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 >
     
Take a Listen   Take a Listen
 
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 the smallest in the eastern US at 7-8 inches long. Although they're not often seen (or heard) in the wild, an active banding program has banded a good population in Massachusetts. Learn more >
     
Take a Listen   Take a Listen
 

Long-eared Owl

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

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared owl © Joe Vincent
Short-eared owl © Joe Vincent
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 two decades. Learn more >   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 >
     
Take a Listen   Take a Listen
 

Barn Owl

Barn owl © Paul Higgins
Barn owl © Paul Higgins
Barn Owls are very recognizable by 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 >
 
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Barn Owl Call 160.95 kB

Owl that Doesn't 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, former director of Mass Audubon's Blue Hills Trailside Museum, runs a Snowy Owl research program. You can also see Snowy Owls in a large outdoor flight cage at Trailside.
 
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Snowy Owl Call 65.51 kB