Types of Owls in Michigan - Ultimate Guide

Hammad Tariq

· 14 min read
Types of Owls in Michigan

Michigan, with its diverse landscapes and ecosystems, provides a habitat for several fascinating owl species. From dense forests to open fields, these birds of prey have adapted to various environments. Exploring the types of owls in Michigan unveils the rich avian diversity that contributes to the state's natural beauty.

Whether silently hunting in the night or perched high during the day, these owls play essential roles in maintaining ecological balance. Let's delve into the enchanting world of Michigan's owls and discover the unique characteristics that make each species well-suited to its particular niche in this diverse state.

13 Types of Owls in Michigan:

Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl, a majestic and powerful nocturnal predator, is a prominent resident among Michigan's diverse bird species. Recognized by its distinct appearance, this owl boasts tufted "horns" or ear tufts on its head, which are not actual ears but serve a camouflage purpose. With a robust build and a wingspan of up to five feet, the Great Horned Owl is well-adapted to Michigan's varied landscapes, including forests, fields, and urban areas.

Equipped with exceptional night vision and keen hearing, these owls are proficient hunters, preying on small mammals, birds, and even other owls. Their preferred roosting spots include large trees and cliffs, providing vantage points for hunting. Despite their nocturnal nature, they are occasionally active during daylight hours, showcasing their versatility.

Great Horned Owls are early nesters, often utilizing abandoned nests of other large birds. Their breeding season begins in late winter, and they are known for their distinctive hooting calls, a characteristic sound echoing through Michigan's woodlands.

Eastern Screech-Owl

The Eastern Screech-Owl, a charismatic and pint-sized owl species, is a delightful inhabitant of Michigan's diverse ecosystems. Recognizable by its small stature, prominent ear tufts, and captivating eyes, this owl comes in two color morphs: gray and reddish-brown. Its ability to blend seamlessly with its surroundings makes it a master of camouflage in wooded areas, suburban parks, and even urban environments across Michigan.

Despite its name, the Eastern Screech-Owl does not always produce a screeching sound; instead, it is known for its distinctive trill and whinny calls. Nocturnal in nature, these owls are efficient hunters, preying on insects, small mammals, and birds.

Their excellent hearing allows them to locate prey in low light conditions, showcasing their adaptation to the night. Eastern Screech-Owls typically nest in tree cavities, often adopting abandoned woodpecker holes or man-made nesting boxes.

Barred Owl

The Barred Owl is a prominent and recognizable owl species that calls Michigan home. Named for the horizontal barring on its chest, this large owl possesses a distinct hooting call that resonates through Michigan's forests, wetlands, and wooded suburban areas. With its rounded head and dark eyes, the Barred Owl presents a striking appearance against the backdrop of dense foliage.

Adapted for nocturnal life, Barred Owls are skilled hunters that primarily prey on small mammals like mice, squirrels, and rabbits. Their keen hearing and silent flight make them efficient predators, enabling them to swoop down on unsuspecting prey with remarkable precision. Despite their nocturnal habits, Barred Owls are occasionally active during the day, especially during the breeding season.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a charming and petite owl species that inhabits the woodlands of Michigan. Despite its small size, this owl boasts a distinctive appearance, with a rounded head, large eyes, and a compact build. Its plumage is typically brown with white spots, providing effective camouflage amidst the trees.

Named after the saw-like sound of its whistling call, the Northern Saw-whet Owl is primarily nocturnal, engaging in most of its hunting activities during the night. It preys on small mammals, birds, and insects, using its sharp talons to capture and consume its quarry. Unlike some larger owl species, the Northern Saw-whet Owl is known for its inconspicuous and secretive nature.

In terms of nesting, these owls typically utilize natural tree cavities or abandoned woodpecker holes for shelter. They may also make use of nest boxes provided by conservation efforts. Breeding season for Northern Saw-whet Owls occurs in the spring, with females laying a small clutch of eggs.

Snowy Owl

The Snowy Owl, with its striking white plumage and large, round yellow eyes, is a captivating species found in the vast landscapes of Michigan. While it typically inhabits Arctic tundras during the breeding season, it occasionally migrates to more southern regions, including Michigan, especially during irrigation years when food sources are scarce in its usual habitat.

Easily recognizable by its pure white feathers, the Snowy Owl exhibits dimorphic plumage, with females featuring darker markings than males. These magnificent birds are well-adapted to the cold, featuring dense feathers and thick insulation to endure harsh winter conditions.

Snowy Owls primarily feed on lemmings and other small mammals, showcasing their prowess as skilled hunters. Their keen eyesight and silent flight make them efficient predators, capturing prey with precise accuracy.

Long-eared Owl

The Long-eared Owl, a charismatic and nocturnal bird of prey, can be found in the woodlands and coniferous forests of Michigan. Characterized by its long, feathered "ear tufts" that resemble horns, this medium-sized owl boasts a cryptic brown plumage that aids in camouflaging against tree branches.

Long-eared Owls are often elusive and solitary, preferring to roost in dense foliage during the day and becoming more active during the night. Their diet primarily consists of small mammals, such as mice and voles, making them valuable contributors to controlling rodent populations in their habitats.

During the breeding season, these owls display intricate courtship behaviors, including hooting calls and aerial displays. They construct nests in trees using sticks, branches, and feathers, providing a secure environment for their offspring.

Short-eared Owl

The Short-eared Owl, a fascinating bird of prey, is known for its distinctive short "ear" tufts atop its head, giving it a unique appearance. In Michigan, it inhabits a variety of open habitats, including grasslands, marshes, and agricultural fields.

These owls are primarily crepuscular, meaning they are most active during dawn and dusk. They can often be seen flying low over open areas, searching for prey such as rodents, birds, and insects. Despite being nocturnal hunters, they are also known to hunt during daylight hours.

