Owls in Colorado, where we dive into the captivating realm of these majestic creatures that grace the beautiful landscapes of the Centennial State. From the mystical hoots that echo through the night to their remarkable hunting prowess, owls have long intrigued both nature enthusiasts and casual observers. In this article, we will explore the various owl species that call Colorado home.
15 Types of Owls In Colorado
1. Barn Owl
The Barn Owl, a nocturnal marvel, is a common sight in the Colorado night sky. With its distinctive heart-shaped face and pure white underparts, it’s a sight to behold. The Barn Owl is not just about looks; it plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the ecosystem by controlling rodent populations.
Using their acute sense of hearing, they can locate and capture prey even in complete darkness. Their silent flight adds an element of surprise, making them efficient predators. Barn Owls prefer open habitats like fields and meadows, often making their homes in barns and other human structures.
2. Burrowing Owl
The Burrowing Owl, a small but mighty bird, is another species that calls Colorado home. Unlike most owls, the Burrowing Owl is diurnal, meaning it’s active during the day. This owl has a unique living arrangement – it nests in burrows, often those abandoned by prairie dogs. These owls are easily recognizable by their long legs, bright yellow eyes, and distinctive white eyebrows.
They have a fascinating social structure, living in loose colonies with a complex system of communication involving a variety of calls, postures, and displays. The Burrowing Owl’s diet consists mainly of insects and small rodents, making them valuable for pest control.
3. Eastern Screech Owl
The Eastern Screech Owl, a master of disguise, is one of the smallest owls found in Colorado. Despite its small size, this owl is a fierce predator, hunting a variety of prey from insects to small birds and even bats. The Eastern Screech Owl is known for its excellent camouflage.
Its gray or reddish-brown plumage blends perfectly with the tree bark, making it nearly invisible in its woodland home. This owl is also known for its haunting trills and whinnies, adding a touch of mystery to the Colorado nights. These owls are cavity nesters, often taking over old woodpecker holes. They’re quite adaptable and can thrive in a variety of habitats, including suburban and urban areas.
4. Great Horned Owl
The Great Horned Owl, often referred to as the “tiger of the skies,” is a prominent figure in Colorado’s avian landscape. This owl is easily identifiable by its large size, ear tufts that resemble horns, and piercing yellow eyes. Great Horned Owls are versatile predators.
Their diet is impressively diverse, ranging from small rodents to larger prey like rabbits and even other birds. Their powerful talons and silent flight make them formidable hunters. These owls are adaptable to a wide range of habitats, from dense forests to open prairies and even city parks.
5. Long-Eared Owl
The Long-Eared Owl, a secretive and elusive bird, is another species found in Colorado. This owl is named for its long ear tufts, which are actually feathers and not ears. Their mottled brown plumage provides excellent camouflage, making them difficult to spot.
Long-Eared Owls are primarily nocturnal, hunting small mammals and birds with their keen hearing and sharp vision. They’re communal roosters, often found in groups during the non-breeding season, a behavior that’s quite unusual for owls. These owls prefer dense woodlands for nesting and roosting but hunt in open fields and meadows.
6. Northern Pygmy Owl
The Northern Pygmy Owl, one of the smallest owls in Colorado, is a bird that punches well above its weight. Despite its small size, this owl is a fearless hunter, taking on prey larger than itself. Northern Pygmy Owls are diurnal, meaning they’re active during the day. They’re recognized by their gray-brown plumage, round head without ear tufts, and yellow eyes.
A unique feature is the false “eye spots” on the back of their head, likely to confuse predators. These owls inhabit the coniferous forests of Colorado, often nesting in tree cavities. Their high-pitched calls add a distinctive note to the soundscape of the Colorado wilderness. The Northern Pygmy Owl’s tenacity and spirit make it a fascinating part of Colorado’s avian community.
7. Short-Eared Owl
The Short-Eared Owl, a nomadic bird with a global presence, is also a part of Colorado’s diverse owl population. This owl gets its name from its small ear tufts, which are often difficult to see. Its mottled brown and white plumage provides excellent camouflage in its preferred grassland habitats. Short-Eared Owls are most active during dawn and dusk, a behavior known as being crepuscular.
