Owl Species Seen in Massachusetts

There are eight owl species that you may spot in Massachusetts. They’re found in all sorts of habitats, including dense forests, wood lots, swamps, marshes, grasslands, and even residential neighborhoods.


Owls that Breed in Massachusetts


Great Horned Owl

Great horned owl © Paul Higgins
Great horned owl © Paul Higgins
 

Barred Owl

Barred owl © Joe Vincent
Barred owl © Joe Vincent
These large owls can be found in a variety of habitats throughout most of the state. They are commonly heard in winter—any time from December through February—as they seek mates. Learn More   Barred owls can be found in most of Massachusetts other than the southeast, and can be heard calling year-round—a call that is commonly known as who cooks for you, who cooks for you all? Learn More
 
Barred Owl Call 112.78 kB

Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern Screech owl @ Eduardo del Solar
Eastern Screech owl @ Eduardo del Solar
 

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet owl © Paul Higgins
Northern Saw-whet owl © Paul Higgins
Unlike the barred owl, this owl is more common from the Connecticut River east, as it prefers deciduous forests. They can be heard calling in late winter and early spring. Learn More   Saw-whets are small owls—the smallest in the eastern US at 7 - 8 inches long. Although they are not often seen (or heard) in the wild, an active banding program has banded a good population of Northern saw-whet owls in Massachusetts. Learn More
 

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared owl © Joe Vincent
Long-eared owl © Joe Vincent
 

Barn Owl

Barn owl © Paul Higgins
Barn owl © Paul Higgins
This seldom-seen Massachusetts owl prefers conifer forests and dense thickets. Few sightings of the long-eared owl have been recorded in the state in the last 2 decades. Learn More   Barn owls are very recognizable, with their white, heart-shaped face. They prefer to hunt in open country. They readily nest in abandoned structures with convenient openings. Our Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary on Marth'a Vineryard has a barn owl nest box under the eaves. Learn More
 
Barn Owl Call 160.95 kB

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared owl © Joe Vincent
Short-eared owl © Joe Vincent

These owls not only prefer to hunt in open country—they actually nest on the ground. In Massachusetts, they are thought to breed only on the islands off Cape Cod. Learn More


Owl that Does Not Breed in Massachusetts


Snowy Owl

Snowy owl © Wayne Petersen, Mass Audubon
Snowy owl © Wayne Petersen, Mass Audubon
These large owls breed in the Arctic, but can often be seen during their migrations spring and fall. Norman Smith, Director of Mass Audubon's Blue Hills Trailside Museum, runs a Snowy owl research program. You can also see a Snowy owl in a large outdoor flight cage at Blue Hills Trailside Museum.
Snowy Owl Call 65.51 kB