Owls, with their silent wings and piercing eyes, are the enigmatic guardians of the night. They are a symbol of wisdom in many cultures, and their hoots add a touch of mystery to the nocturnal symphony. In Mississippi, we’re fortunate to have a diverse array of these magnificent birds, each species with its unique traits and behaviors. In this blog post, we’ll explore the different types of owls that call Mississippi their home.
9 Types of Owls In Mississippi
1. Barred Owl
The Barred Owl, known scientifically as Strix varia, is a common sight in the forests of Mississippi. This medium to large-sized owl is easily recognized by its distinctive “hoo, hoo, too-HOO” call that echoes through the night. Barred Owls prefer to make their homes in mature forests near water bodies.
They’re known for their incredible adaptability, often nesting in tree cavities or even taking over nests abandoned by other birds. Their diet is diverse, ranging from small mammals like mice and squirrels to birds and even amphibians. Unlike many other owl species, Barred Owls are quite vocal and are known to engage in duets, especially during the breeding season.
2. Eastern Screech-Owl
The Eastern Screech-Owl, or Megascops asio, is one of the smallest owl species found in Mississippi. This tiny owl, with its piercing yellow eyes and ear tufts, is a formidable predator. Their grey or reddish-brown plumage blends perfectly with the bark of trees, making them almost invisible during the day.
At night, they come alive, hunting for insects, small rodents, and even small birds. These owls are known for their eerie, trilling call, which can send chills down your spine if you’re not expecting it. Despite their small size, they’re quite territorial and will fiercely defend their nests from intruders.
3. Great Horned Owl
The Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus, is the largest owl species you’ll find in Mississippi. With its imposing size, ear tufts that resemble horns, and deep, resonating hoot, this owl is truly a sight to behold. Great Horned Owls are versatile predators. Their diet includes a wide variety of prey, from rabbits and skunks to other birds and even reptiles.
Their strong talons and sharp beak make them formidable hunters, capable of taking down prey larger than themselves. These owls prefer to nest in large trees, but they’re not picky. They’ve been known to occupy a variety of habitats, from forests and deserts to parks and even city outskirts.
4. Barn Owl
The Barn Owl, or Tyto alba, is a beloved resident of Mississippi’s rural landscapes. With its heart-shaped face, pale coloration, and silent flight, the Barn Owl is a sight that can captivate anyone lucky enough to spot one. Barn Owls are named for their preference for nesting in barns, old buildings, and other man-made structures.
They’re also known to nest in tree cavities and cliffs. These owls are excellent rodent controllers, with a diet primarily consisting of mice and rats, which they hunt during the night. Their specialized feathers muffle the sound of their wings, allowing them to swoop down on their prey undetected.
5. Long-eared Owl
The Long-eared Owl, Asio otus, is a medium-sized owl that can be found in the dense forests of Mississippi. This owl is named for its long ear tufts, which are actually feathers and not ears at all. These tufts, along with its orange face and yellow eyes, give the Long-eared Owl a distinctive and captivating appearance.
Long-eared Owls are secretive and nocturnal, making them a bit challenging to spot. They prefer to nest in dense foliage, often reusing the old nests of other birds. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, but they’ve also been known to eat birds and insects. The call of the Long-eared Owl is a deep “hoo” sound, often repeated several times.
6. Northern Saw-whet Owl
The Northern Saw-whet Owl, Aegolius acadicus, is one of the smallest owls found in Mississippi. This tiny owl, with its large yellow eyes and brown plumage, is a delight to observe. Northern Saw-whet Owls are named for their call, which sounds similar to the whetting of a saw.
They prefer dense forests and are often found near water bodies. Despite their small size, they’re skilled hunters, feeding mainly on small rodents and insects. These owls are quite elusive, often hiding in dense foliage during the day. At night, their distinctive call can be heard, adding another layer to the symphony of sounds in Mississippi’s forests.
7. Short-eared Owl
The Short-eared Owl, Asio flammeus, is a medium-sized owl that’s known for its wide distribution across the globe, including Mississippi. This owl is named for its small, often invisible ear tufts, which are quite different from the long tufts seen in its close relative, the Long-eared Owl.