They’re skilled hunters, feeding mainly on small mammals. Their low, sweeping flight over open fields while hunting is a sight to behold. These owls are ground nesters, a rare trait among owls. The presence of the Short-Eared Owl adds a unique charm to the open grasslands of Colorado.
8. Western Screech Owl
The Western Screech Owl, a small and agile bird, is a common resident of Colorado’s woodlands. Despite its name, this owl doesn’t screech; instead, it has a series of hoots and whistles that add a melodious touch to the night. Western Screech Owls are excellent hunters, feeding on a variety of prey from insects to small mammals and birds.
Their gray-brown plumage provides perfect camouflage against tree bark, making them nearly invisible during the day. These owls are cavity nesters, often using holes in trees or nest boxes. They’re quite adaptable and can be found in a variety of habitats, including suburban areas.
9. Boreal Owl
The Boreal Owl, a mysterious and less-known bird, is a special sight in the high-altitude forests of Colorado. This owl is medium-sized with no ear tufts, large yellow eyes, and white-spotted brown plumage. Boreal Owls are strictly nocturnal, hunting small mammals and birds with their keen senses.
They’re known for their haunting calls that echo through the silent mountain forests. These owls are cavity nesters, often using old woodpecker holes. They’re elusive and not often seen, adding to their mystique. The Boreal Owl’s presence enhances the allure of Colorado’s high-altitude wildlife.
10. Flammulated Owl
The Flammulated Owl, a tiny bird with a big voice, is a summer resident of Colorado’s high-altitude forests. This owl is one of the smallest in North America, but its low-pitched hoots can carry over long distances, adding a deep resonance to the night. Flammulated Owls are insectivores, feeding primarily on moths and beetles.
Their gray and rust-colored plumage provides excellent camouflage against the bark of the pine and fir trees they inhabit. These owls are cavity nesters, often using old woodpecker holes. They’re migratory, making the long journey to Central America for the winter.
11. Northern Saw-Whet Owl
The Northern Saw-Whet Owl, a charismatic and endearing bird, is a common resident of Colorado’s forests. This owl is small with a large round head, no ear tufts, and captivating yellow eyes. Northern Saw-Whet Owls are nocturnal, hunting small mammals and birds with their sharp talons.
Their name comes from one of their calls, which sounds similar to a saw being sharpened on a whetstone. These owls are cavity nesters, often using old woodpecker holes or nest boxes. They’re somewhat secretive and can be difficult to spot, adding to their allure.
12. Spotted Owl
The Spotted Owl, a symbol of old-growth forests, is a rare sight in Colorado. This owl is medium-sized with dark brown plumage covered in white spots, hence the name.
Spotted Owls are nocturnal, hunting small mammals and birds in the quiet of the night. They’re known for their four-note hoot that echoes through the forest. These owls prefer old-growth forests with large trees for nesting and roosting.
13. Mexican Spotted Owl
The Mexican Spotted Owl, a subspecies of the Spotted Owl, is a rare and treasured sight in the canyons of Colorado. This owl is medium-sized with dark brown plumage adorned with white spots, giving it its distinctive name.
Mexican Spotted Owls are nocturnal, hunting small mammals and birds under the cover of darkness. Their haunting calls echo through the canyons, adding a touch of mystery to the night. These owls prefer steep canyons and mature forests for nesting and roosting.
14. Snowy Owl
The Snowy Owl, a symbol of the Arctic, is an occasional visitor to Colorado during the winter months. This owl is large and unmistakable with its pure white plumage, round head, and captivating yellow eyes.
Snowy Owls are diurnal, hunting during the day. Their diet mainly consists of lemmings in their Arctic home, but they’ll switch to rabbits, rodents, and birds when in Colorado. These owls prefer open habitats like tundra and fields.
15. Whiskered Screech Owl
The Whiskered Screech Owl, a small and elusive bird, is a rare sight in Colorado. This owl is named for the feather tufts that resemble whiskers around its beak. Its gray-brown plumage provides excellent camouflage in its preferred woodland habitats.
Whiskered Screech Owls are nocturnal, hunting insects and small mammals with their sharp talons. Their calls, a series of whistles and hoots, add a melodious touch to the night. These owls are cavity nesters, often using holes in trees or nest boxes. They’re quite secretive and can be difficult to spot, adding to their allure.
