Michigan, known for its stunning landscapes and abundant wildlife, is home to a variety of owls that add to the state’s natural charm. From the silent flight of the Great Horned Owl to the distinctive hoot of the Eastern Screech Owl, each species has its unique allure. Let’s dive into the nocturnal world of these mysterious and captivating birds of prey.
Types of Owls in michigan
1. Snowy Owl
The Snowy Owl, a true spectacle of nature, is one of the most iconic owl species found in Michigan. With their stunning white plumage, offset by sporadic black markings, these owls are a sight to behold against the snowy landscapes they call home. They are among the largest species of owls, with a wingspan that can reach up to five feet.
Their diet primarily consists of small mammals, but they are known to catch larger prey when the opportunity arises. These owls have a unique hunting style, preferring to sit and wait for their prey to come into view rather than actively pursuing it. These birds thrive in the harsh conditions of the Arctic tundra, but they are also known to venture south into the forests and fields of Michigan during the winter months.
2. Great Horned Owl
The Great Horned Owl, often referred to as the ‘tiger of the skies,’ is a common resident of Michigan’s forests. This owl is easily recognizable by its large size, ear tufts that resemble horns, and deep, resonating hoot that echoes through the night. Great Horned Owls are versatile predators with a varied diet.
They are known to hunt everything from small rodents to larger prey like rabbits and skunks. These owls are also known for their adaptability. They inhabit a wide range of environments, from dense forests to city parks. Their distinctive hoot, often heard at dusk and dawn, adds a touch of wilderness to both rural and urban landscapes in Michigan.
3. Barn Owl
The Barn Owl, with its heart-shaped face and soft, golden-brown plumage, is one of the most beloved owl species in Michigan. These owls are named for their preference for nesting in barns and other man-made structures, although they can also be found in natural habitats like forests and grasslands.
Barn Owls are efficient hunters, primarily feeding on small mammals like mice and voles. They have an incredible ability to locate their prey using sound alone. Barn Owls are often elusive and difficult to spot. However, their distinctive, eerie screech can often be heard during the night, signaling their presence.
4. Eastern Screech Owl
The Eastern Screech Owl, a small yet captivating species, is a common sight in Michigan’s woodlands. Despite its name, the call of this owl is more of a soft, melodious trill than a screech. This owl is known for its masterful camouflage, with its gray or reddish-brown plumage blending seamlessly into the bark of trees.
Eastern Screech Owls are versatile hunters, feeding on a diet that includes insects, small birds, and rodents. They are primarily nocturnal. They can often be found in suburban and urban areas, making their homes in tree cavities or nest boxes. Their presence serves as a gentle reminder of nature’s resilience amidst human development.
5. Barred Owl
The Barred Owl, with its soulful eyes and distinctive ‘who cooks for you’ call, is a cherished resident of Michigan’s forests. This large owl is easily recognized by its brown and white striped plumage, which gives it its name. Barred Owls are known for their hunting prowess. They primarily feed on small mammals, but they are also known to catch birds and amphibians.
They are most active during the night, but they are also known to hunt during the day, especially during the breeding season. These owls prefer mature forests with large trees for nesting. However, they have also adapted to live in suburban areas, where they can often be heard calling to each other during the night.
6. Great Grey Owl
The Great Grey Owl, the world’s largest species by length, is a rare and exciting sight in Michigan. This owl is known for its impressive size, large rounded head, and the distinctive ‘bow tie’ marking on its chest. Its soft, gray plumage gives it a ghostly appearance in the dim light of dusk and dawn.
Great Grey Owls are patient hunters, often perching silently on a high vantage point and waiting for the sound of prey. Their diet mainly consists of small mammals, particularly voles. Despite their large size, these owls have a surprisingly soft and low-pitched hoot.
7. Long-eared Owl
The Long-eared Owl, named for its prominent ear tufts, is a secretive resident of Michigan’s forests. This medium-sized owl is known for its slender body, orange face, and the black and white bands that decorate its belly. Its ear tufts, which are actually feathers, give it a cat-like appearance and help it blend into its surroundings.
Long-eared Owls are nocturnal hunters, feeding primarily on small mammals like mice and voles. They have a unique hunting style, flying low over the ground and using their keen hearing to locate prey. These owls are known for their communal roosting behavior during the non-breeding season.
8. Short-eared Owl
The Short-eared Owl, with its round head and short ear tufts, is a distinctive sight in Michigan’s open country. This owl is known for its buff-colored body, streaked with brown, and its large, yellow eyes that seem to glow in the twilight. Short-eared Owls are one of the few owl species that are active during the day, especially at dawn and dusk.
