Indiana is home to almost half of North America’s 20 species of owls. Some of these owls can be found in great numbers throughout the year. For others, you’ll have to know the right time and place to be lucky enough to spot them. Regardless of their resident status in the state, it’s always a pleasure and often even a surprise when you see one of these magnificent raptors. Be sure you have your binoculars ready to spot these eight owl species in Indiana, listed below from rarest to most common. For some of these winter visitors, it might be a once-in-a-lifetime find!
1. Snowy Owl
Though this type of owl migrates to Indiana from November to April, you might have difficulty spotting them amongst the white backdrop of winter. Snowy owls (Bubo scandiacus) are named for their snow-white appearance. However, this only goes for the males. Females have dark brown spots on their entire bodies. If the snowy owl isn’t immediately recognizable from its color, then its bright yellow, round eyes might give it away. You’re most likely to encounter the snowy owl in northern Indiana in open prairies or lakeshores. These environments mimic their natural hunting grounds in the tundra, and because of the extended daylight hours in these regions, snowy owls hunt any time.
2. Long-Eared Owl
The long-eared owl (Asio otus) is named for its ear-like feather tufts. These tufts give the owl an “alert” look that is emphasized by their intense orangey-yellow rounded eyes. Although they seem easy to spot, their brown and tan colors give them excellent camouflage, making it difficult for both prey and eager bird watchers to notice them.
You might have a leg-up on spotting this species if you know where to look. They aren’t as solitary as others. Their winter roosting activity usually involves accompanying other owls of their species. You can find these groups of owls in pine trees near pastureland where they’re likely to do their nightly hunting. Look near the trunk of the tree to find the owls congregating for warmth and safety. Keep your eye out for a crow-sized bird with a brownish face and tall “ears”. You’ll have the best chance of spotting them from October to April.
3. Barn Owl
Barn owls (Tyto alba) are another easily recognizable species because of their flat, broad face and dark eyes. Their face is often described as “heart-shaped,” which lends a sweet or romantic characteristic to this ruthless predator. Although this species is present all year in Indiana and in almost every state in the contiguous U.S., they’re rather elusive. You will only find them active at night. They’re also extremely effective predators that can capture prey in total darkness just by relying on sound. If you’re feeling lucky, try looking for these animals in open land like farmlands or prairies. Of course, you might also find them roosting in abandoned buildings like barns when they’re not out hunting.
4. Northern Saw-Whet Owl
A small but mighty owl, the northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus) makes the northern parts of Indiana its home all year. In the winter months, you might be able to spot this bird of prey in old-growth coniferous forests nesting in tree cavities. Look out for this adorable raptor from October to April but look hard! Their diminutive size might make them seem more prey than predator, but when times are tough, these little birds can make a meal out of songbirds and even other small owls. Because they are tiny, roughly the size of a robin, and mostly nocturnal, you’ll need to be an experienced birder to spot them at night. If you’re searching in the forest, look near water or anywhere small rodents or songbirds congregate.
5. Barred Owl
Barred owls (Strix varia) have round and flat faces with noticeable dark brown bars of color along their lighter-colored bodies. Like barn owls, they have dark eyes instead of dazzling yellow or orange ones. These eyes and the pattern on their plumage are easy identifiers for bird watchers. Like most of the other owls on this list, they’re most active at night or dusk and dawn. Barred owls are present throughout the state of Indiana all year. Although they’re well-camouflaged for their environment, you might catch one sleeping on a branch during the day in a pine, cedar, or spruce within a coniferous forest. They also tend to hunt in swampy areas around dusk.
6. Eastern Screech Owl
This tiny owl species can be found all year in Indiana, as it is a permanent resident. However, you’re better off looking for it from September through January when the leaves have fallen from the trees. The eastern screech owl (Megascops asio) likes to nest in the cavities of oaks or pines. They’re usually a mottled color of either gray or red. Their colors aren’t indicative of sex or age, but rather location. They hunt at night primarily. To spot them during the day, it takes a keen eye. Scan tree cavities and abandoned nests.
7. Short-Eared Owl
The short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) lives all year in the northern parts of Indiana. Throughout the rest of the state (and even the country) you might encounter this species during the winter months. The best time to look for this bird is between November and March. These open-field hunters are most active at dusk and dawn, which is known as “crepuscular.” Most owls fall into this category. They fly low over prairie land and other open fields in search of voles or other small rodents. They are also a ground-nesting bird species, so keep your gaze low to catch a glimpse of this pale-faced beauty.
8. Great Horned Owl
There is a high probability you will spot this owl at some point if you’re looking for it. The great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) is a year-round resident of Indiana. They’re one of the most common species of owls to encounter and are widely recognizable. However, winter might be the best time to see them. The months they’re most active are from September to May. Their bright yellow eyes and “horns” above the eyes capture this owl’s predatory nature. You can find this adaptable raptor hunting in woodlands, swamps, and farmland. This owl favors rodents and rabbits for its meals but is not afraid to take out other birds like crows or even other owls, such as the barred owl.
|Owl Species (Rarest to Most Common)
|When and Where to Find
|1. Snowy Owl
|November-April in open areas.
|2. Long-Eared Owl
|October-April in pine forests near pastures.
|3. Barn Owl
|Year-round in abandoned buildings or open fields at night.
|4. Northern Saw-Whet Owl
|October-April in old-growth coniferous forests.
|5. Barred Owl
|Year-round in coniferous forests or near swamps.
|6. Eastern Screech Owl
|September-January in pine and oak forests.
|7. Short-Eared Owl
|November-March in open areas at dusk or dawn.
|8. Great Horned Owl
|September-May in swamps or forests.
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