Owls in Idaho – Meet the Magnificent Owls of Idaho
In Idaho, the Pacific Northwest region of the Western United States, there is an abundance of owls of many different species.
The conditions are perfect for owls, which is why there are so many in this region that lies at a low elevation and therefore prove to be extremely feasible grounds for nesting and roosting.
The largest owl in Idaho is the Great Horned owl, and the smallest is the Pygmy owl. Now without further ado, let’s get right into the discussion.
We’re going to start with the star owl of Idaho.
1. Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
- Weight: 1.4 kg
- Length: 46 – 64 cm
- Wingspan: 4.6 feet
- Commonly Found In: North American swamps, deserts, coniferous forests
The first thing to know about the great horned owl is that they are vicious hunters who like to take prey that is much bigger than them.
This powerful and aggressive bird of prey— also sometimes called a “tiger owl”—feeds on a variety of prey, which includes rabbits, hawks, and snakes.
They also take a liking to skunks and porcupines, which are dangerous enough targets due to their natural defense mechanisms.
Many times, great horned owls have been known to be attacked back by porcupines, frequently resulting in both the hunter and the hunted to be in disastrous predicaments.
The bird gets its name from the pointed feather tufts on the top of its head that look like horns, which are the most distinctive feature of this bird.
The bird has large, feline eyes that are yellow in colour. Its eyes have a pretty intense stare, as there is not much movement in the iris and pupils.
On its body is a repeating pattern of brown, white, gray, and black markings. The pattern and colours help the bird to stay camouflaged with its habitat and therefore sneak around for prey in concealment.
The oldest great horned owl in the wild only lived to be 28 years old. But in safety, they can survive for up to 50 years. This means that the bird is not great at surviving in the wild.
2. Snowy Owl (Bubo Scandiacus)
- Length: 63 – 73 cm
- Weight: 2 kg
- Wingspan: 3.9 – 6 feet
- Commonly Found In: Far into the North Pole; Arctic tundra habitats, sometimes in Southern Canada, Northern USA, Asia, and Europe
Snowy owls are known to be solitary and extremely protective of their territory. During the breeding season, males keep a strict guard on it often by using their powers of vocalization and by adopting defensive stances to scare threats away.
This bird is suited to a variety of different habitats around the world. And a primary reason for that is its tendency to take up residence in areas with a particularly high abundance of food.
As you can tell from the name, Snowy owls have white bodies and wings with a bit of black or brown dots on their plumage.
The cluster of black-brown dots is heavy on females, which gives the bird a salt-and-pepper kind of appearance. Males, on the other hand, look almost completely white.
Snowy owls have the remarkable ability to locate prey that is hidden by dense foliage or snow cover thanks to their acute vision and excellent hearing. Also, these birds love lemmings, and each adult can devour 3-5 a day!
3. Burrowing Owl (Athene Cunicularia)
- Length: 17 – 28 cm
- Weight: 0.13 – 0.26 kg
- Wingspan: 51 – 61 cm
- Commonly Found In: Canada to the southern regions of South America
Being diurnal, burrowing owls focus their hunts around the time of sunrise and dusk. These birds enjoy taking showers a lot, or rather, they have to take showers pretty often to get rid of the mites that they get during their expedition in burrows.
They will get into pre-dug burrows by other animals such as ground squirrels, skunks, marmots, prairie dogs, and so on. So, when these birds spot a little bit of rain or even a small puddle, they jump in for a bath.
The chest of a burrowing owl is either buff or dingy white. Adult feathers are brown with white chin stripes, barred stripes on the breast, and dots on the back. However, before adulthood, these birds lack chest stripes.
These birds have beautiful golden eyes with white arched eyebrows. The male species weigh heavier than the females, approximately by 3%.
These birds have very small body in proportion to their legs, which are too long, and their tail, which is a bit too small.
4. Barred Owl (Strix varia)
- Length: 48 – 51 cm
- Weight: 720 g
- Wingspan: 96 to 125 cm
- Commonly Found In: Deep forests, swamps, upland, and riparian habitats of North America
Barred owls hunt predominantly at night; however, you can actually spot one or two hunting during the day as well. These are solitary birds for the whole year round except when it’s time for breeding.
Also, these birds have a pretty good rapport with humans, as they are of a naturally engaging disposition that allows it to be curious and even quite tame.
Barred owls are forest owls with big, round heads with a grey-white facial disc. Their feathers are grey and brown in color with buff-white streaks and edges towards the ends of their plumage.