While they’re most active at dawn and dusk, it’s not uncommon to see them hunting during the day. They prefer open areas like grasslands and marshes, where they hunt for small mammals, especially voles. They have a buoyant, moth-like flight, which is a joy to watch. Their calls, a series of short hoots, can often be heard during their active hours.
8. Snowy Owl
The Snowy Owl, Bubo scandiacus, is a rare but unforgettable sight in Mississippi. This large owl is known for its stunning white plumage, which provides excellent camouflage in its typical arctic habitats. However, during irruptions, which are unpredictable migrations, they can be seen as far south as Mississippi.
Snowy Owls are diurnal, meaning they’re active during the day. They’re known for their patience, often waiting motionless for hours before swooping down on their prey. Their diet primarily consists of lemmings, but they’re known to eat a variety of other animals as well. The sight of a Snowy Owl, with its golden eyes and pure white feathers, is a sight to behold.
9. Mottled Owl
The Mottled Owl, Ciccaba virgata, is not a common sight in Mississippi, but it’s a fascinating species nonetheless. This medium-sized owl is named for its mottled brown and white plumage, which provides excellent camouflage in its forest habitats.
Mottled Owls are nocturnal and are known for their distinctive call, which is a series of whistles followed by a longer, drawn-out note. They prefer forested habitats, where they hunt for a variety of prey, including rodents, birds, and insects.
Popular Owl Spotting Place In Mississippi
1. Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge
Located in the heart of Mississippi, the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge is a paradise for birdwatchers. This 48,000-acre refuge is home to a variety of wildlife, including several species of owls. The diverse habitats, ranging from pine forests to wetlands, attract a wide array of bird species. The tranquility of the refuge, especially during the night, makes it an ideal spot for owl spotting.
2. Delta National Forest
The Delta National Forest, with its expansive hardwood forests and swampy areas, is a haven for owls. The forest’s remote location and lack of light pollution make it a perfect spot for nocturnal birdwatching. The sounds of owls hooting in the night, echoing through the dense forest, is an experience that will stay with you long after your visit.
3. DeSoto National Forest
DeSoto National Forest, located in southern Mississippi, is another excellent location for owl spotting. The forest’s diverse ecosystems, which include pine savannas and wetlands, are home to several owl species. The forest’s extensive trail system allows birdwatchers to explore different habitats and increases the chances of spotting these nocturnal birds.
4. Strawberry Plains Audubon Center
The Strawberry Plains Audubon Center, located in Holly Springs, is a birdwatcher’s dream. This 3,000-acre nature sanctuary is home to a variety of bird species, including several types of owls. The center’s commitment to conservation and education makes it a great place to learn more about owls and their role in the ecosystem.
5. Natchez Trace Parkway
The Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444-mile recreational road and scenic drive, offers numerous opportunities for birdwatching. The parkway’s diverse habitats, from hardwood forests to grasslands, are home to a variety of bird species, including owls. The quiet, less-traveled areas of the parkway are particularly good for owl spotting.
6. Gulf Islands National Seashore
The Gulf Islands National Seashore, located along the Gulf of Mexico, is not just for beachgoers. This national park is home to a variety of bird species, including owls. The seashore’s diverse habitats, which include beaches, marshes, and maritime forests, provide ample opportunities for birdwatching.
7. Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Located on the coast, the Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to spot owls. The refuge’s pine savannas and tidal marshes attract a variety of bird species. The lack of light pollution and the tranquility of the refuge make it an excellent spot for nocturnal birdwatching. The sound of owls hooting in the night, combined with the peaceful sounds of the marsh, makes for a truly magical experience.
Best Time And Season For Spot Owls In Mississippi
Most owl species are active during the night, so the best time to spot them is usually just after sunset or just before sunrise. During these twilight hours, owls are often hunting or calling, making them easier to spot and hear.
As for the season, winter is often a great time for owl spotting in Mississippi. Many owl species, like the Great Horned Owl and the Barred Owl, start their nesting season in late winter, making them more active and vocal. Additionally, the bare trees of winter can make owls easier to spot.