They feed primarily on small mammals, hunting over open fields and marshes with a flight that is reminiscent of a moth. These owls are ground nesters, often choosing to nest in grasslands and marshes.
9. Northern Saw-whet Owl
The Northern Saw-whet Owl, one of the smallest owl species in Michigan. This owl is known for its large, round head, yellow eyes, and the white ‘V’ marking on its face. Its name comes from its call, which is said to resemble the sound of a saw being sharpened.
Northern Saw-whet Owls are nocturnal hunters, feeding primarily on small mammals and insects. Despite their small size, they are skilled hunters, often catching prey that is larger than themselves. These owls prefer dense forests with plenty of cover. They are often elusive, but their high-pitched, rhythmic call can be heard during the night.
10. Boreal Owl
The Boreal Owl, also known as the Tengmalm’s Owl, is a rare visitor to Michigan. This small owl is known for its round head, yellow eyes, and the white spots that speckle its chest and belly. Its soft, gray-brown plumage allows it to blend into the boreal forests it calls home. Boreal Owls are nocturnal hunters, feeding on a diet that includes small mammals and birds.
They have an interesting hunting technique, often plunging into the snow to catch prey that is hidden beneath the surface. These owls prefer dense, coniferous forests with plenty of old trees for nesting. While sightings of the Boreal Owl in Michigan are rare, adding a touch of the wild north to the state’s birding scene.
Popular owl spotting Locations in Michigan
Kensington Metropark, Milford
Kensington Metropark, located in Milford, is a haven for birdwatchers. Its diverse habitats, including forests, wetlands, and open fields, attract a variety of owl species. The park’s nature trails offer excellent opportunities to spot Great Horned Owls, Eastern Screech Owls, and Barred Owls. Enjoy the serene beauty of this park while listening for the distinctive calls of these nocturnal hunters.
Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, Saginaw
The Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw is a prime location for owl spotting. Its vast wetlands and forests provide ideal habitats for owls like the Short-eared Owl and the Great Horned Owl. The refuge’s quiet trails and observation towers offer birdwatchers a chance to observe these magnificent creatures in their natural environment.
Isle Royale National Park, Keweenaw County
Isle Royale National Park, located in the heart of Lake Superior, is a remote and pristine wilderness area. The park’s dense forests are home to Boreal Owls and Great Grey Owls. The lack of human activity on the island makes it an ideal location for these elusive species. A visit to Isle Royale offers a unique and rewarding birdwatching experience.
Seney National Wildlife Refuge, Schoolcraft County
Seney National Wildlife Refuge in Schoolcraft County is a birdwatcher’s paradise. The refuge’s diverse habitats attract a variety of owl species, including the Northern Saw-whet Owl and the Barred Owl. The refuge’s well-maintained trails and observation decks provide excellent opportunities for owl spotting, especially during the early morning and late evening hours.
Hartwick Pines State Park, Grayling
Hartwick Pines State Park in Grayling is known for its old-growth pine forest, a rare sight in Michigan. This unique habitat attracts a variety of bird species, including the Great Horned Owl and the Eastern Screech Owl. The park’s quiet trails and the peaceful ambiance make it a perfect location for birdwatching.
Pointe Mouillee State Game Area, Monroe County
Pointe Mouillee State Game Area in Monroe County is a prime location for spotting Short-eared Owls. The game area’s extensive wetlands and grasslands provide ideal hunting grounds for these owls. Visitors to Pointe Mouillee can enjoy the sight of these owls flying low over the fields at dusk, hunting for their evening meal.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Leelanau County
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Leelanau County offers stunning landscapes and a rich diversity of wildlife. The park’s forests and dunes are home to several owl species, including the Barred Owl and the Great Horned Owl. The park’s trails offer excellent opportunities for birdwatching, especially during the early morning and late evening hours.
Best times and seasons for observing owls
Owls are primarily nocturnal creatures, which means the best time to spot them is usually around dusk and dawn. These twilight hours, when the day gives way to night and vice versa, are when owls are most active, hunting for their meals or calling out to each other.
As for the best seasons, it largely depends on the species. However, winter is often a great time for owl spotting in Michigan. Many owl species, like the Snowy Owl and the Great Horned Owl, are more visible during this season as they venture out in search of food. The breeding season, which typically occurs in late winter and early spring, is another excellent time as owls are more vocal and active.