulosa
  • Length: 24 – 33 in
  • Weight: 24.5 – 60 oz
  • Wingspan: 54 – 60 in

The Great Gray is the tallest owl in Oregon, if not North America. Although, surprisingly, they’re pretty lightweight compared to other owl species. Nevertheless, they can get tough when they need to, like breaking through hard ice to get to their prey.

Top Tip: You’re likely to spot these nocturnal predators at dawn or before dusk. Two of their favorite spots in Oregon are the Willamette National Forest and the East Cascade mountain range.

These raptors like to perch and wait for their prey to come to them. They usually hunt small birds, as well as voles and pocket gophers.

11.    Flammulated Owl

flammulated owl
  • Scientific Name: Psiloscops flammeolus
  • Length: 6 – 7 in
  • Weight: 1.5 – 2.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 16 – 16.5 in

The smallest owls in Oregon, as well as the hardest to spot, Flammulated Owls are unique in many ways. First off, they’re migratory birds that spend their summers in Oregon then fly south for the winter.

Another distinctive feature is the color of their plumage. They’re covered in shades of deep red and brown that help them blend in perfectly with tree branches and trunks.

While they might be small, they’re famous for their low-pitched intimidating calls, making them sound larger than they actually are, which helps keep predators away. Another way they avoid predators is by perching on high branches. You can usually find them nesting in coniferous trees, where they can forage for insects.

12.   Burrowing Owl

burrowing owl in sun
  • Scientific Name: Athene cunicularia
  • Length: 7.5 – 10 in
  • Weight: 4.5 – 9 oz
  • Wingspan: 21 – 24 in

Burrowing Owls get their names because they like to take over underground burrows left behind by mammals, like prairie dogs. They don’t like being high off the ground, which is why they’re one of the most commonly spotted owls in Oregon during the warmer months.

Their backs are mottled brown with white spots. Their most distinctive features are their white eyebrows and fierce-looking yellow eyes. They’re also famous for their long legs, which is quite rare for these birds of prey.

These diurnal migratory birds eat insects, small mammals, and even lizards. Sometimes, they’ll store away extra food in their burrows, especially during winter when food isn’t as easy to come by.

13.   Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl
  • Scientific Name: Aegolius funereus
  • Length: 8 – 11 in
  • Weight: 3.5 – 7.5 oz
  • Wingspan: 21.5 – 24.5 in

Boreal Owls get their names from their original homes in the boreal forests in Canada and Alaska. Despite being permanent residents of Oregon, they’re mainly nocturnal. So, if you want any chance at spotting these small raptors, you’ll have to do it at night.

These predators are covered in brown plumage with white streaks on their wings and bellies. Yet, their piercing yellow eyes are their most striking feature.

Author Note: Their preferred hunting method is perching on tree branches, then surprising their prey from above. Their prey consists of a wide range of small birds and rodents.

14.    Barred Owl

barred owl taking off
  • Scientific Name: Strix varia
  • Length: 17 – 20 in
  • Weight: 16.5 – 37 oz
  • Wingspan: 39 – 43 in

If you’ve seen a Barred Owl, you’ll know they got their name from the horizontal bars on their bodies. These raptors are also known for their round faces and relatively large bodies. Another unique feature is the classic call that you hear in the movies.

They were originally only found in the eastern parts of the US. Yet, they’ve since expanded their range to reach the west. You can find these non-migratory birds in tree swamps and mature forests.

Barred Owls perch and scan for small rodents and birds. Relying on their sharp sight and hearing, they swoop down in one quick motion, grab their prey, then head back home.

15.    Barn Owl

Barn Owl Calling in Flight
  • Scientific Name: Tyto alba
  • Length: 12.5 – 16 in
  • Weight: 14 – 25 oz
  • Wingspan: 30 – 49 in

The Barn Owl has a charming, heart-shaped face, dark eyes, and pale white plumage. Even though their numbers are decreasing, you can spot them in Oregon year-round.

They prefer setting up their nests in open fields and old, abandoned barns. You can usually see them flying low over the ground at dawn and dusk, looking for food.

Top Tip: Their diet mainly consists of rodents, small birds, and insects. Like Long-eared Owls, they eat their prey whole.

Wrap Up

There you have it: 15 species of owls in Oregon. Thanks to the state’s bountiful array of hills, forests, and deserts, these wise and mysterious birds have all they need to make their homes here.

That said, these regions also make for terrific hiding spots, and since owls are primarily nocturnal, they might not be the easiest to spot. So, the next time you go looking for owls, make sure you take along this handy guide with all the information you need.

A pair of binoculars wouldn’t hurt either.

We hope you found our guide on owls in Oregon useful. Happy hooting!


Where can I found out more about local owls in Oregon?

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.

Where is a good place to see owls in Oregon?

Good places to start are:
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge

What is the most common owl in Oregon?

The Northern Saw-whet and the Burrowing Owls are most common in Oregon.

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