Short-eared Owls are highly nomadic and their presence in Michigan can vary depending on prey availability and habitat conditions. During the breeding season, they engage in courtship displays, including aerial acrobatics and vocalizations.

Barn Owl

The Barn Owl, a captivating nocturnal hunter, graces Michigan with its presence, offering a unique contribution to the state's biodiversity. Recognizable by its heart-shaped face and ghostly appearance, this owl is often associated with rural environments, including farms, grasslands, and open woodlands.

Known for its exceptional hunting skills, the Barn Owl primarily preys on small mammals like mice and voles. Remarkably silent in flight, it relies on acute hearing to locate its prey, even in complete darkness. The specialized facial disc aids in channeling sound towards its ears, making them efficient hunters.

Barn Owls typically roost in barns, abandoned buildings, or tree hollows during the day. They play a crucial role in natural pest control, helping to manage rodent populations that can harm crops.

Northern Hawk Owl

The Northern Hawk Owl, a distinctive and striking bird of prey, is a notable resident in Michigan's diverse wildlife landscape. With a unique appearance characterized by a facial disk and long tail, this owl stands out among its feathered counterparts.

Found in boreal forests and open areas, the Northern Hawk Owl is an agile hunter. Unlike most owls, it is diurnal, meaning it is active during the day. This owl displays exceptional aerial skills, hovering in the air similar to a hawk, hence its name. It preys on small mammals and birds, showcasing its adaptability as a versatile hunter.

During the winter, Michigan becomes a temporary home for some Northern Hawk Owls that migrate south in search of food. Their ability to adjust their habitat preferences based on seasonal conditions highlights their resilience.

Boreal Owl

The Boreal Owl, a small yet intriguing owl species, occasionally graces Michigan's woodlands with its presence. Known for its nocturnal habits, the Boreal Owl is a master of stealth and camouflage, making it challenging to spot despite its small size.

These owls primarily inhabit dense coniferous forests, where they nest in tree cavities or abandoned nests of other birds. Their plumage, characterized by intricate patterns of browns and whites, provides excellent camouflage against tree bark, allowing them to blend seamlessly with their surroundings.

As nocturnal hunters, Boreal Owls feed on a variety of prey, including small mammals like voles, mice, and shrews, as well as birds and insects. Their keen senses of sight and hearing enable them to detect prey even in low light conditions.

Great Gray Owl

The Great Gray Owl, a majestic and iconic species, graces the woodlands of Michigan with its silent and impressive presence. Known for its size and striking appearance, the Great Gray Owl is one of the largest owl species, with a wingspan that can reach up to five feet.

These magnificent owls prefer dense coniferous forests, where their cryptic gray plumage provides excellent camouflage against the tree bark. The distinctive facial disk, characterized by concentric rings of gray and white feathers, enhances their ability to focus sound and locate prey accurately.

Great Gray Owls are highly skilled hunters, preying primarily on small mammals such as voles, mice, and rabbits. Their large facial disks, coupled with keen hearing, enable them to detect the slightest movements of prey beneath the snow or within dense vegetation.

Burrowing Owl

The charming Burrowing Owl is a distinctive and petite species that adds character to Michigan's landscape. Recognizable by its endearing appearance and preference for open habitats, this owl is aptly named for its unique nesting behavior.

Burrowing Owls are relatively small, standing about nine to ten inches tall, with distinctive long legs and a rounded head. They are often spotted during the day, exhibiting diurnal behavior that sets them apart from many other owl species. Their sandy-brown plumage features white spotting, providing excellent camouflage in their chosen environments.

As their name suggests, Burrowing Owls are ground nesters, relying on abandoned burrows created by mammals like prairie dogs or ground squirrels. In Michigan, where suitable burrows may be scarce, they adapt by using man-made structures like pipes or culverts for nesting.

Elf Owl

The enchanting Elf Owl, one of the smallest owl species in the world, graces the skies of Michigan with its diminutive yet captivating presence. Standing at a mere five to six inches in height, these owls embody the saying that good things come in small packages.

Elf Owls have distinctively large, round heads with whitish or buffy facial disks and bright yellow eyes. Their plumage is a delightful mix of grayish-brown with intricate patterns, providing excellent camouflage in the arid landscapes they inhabit.

Despite their small stature, Elf Owls are proficient hunters, preying on a variety of insects such as moths, beetles, and grasshoppers. They are known for their unique feeding technique, catching insects mid-air with remarkable precision.


In the rich tapestry of Michigan's natural landscape, the diverse array of owl species adds a captivating dimension. From the majestic Great Horned Owl to the petite Elf Owl, these feathered inhabitants contribute to the state's ecological balance.

Michigan's forests, fields, and wetlands host a symphony of hoots, creating a unique connection between nature and residents. As stewards of the environment, understanding and appreciating the significance of these owl species is paramount.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most common owl in Michigan?

The Great Horned Owl is the most common owl in Michigan. With its distinct tufted "horns" and adaptable nature, it inhabits various environments, including forests, urban areas, and open fields.

What is the little owl in Michigan?

The Eastern Screech Owl is the smaller owl species found in Michigan. With a compact size and distinctive ear tufts, it resides in various habitats, including woodlands and suburban areas.

Where do owls live in Michigan?

Owls in Michigan, such as the Great Horned Owl and Eastern Screech Owl, inhabit diverse environments like forests, wooded areas, urban parks, and suburban regions. They adapt to varying landscapes for roosting and hunting.

About Hammad Tariq

Hammad Tariq, the passionate founder and author of HappiestBeaks, is a dedicated bird enthusiast, caretaker, and lover. With a deep-seated affection for avian companions, he channels his expertise into crafting insightful and informative blogs on bird care and behavior.