These birds have brown eyes and no identifiable ear tufts. They are so small in size that they can actually be swallowed whole by other big predators. This is why they hunt smartly without getting out of their safe zones.
They perch from atop branches of trees to spot their prey and then fly down to grab them quickly with their razor-sharp talons.
Barred owls do not migrate much. They like to stay in one place for a long stretch of time.
5. Great Grey Owl (Strix Nebulosa)
- Length: 60 – 83 cm
- Weight: 1.1 kg
- Wingspan: 121 cm
- Commonly Found In: Boreal Forests in Eurasia and North America
The Great Gray Owl is a big bird. To avoid population and attention, they typically stay in solitude. They are usually resting in dense areas of meadows or forest openings where they can stay camouflaged.
Great Grays hunt at night or during the wee hours of dawn and dusk. The bird is extremely good at hearing out for even the tiniest of pin-dropping sounds.
The Great Gray Owl’s body is greyish silver overall, with faint bars of tiny white, gray, and brown streaks all over. Its facial disc has a crimped pattern of concentric circles, giving the bird a squashed and curious appearance.
The yellow eyes of the bird are in stark contrast with the rest of its muted colors. The two concentric facial circles converge at a point in the center of the bird’s face, giving it the appearance of a frown that is quite believable.
The bizarre concentric circles on the bird’s facial disk actually have a purpose. They work like satellites to attract sound signals toward the bird, thus giving the bird its incredibly wide hearing range.
6. Short-Eared Owl (Asio Flammeus)
- Length: 35–43 cm
- Weight: 206–475 g
- Wingspan: 86–102 cm
- Commonly Found In: USA
The Short-eared owl is active during the day and evening. The bird has some enormous wings that make loose flapping sounds as it flies over in the sky.
These birds do not stay in hiding, rather they fly over open fields without any fear of being caught. Given their size, it is of no surprise that being prey is the least of their fears.
They are so carefree that they hover over their prey from a very close range just before they catch it.
The short-eared owls have a brown color on their body, with a bit of white and buff spots here and there.
At first glance, it might look like the bird has dark circles but in actuality, that is a feature of the bird that includes some black outlines around its yellow/golden eyes.
The chest of the bird and also its belly are distinctively paler in comparison to its body.
Very few owls can dare to nest on the ground. The short-eared owl, however, is quite fearless. The female short-eared owl makes the nest from scratch.
Perhaps the most shocking bit is that it plucks feathers from its own plumage, and then adds in some herb stalks and grass stems to make the nest.
7. Long-Eared Owl (Asio Otus)
- Length: 35 – 40 cm
- Weight: 250 g
- Wingspan: 90 to 100 cm
- Commonly Found In: Eurasia, North America
Like all owls, long-eared owls are nocturnal and like to stay isolated. The patterns on their body allow them to become completely camouflaged.
As such, the only way to be aware of their presence is by their deep hooting. During the winter, these birds are easier to spot due to their tendency to roost in packs.
Much like the great horned owl we discussed earlier, long-eared owls also have long tufts over their ears that look like horns.
The patterns and colors are also quite similar – the body has black feathers with patterns in brown, black, and buff. Their bodies appear quite dark in contrast to their faces which have a slightly pale shade of orange color.
The long-eared owl circles over its nest to protect its eggs from predators. Sometimes it will have fun with the predator while also distracting it.
On occasions, it pretends to act injured to divert the attention of the predator.
8. Western Screech Owl (Megascops Kennicottii)
- Length: 19 – 26 cm
- Weight: 160 – 180 g
- Wingspan: 16 – 17 cm
- Commonly Found In: Suburbs, North and Central America
The Western screech owl is a bird that is small in size but is not afraid of being among people. They can sometimes be seen perched on tree tops in suburban parks.
While in flight, these birds don’t even make any sound due to the dainty size of their wings. But these birds do have an angry side that it only reveals when it perceives a threat to their nesting grounds.
At first glance, this bird will look like a dried-out tree bark to you. Its facial disc and its body are almost of the same brownish color and coarse patterns.
The bill stays hidden while its small ear tufts protrude slightly out of its head. The color of this owl resembles tree branches and trunks so well that it makes a perfect camouflage with the surroundings.
Part of the courtship ritual of the western screech owl begins with the male presenting food to the female just before starting his main dance.
9. Flammulated Owl (Psiloscops Flammeolus)
- Length: 15 – 17 cm
- Weight: 60 g
- Wingspan: 36 cm
- Commonly Found In: North and Central America
The flammulated owl has a large-wings-to-body ratio, which allows it to fly very fast from tree to tree. However, you can spot the difference between the male and the female bird very easily, as females are considerably bigger in size than males.
