New England, a tapestry of dense woodlands, serene lakes, and rolling hills, provides an ideal habitat for a variety of owl species. From the silent swoop of the Great Horned Owl to the haunting hoots of the Eastern Screech Owl, these nocturnal raptors add a touch of mystery and wonder to our nighttime adventures. In this blog post, we’ll delve into the fascinating world of these feathered denizens of the night.
Types of owls in New England
1. Great Horned Owl
The Great Horned Owl, often referred to as the “tiger of the skies,” is a sight to behold in the forests of New England. With its large, piercing yellow eyes and tufts of feathers that resemble horns, this owl is easily recognizable.
The Great Horned Owl is a versatile predator, known for its wide diet range that includes rodents, rabbits, and even other birds. Its powerful talons and keen eyesight make it a formidable hunter, even in the darkest of nights. The hoot of the Great Horned Owl, a deep and resonant sound.
2. Barn Owl
The Barn Owl, with its heart-shaped face and ghostly white plumage, is a captivating presence in New England. Unlike other owls, the Barn Owl doesn’t hoot but instead emits a high-pitched screech that can send shivers down your spine.
Barn Owls are excellent rodent controllers, feeding primarily on mice and rats. They prefer to nest in quiet, secluded places like barns and old buildings, hence their name. Their silent flight and nocturnal habits make them mysterious and fascinating creatures to observe.
3. Barred Owl
The Barred Owl, named for the distinctive bars of brown and white on its chest, is a common resident of New England’s forests. With its large, round eyes and soft hooting call, the Barred Owl is a charming character in the region’s wildlife.
Barred Owls are known for their curious and friendly nature. They feed on a variety of prey, including small mammals, birds, and amphibians. Their hoot, often described as sounding like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” is a delightful soundtrack to a night in the woods.
4. Short-Eared Owl
The Short-Eared Owl, a nomadic bird with a global presence, is an occasional visitor to the open fields and marshes of New England. This owl gets its name from the small, ear-like tufts of feathers on its head, which are often difficult to see.
Short-Eared Owls are most active during dawn and dusk, a behavior known as being crepuscular. They are skilled hunters, swooping low over fields to catch rodents and other small mammals. Their flight is a spectacle to watch, with agile maneuvers and sudden dives.
5. Eastern Screech Owl
The Eastern Screech Owl, a small yet mighty predator, is a common resident of New England’s woodlands. Despite its name, this owl doesn’t actually screech. Instead, it emits a series of whinnies and soft trills that add a touch of magic to the night.
Eastern Screech Owls come in two colors, red and gray, adding to their allure. They are versatile eaters, feeding on everything from insects and small rodents to birds and reptiles. Their compact size and camouflage make them difficult to spot, but their distinctive calls often give them away.
6. Northern Saw-Whet Owl
The Northern Saw-Whet Owl, one of the smallest owls in North America, is a secretive resident of New England’s dense forests. This owl is named for its call, which sounds similar to the whetting (sharpening) of a saw.
Northern Saw-Whet Owls are elusive and prefer dense cover, making them a challenge to spot. They primarily feed on small rodents, and their presence is often indicated by a pile of rodent bones and fur beneath their perches.
7. Long-Eared Owl
The Long-Eared Owl, a slender and secretive bird, is a rare sight in New England. This owl is named for its long ear tufts, which are actually feathers and not ears. These tufts make the owl look larger and more intimidating to potential predators.
Long-Eared Owls are nocturnal and prefer dense forests for roosting during the day. They feed primarily on small mammals, hunting under the cover of darkness. Their hoots, a deep and rhythmic series of notes, add a haunting melody to the night.
8. Great Gray Owl
The Great Gray Owl, a majestic visitor from the north, is a rare sight in New England. This owl is the largest in North America, but don’t be fooled by its size. Most of its bulk comes from its dense feathers, which keep it warm in its preferred cold habitats.
The Great Gray Owl is known for its large, round face framed by a “bow tie” of dark feathers. Its piercing yellow eyes and solemn expression give it a wise and mysterious aura. This owl hunts primarily rodents, using its exceptional hearing to locate prey under thick layers of snow.
Popular owl spotting places in New England
Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, Massachusetts
Located on the northeastern coast of Massachusetts, Parker River National Wildlife Refuge is a haven for birdwatchers. The refuge’s diverse habitats, which include beaches, dunes, marshes, and forests, attract a variety of owl species, especially during migration seasons. Here, you might spot Short-Eared Owls hunting over the marshes or Barred Owls perched in the forest.
Quabbin Reservoir, Massachusetts
Quabbin Reservoir, one of the largest man-made public water supplies in the United States, is surrounded by vast forests and wetlands. These habitats are ideal for owls, making the reservoir a popular spot for owl enthusiasts. Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls are commonly seen here, especially during the early morning or late evening hours.
Acadia National Park, Maine:
Acadia National Park, with its rugged coastline and dense forests, is a prime location for spotting owls. The park’s diverse habitats support a variety of owl species, including the Northern Saw-Whet Owl and the Eastern Screech Owl. Nighttime birdwatching tours are a popular activity in the park, offering a chance to see these elusive creatures in their natural habitat.
White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire:
White Mountain National Forest, known for its stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife, is a great place to spot owls. The forest’s vast wilderness areas provide ideal habitats for owls like the Great Gray Owl and the Northern Hawk-Owl. Birdwatchers should be prepared for a hike, as some of the best birding spots are off the beaten path.
Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, Massachusetts:
Allens Pond Wildlife Sanctuary, located in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, is a birdwatcher’s paradise. The sanctuary’s diverse habitats, which include beaches, fields, and woodlands, attract a variety of bird species, including owls. Here, you might spot a Barn Owl silently gliding over the fields in search of prey.
Litchfield Hills, Connecticut:
The Litchfield Hills region of Connecticut, with its rolling hills and dense forests, is a great place to spot owls. The area’s rural landscapes and large tracts of forest provide ideal habitats for owls like the Barred Owl and the Eastern Screech Owl. The region’s quiet country roads offer excellent opportunities for nighttime owl-spotting drives.
Green Mountain National Forest, Vermont:
Green Mountain National Forest, spanning over 400,000 acres in Vermont, is a prime location for spotting owls. The forest’s vast wilderness areas provide ideal habitats for a variety of owl species, including the Boreal Owl and the Northern Saw-Whet Owl. Birdwatchers should be prepared for a hike, as some of the best birding spots are deep within the forest.