Popular Owl Spotting Locations In Colorado
1. Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park, with its diverse habitats ranging from montane forests to alpine tundra, is a haven for a variety of bird species, including owls. The park’s vast wilderness and relatively low light pollution make it an excellent spot for owl watching. Visitors might spot Great Horned Owls, Northern Saw-whet Owls, or even the elusive Boreal Owl.
2. Boulder County Open Spaces
Boulder County’s open spaces offer a variety of habitats, from grasslands to forests, attracting a diverse range of wildlife. These areas are home to several owl species, including Barn Owls and Eastern Screech Owls. The county’s open spaces are well-managed and accessible, making them great for birdwatching.
3. State Forest State Park
Located in North Central Colorado, State Forest State Park is known for its abundant wildlife, including several species of owls. The park’s dense forests and wetlands create ideal habitats for owls like the Northern Pygmy Owl and the Spotted Owl. The park’s remote location also means less human disturbance, providing a more natural owl watching experience.
4. Comanche National Grassland
Comanche National Grassland, located in southeastern Colorado, is a unique location for birdwatching. Its vast grasslands and canyons are home to the Burrowing Owl, a species that prefers open habitats. The grassland’s expansive skies provide excellent opportunities for spotting these owls, especially during the twilight hours when they’re most active.
5. Chico Basin Ranch
Chico Basin Ranch, located southeast of Colorado Springs, is a working cattle ranch that also serves as a birding hotspot. Its diverse habitats attract a variety of bird species, including owls. The ranch’s bird banding station provides unique opportunities to see owls like the Long-eared Owl up close.
6. Chatfield State Park
Chatfield State Park, nestled at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, is a birdwatcher’s paradise. The park’s diverse habitats, including riparian areas, grasslands, and forests, attract a variety of bird species, including several types of owls. The park’s tranquil setting and expansive skies make it an excellent spot for observing owls like the Great Horned Owl and the Barn Owl in their natural environment. Whether you’re exploring the park’s trails or camping under the stars, keep an ear out for the distinctive calls of these nocturnal hunters.
7. Cheesman Park
Located in the heart of Denver, Cheesman Park is a testament to the adaptability of wildlife. Despite its urban location, the park is home to a variety of bird species, including owls. The park’s mature trees provide ideal nesting and roosting spots for owls like the Eastern Screech Owl. A walk in the park at dusk might reward you with a sighting of these elusive birds, adding a touch of wilderness to the cityscape.
8. Barr Lake State Park
Barr Lake State Park, located northeast of Denver, is a renowned birding hotspot. The park’s centerpiece, Barr Lake, and its surrounding habitats attract a diverse range of bird species. The park’s quiet woodlands and wetlands are ideal for owls like the Long-Eared Owl and the Northern Saw-whet Owl. The park’s birdwatching trail and nature center offer excellent opportunities for spotting and learning about these fascinating birds.
9. Estes Park
Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, is a haven for wildlife, including several species of owls. The town’s surrounding forests and meadows provide excellent habitats for owls like the Boreal Owl and the Northern Pygmy Owl. Whether you’re exploring the town’s trails or enjoying the view from your cabin, keep an eye out for these nocturnal residents.
10. Town of Empire
The quaint Town of Empire, located in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, offers excellent opportunities for birdwatching. The town’s high-altitude forests are home to several owl species, including the Flammulated Owl and the Mexican Spotted Owl. The town’s quiet setting and dark skies make it an excellent spot for observing these owls, adding a touch of magic to the mountain nights.
Best Times And Seasons For Observing Owls
Owls are primarily nocturnal, meaning they’re most active during the night. The period from dusk to dawn is the prime time for owl activity. However, some species, like the Burrowing Owl and the Northern Pygmy Owl, are also active during the day, especially around dawn and dusk.
As for the best seasons, it largely depends on the owl species and their life cycle. Spring is a particularly active time for many owls as it’s their breeding season. Winter can also be a good time for owl spotting. Some owl species, like the Snowy Owl, may venture further south during the colder months, the bare trees of winter can make owls easier to spot.