Ohio, often overlooked as a birding hotspot, is actually teeming with a diverse array of owl species. From the petite Eastern Screech Owl to the imposing Great Horned Owl, the state provides an ideal habitat for these fascinating creatures of the night. Their distinctive calls echo across our backyards, forests, and fields, adding to the rich tapestry of Ohio’s nocturnal wildlife.
Types of owl in ohio
1. Eastern Screech Owl
The Eastern Screech Owl, a small yet captivating bird, makes its home across Ohio. They’re experts at camouflaging in the deciduous forests, which are plentiful here. This skillful disguise allows them to reside comfortably in suburban and rural areas, often nesting in tree cavities or even bird boxes. You might have one as your neighbor and not even know it!
In terms of their diet, the Eastern Screech Owl isn’t picky. They’re opportunistic hunters that love to feast on a wide range of prey. From insects and small rodents to birds and amphibians, they have a broad palette. These owls are known to hunt from a perch, swooping down on their unsuspecting prey with their talons. Their adaptability makes them successful survivors in Ohio’s diverse habitats.
2. Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owls are the largest and most widespread of Ohio’s owl species. With their haunting yellow eyes and characteristic “horns” or “tufts,” they’re a striking sight. They’re found throughout Ohio in mixed forests, grasslands, and even city parks. Unlike many species, they’re highly adaptable and can thrive in various environments.
When it comes to food, Great Horned Owls are apex predators with a mighty appetite. They enjoy a varied diet, preying on everything from small mammals like rabbits and squirrels, to other birds, and even skunks. They are the “tigers of the sky,” known for their fierce hunting skills and ability to catch larger prey, making them a vital part of Ohio’s ecological balance.
3. Barred Owl
The Barred Owl, known for its distinctive “Who cooks for you?” call, is mainly found in the densely wooded areas of eastern and southern Ohio. They love mature forests with large trees, especially near water bodies. If you’re in these regions, listen out at dusk and dawn, when their calls are most prevalent.
Barred Owls, much like their owl cousins, are opportunistic hunters. They prefer hunting at night, swooping down from their perches to grab unsuspecting small mammals such as mice and voles. However, their diet doesn’t stop there; they also enjoy a good meal of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. Their role in maintaining the balance of local ecosystems cannot be overstated.
4. Northern Saw-whet Owl
Meet the Northern Saw-whet Owl, one of Ohio’s more elusive owl species. Despite being smaller in size, don’t let their cuteness fool you – these owls have a big personality. Northern Saw-whets tend to reside in dense coniferous or mixed forests, often near a water source. They’re typically hard to spot due to their nocturnal behavior and penchant for roosting in thick vegetation. Ohioans might catch a glimpse of them primarily during migration seasons, as they pass through the state.
When it comes to dining, Northern Saw-whets are big fans of small rodents, particularly deer mice. They also eat a variety of other mammals and birds, capturing their prey with a quick and deadly strike from their perch. Their hunting patterns help to keep rodent populations in check, which is essential for maintaining the balance in our ecosystems.
5. Barn Owl
Barn Owls, with their ghostly white, heart-shaped faces, are truly a sight to behold. In Ohio, they are generally seen in open farmland, grasslands, and marshes – places where they can hunt in open fields. Their presence in an area often indicates a healthy ecosystem.
Barn Owls are excellent rodent control agents. They primarily feast on mice, rats, and other small mammals, hunting them with deadly accuracy in the dead of night. These silent hunters play an indispensable role in the ecosystem by helping keep rodent populations under control, proving that they’re more than just pretty faces!
6. Short-eared Owl
You’ll find Short-eared Owl in open country – think fields, meadows, marshes, and prairies. They’re more likely to be seen in the northern parts of Ohio during the winter months. Unlike most owls, Short-eared Owls can be spotted hunting during daylight hours, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon.
Short-eared Owls have a diverse diet including small mammals like voles and mice, as well as birds. They’re exceptional hunters, often performing aerial dives to capture their prey. This owl species helps control the population of rodents and other small animals, which makes them integral players in maintaining the health of our ecosystems.
7. Long-eared Owl
Long-eared Owls, so named for their tall ear tufts, prefer a quiet life in Ohio. Their preferred habitats are dense coniferous or mixed forests, often near open fields for hunting. Although they’re not easy to spot due to their preference for deep woods and their outstanding camouflage, they are indeed there, hidden away in the quiet corners of Ohio.
These silent hunters prefer to dine on small mammals, especially voles and mice. They also occasionally prey on birds. They usually hunt at night, swooping down from their perch to snatch up their meal with their strong talons. Their nocturnal habits help control the population of rodents, contributing to the overall health of the ecosystem.
8. Snowy Owl
The Snowy Owl, a visitor from the arctic tundra, is a rare but cherished sight in Ohio. They primarily appear during irruptions or winters when food is scarce in their northern habitats. Open fields, airports, and even large parking lots can serve as temporary homes for these arctic visitors.
Snowy Owls are diurnal, hunting both day and night. They primarily feed on lemmings in their natural habitat, but when in Ohio, they switch to a diet of small mammals and birds. Their keen eyesight and sharp hearing make them formidable hunters in their temporary Ohio homes.
9. Northern Pygmy-Owl
Northern Pygmy-Owl is typically found in the western parts of North America and would be an extremely rare sight in Ohio. If one were to be seen, it would be considered a stray or vagrant.