There are some flame-like markings on the bird’s face, which is the reason for its name.
The flammulated owl has a small face disk and short ear tufts. They have distinctive looking jet-black eyes that always stand out and give the bird a very somber look.
Comparatively, the wings of the flammulated owl are longer and more pointed. Also, these birds have grey crossbars and black streaks in their plumage.
The flammulated owl has a keen and solitary presence. So, when there is someone around, this bird will deliberately sing at a lower volume just to give them the impression that it’s further away.
10. Boreal Owl (Aegolius Funereus)
- Length: 21 – 28 cm
- Weight: 120 g
- Wingspan: 60 cm
- Commonly Found In: Forests in North America and Eurasia
The boreal owl is nocturnal. During the day, it stays hidden in nooks and corners of dense spruce forests. The bird hovers in the air for a stretch of time, flaps its wings, and glides through to search for its prey.
It usually likes to eat rodents but will also eat other small animals found nearby.
The male and the female bird only come together during the breeding season. During courtship, the male serenades to its chosen partner, and also performs a physical ritual to get her approval.
The highly developed facial disk of the boreal owl and its asymmetrical skull helps to guide sounds emitted by its prey toward the owl’s enormous ears.
11. Northern Saw-Whet Owl (Aegolius Acadicus)
- Length: 18 – 22 cm
- Weight: 100 g
- Wingspan: 45 – 60 cm
- Commonly Found In: Woodlands, coniferous forests
Northern Saw-Whet owls function at night like most owls. However, they are crepuscular- they only hunt during dusk.
With amazing eyesight in low-light conditions, these owls are capable of spotting prey during such late hours without any struggle.
In the face of danger from an approaching predator, these owls are observed to adopt complete stillness in their body to attract as little attention from its potential attacker as possible.
Northern Saw-whet Owls have brown spotting on their whitish body. They have a whitish facial disk with a full white outline, and on the head, they have white spots.
Their big eyes have a yellow circumference and a deep black center, giving them the look of being alert all the time. When these birds are young, their breast and belly are of a creamy yellow color.
Due to being nocturnal, these Northern Saw-Whet Owls are not easy to spot, and yet their presence is no secret because of the loud and shrill calls that they keep producing from their vocals.
They are nocturnal and difficult to see, but they have a loud, piercing call that they repeatedly make.
Northern Saw-whet Owls are one of the smallest owls in the world. However, they are known to be fierce hunters of mice, small birds, and even insects.
12. Northern Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium Californicum)
- Length: 16.5 – 18.5 cm
- Weight: 61 g
- Wingspan: 38 cm
- Commonly Found In: Western of North America
Northern Pygmy owls are very solitary and territorial. So much so that they sleep with their eyes open – or so it appears. Also, to defend their territory, they will start to whistle and hoot and create a commotion.
The whole mechanism is built to ward threats away. The other times when these birds whistle and hoot is during the mating season when they try to attract the attention of a female Northern pygmy owl.
The head of the Northern Pygmy owl is much smaller in size than its body. The head is rounded and devoid of ear tufts, but there are white dots in a continuous pattern on their head and plumage.
Like the nails of a cat that protrude out when there is a threat, the Northern Pygmy Owl has ear tufts that poke out when they are being threatened.
13. Mountain Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium Gnoma)
- Length: 15 – 17 cm
- Weight: 61 g
- Wingspan: 38 cm
- Commonly Found In: Mexico, New Mexico, and Southern Arizona
Like other owls, the Mountain pygmy owl is solitary, aggressive when it comes down to it, and antisocial since they do not engage with other species at all.
They roost up on trees and also sunbathe in the meantime facing the sun when they can.
These birds are known to display feats of aggressive Behaviour to protect their territory, and the females have been reported to be more antagonistic than males.
This Mountain Pygmy owl looks exactly like it sounds – with a botched-in small and puffy face, a facial disk that is almost the same color as its body, this bird looks like it is always in a very serious mood.
The eyebrows of this bird are shaped into an arch, and their eye shape gives the bird a very threatening look. It is as if the bird is challenging you.
These mountain pygmy owls have tufts on their head that poke out like horns only when there is a potential threat around.
Now That We’re Here
Most owls do not like much attention. They like to stay in solitude, so if you spot one and go on to approach it, you might actually be attacked.
Be prepared to save yourself from the sharp talons of the bird. However, if you are fascinated with owls and want to witness them, then owls in Idaho will give you great joy and a viewing experience.
Feature Image Credits: Alan Tunnicliffe, Shutterstock