How to tell which owl is hooting — or hiding — in your neighborhood – Star Tribune

Big owls, little owls, white owls, dark owls, owls with « ears, » awww-cute owls — there’s plenty to see in the trees.
If you’re an owl fan (and who isn’t?), then you’ll be happy to know that it’s possible to see eight species of owls in our area, at least for part of the year. Some are fairly easy to spot, while some are a real challenge.
The three most common are the great horned owl, barred owl and screech owl, a « Goldilocks » trio: Great horned owls are very big, barred owls are medium-sized and screeches are very small.
Owls work hard to avoid coming to our attention — you may have walked under an owl perching in the woods without even realizing it. When we do notice owls, it’s usually during nesting season, when owls are calling and attached to a nest site. Or when crows or other birds call loudly and dive-bomb an owl to drive it away.
Some owls are already raising their broods, and one fascinating feature of the owl world is that with few exceptions, owls don’t build their own nests. They generally let other creatures do the construction work or find good-sized holes in trees.
Humans are mad for owls, it seems, and people gather wherever and whenever they hear of owl sightings. This is disturbing to the owls, especially during the breeding season, which is why there’s a hard-and-fast rule in the birding community: Do not report owl sightings.
It’s a wonderful thing that some owls nest near us, and we need to return the favor by giving them room to go about their business without harassment. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid an area where owls are nesting, just be discreet.
Here’s an introduction to owl species you might see in Minnesota. In some cases, you’ll have to drive a ways, some might show up only during spring or fall migration and snowy owls only occasionally move down from the Arctic.
If you’re looking for owls, keep your eyes peeled, visit owls’ preferred habitats and be patient. If you discover an owl, please keep it to yourself, enjoy the sighting and then move on.
Long-eared owl
Barred owl
Eastern screech-owl
Great gray owl
Short-eared owl
Northern saw-whet owl
Snowy owl
Owls, owls and more owls
Get your owl fix at the International Festival of Owls, a celebration of all things owly in Houston, Minn., April 30 to May 1. The festival is a great family event, featuring many fun activities for kids, including an owl hooting contest.
The annual event has been revamped to allow for COVID precautions, with most events scheduled outdoors this year. View the winners of the Kids’ Art Contest, with entries from around the world, choose from owl-themed foods, dissect an owl pellet, attend live owl programs and more.
Check out the website,, for a current list of events.

Listen to owls
Recordings of each owl species’ sounds are available on a Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. Search for « All About Birds, » then when the page opens, type in the name of the owl you want to listen to, and select the « Sounds » icon.
Two other owls
Two other owl species may be seen in Minnesota, the Northern hawk-owl and the boreal owl, both of which spend their lives far to the north of here.

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