However, in their usual range, Northern Pygmy-Owls inhabit coniferous forests and woodland areas. They’re small but mighty hunters that are active during the day, often preying on small mammals and birds. Despite their diminutive size, they’re even known to take down prey larger than themselves!
In the rare chance that one appears in Ohio, it would likely seek a similar forested habitat and maintain its diverse diet. Birders should be ready for the unexpected, as that’s part of the magic of birdwatching.
10. Northern Hawk Owl
Northern Hawk Owls are another species you’d typically find in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska, not typically Ohio. They’re named for their hawk-like hunting style and elongated body shape. Should one find its way to Ohio, it would likely seek out mixed or coniferous forest habitats.
These owls are mainly diurnal and hunt by day, preying on small mammals like voles, mice, and squirrels. They’re known for their exceptional eyesight, capable of spotting prey at great distances, even in the dim light of the forest.
11. Flammulated Owl
The Flammulated Owl is a small owl species native to the mountainous regions of the western United States and Mexico. Seeing one in Ohio would be quite a rare occurrence! These owls prefer dry, open forests with old-growth characteristics for their habitat.
Flammulated Owls have a diet that mainly consists of insects, particularly moths and beetles. They’re active at night, quietly hunting their prey from a perch. Despite their small size, they’re efficient hunters that play a role in controlling insect populations. If one were to appear in Ohio, it would likely stick to wooded areas and continue its insect-heavy diet.
12. Burrowing Owl
Burrowing Owls are a unique bunch! While they’d be quite a surprise in Ohio as they’re more common in the western United States and Florida, their unique lifestyle and habitat preferences certainly merit discussion. Unlike their tree-dwelling cousins, these small owls nest and roost in burrows on the ground, often those abandoned by prairie dogs or ground squirrels.
Their diet mainly consists of insects and small rodents, but they’ll also eat small reptiles and birds. They’re mostly active at dusk and dawn but can be seen hunting at all hours, day or night. If a Burrowing Owl were to be spotted in Ohio, it would truly be a cause for celebration and a fascinating sight to behold!
Popular owl spotting Hotspot in Ohio
Hocking Hills State Park
Located in southeastern Ohio, Hocking Hills State Park is a haven for owl enthusiasts. Its diverse landscape of forests, cliffs, and gorges provides the perfect home for several owl species, including the Barred Owl and the Great Horned Owl. The park’s quiet hiking trails offer a serene setting for an evening of owl spotting, especially during the nesting season.
Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park, between Akron and Cleveland, is a fantastic place to spot Eastern Screech Owls and Great Horned Owls. The park’s extensive trail system takes you through various habitats, increasing your chances of a memorable owl encounter. Don’t forget to attend one of the park’s guided birdwatching tours!
Magee Marsh Wildlife Area
Located on the southern shore of Lake Erie, Magee Marsh Wildlife Area is one of the top birdwatching spots in the country. In the winter months, it’s a great place to spot the rare visiting Snowy Owl. Year-round, you might see Barred Owls and Great Horned Owls amidst the marsh’s varied habitats.
Oak Openings Preserve
Just west of Toledo, Oak Openings Preserve is known as a birding hotspot. In this unique ecosystem, you can find a variety of owl species including the Eastern Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, and occasionally, the Short-eared Owl. The preserve’s sandy soil and open savannah make it an ideal environment for owl spotting.
Mohican State Park
Situated in north-central Ohio, Mohican State Park’s sprawling woodlands are home to a diverse range of owls, including the Barred Owl and the Great Horned Owl. The park’s quieter trails and overnight camping facilities offer plenty of opportunities to hear and possibly see these magnificent birds.
Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area
Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, located in Wyandot County, is a winter haven for bird watchers hoping to spot the Short-eared Owl. With over 9,000 acres of open prairie and marshland, this wildlife area provides an excellent hunting ground for these owls, making it an optimal viewing location.
Miami Whitewater Forest
Located near Cincinnati, Miami Whitewater Forest is a spot where you may find Eastern Screech Owls and Great Horned Owls, amongst others. Its forest trails and wetlands make for excellent owl habitats. Look for the owls at dawn or dusk when they are most active.
Shawnee State Forest
Often referred to as the “Little Smokies of Ohio,” Shawnee State Forest boasts extensive hardwood forests that make it an ideal home for several owl species like the Barred Owl and the Great Horned Owl. Its secluded wilderness offers an unspoiled habitat for these night-time hunters.
Blendon Woods Metro Park
Located near Columbus, Blendon Woods Metro Park is known for its wooded trails and nature center, making it an excellent place to spot Eastern Screech Owls and Barred Owls. Their winter bird feeding station is a favorite spot for local bird watchers.
Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge
Situated along Lake Erie, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is a superb place to spot migrating Snowy Owls in the winter. The refuge’s variety of habitats also supports other owl species like the Short-eared Owl and the Barred Owl, offering a wide array of spotting opportunities.
Best Times And Seasons For Spotting owls
Most owls are nocturnal, which means they’re primarily active at night. Thus, your best chance of seeing these creatures is usually around dawn and dusk, when the world is hushed, and the night is either beginning or ending.
As for the best season to observe owls in Ohio, winter can be especially rewarding. During these colder months, the trees are bare, which makes it easier to spot owls perched high above. Spring also holds its own allure as it’s the breeding season for many owl species. Owls become more vocal during this time, filling the night with their hoots and calls.