6 Different Species of Owls in Michigan

Michigan, located in the heart of the Great Lakes and with much more than part of the state wooded, is a haven for a diverse range of bird species. The Wolverine State is also home to numerous northern species throughout the winter.

The Upper Peninsula is home to many of the top birding spots throughout the state, including the Whitefish Island Bird Observatory and the Seney Wildlife Refuge.

This article will focus on the owls throughout Michigan. The state is home to eleven different species of owls. Several owls really aren’t active throughout the day, making it difficult to spot them. Owls are naturally timid and secretive creatures.

Boreal OwlBoreal Owl
Northern Hawk-OwlNorthern Hawk-Owl
Great Gray OwlGreat Gray Owl
Snowy OwlSnowy Owl
Eastern Screech OwlEastern Screech Owl
Barred OwlBarred Owl

Different Species of Owls in Michigan

1. Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl

The boreal owl is a tiny, secretive owl that appears shocked. Its feathers are brown with white dots on top and white with brown stripes on the bottom. It has a big head, a grayish-white face disk, with yellow eyes.


Boreal owls live throughout the deep coniferous woods of the taiga, and the majority of species are resident, however, some do move south during hard winter weather and however not generally far from their nesting habitat.

These owls are uncommon, however, they can be found in north wooded regions.

Boreal owls are primarily nocturnal, however, they do hunt during the day in some areas of their habitat, depending on conditions. They are mostly predators of small birds, rodents, and invertebrates.

Because of its secretive character, estimating the population number of this species is extremely challenging. They are categorized as of the utmost importance.

2. Northern Hawk-Owl

Northern Hawk-Owl

The northern hawk-owl is titled after its hawk-like look and habits because of its diurnal activities and hawk-like characteristics. Surnia is just the sole extant species throughout the genus.

The hawk-plumage owl is dark brown, having cream-white patches on the upper parts. It is cream-white on the bottom, having brown barring.

It features a big head, a v-shaped brow, and a gray face with a black border. It has yellow eyes as well as a yellow beak.


They make a variety of different sounds, ranging from the male’s rolling ulululululul tune to the high-pitched scratchy kip warning call. Northern hawk owls live inside the forested areas.

They like locations that have been ravaged by fire. They mostly nest inside tree holes, although they may sometimes use other birds’ old stick nests.

They are not migratory; however, they do migrate south during the wintertime, taking up residence among forest clearings, prairies, meadows, lakeshores, forested farmlands, valleys, and pasturelands. Hawk-owls are extremely rare across Michigan, but they have been recorded further north.

The northern hawk owl is among the few active owls throughout the day. It hunts rodents, owls, and small animals. It hunts across open regions, typically from a perch, scanning for prey.

Hawk- birds, such as the great gray owl, may snow-plunge to seize food below the surface that has been discovered by sound. Hawk-owl populations seem to vary in response to rodent levels. They may be harmed by fire control tactics and deforestation, although their conservation status is unknown.

3. Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl

The great gray owl would be the world’s biggest owl in terms of size and one of the strangest-looking birds. It’s gray on top, having pale bands, and pale on the bottom, having dark streaks.

It features a huge gray face, rounded head, and yellow eyes with black rings around them.

They dwell in deep, deciduous woods, coniferous, and hunt in neighboring open fields. They do not make nests, instead relying on the abandoned nests of many other birds.

A loud, resonant who is perhaps the most typical cry. They might hiss and babble as well. You could glimpse a great gray owl in the extreme northern Upper Peninsula if you’re lucky. However, these birds are few and far between.

Great gray owls use acute hearing and hunt at night from a perch that might be a tree or a pole. Gray owls swoop down on their prey with incredible force and are capable of falling through the snow to get it. Their primary food source is rodents.

The most serious hazard to great gray owls is ecological damage caused by wood cutting, which has an influence on their nesting, fledging, roosting, and hunting behaviors. They are also harmed by automobile crashes, rodenticides, and the West Nile Virus.

4. Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

The snowy owl is among the most distinguishable owls on the planet, including its brilliant yellow eyes and distinctive white feathers. Although the feathers are predominantly white, the upper parts are stippled with black markings.

Females get more dots and a lighter brown stripe as compared to males. Snowy owls have small heads along with small ear tufts and thick feathering. They blend in well with the freezing arctic environment, usually appearing as a clump of fresh snow.


Snowy owls are predators that dwell in vast regions of the treeless Arctic tundra. They make their nests throughout shallow scratches on open terrain, often at higher altitudes such as hummocks, ridges, hills, and outcrops. Snowy owls are wild birds that move in erratic patterns.

They explode south during certain winter weather, and you may see them across Michigan in grasslands, prairies, meadows, lakeshores, and coastal areas. They’re also common in golf courses, farming fields, and airports.

Unlike some of the other owls, snowy owls create a long-distance growling screech instead of the usual hooting. One of the most common screams is a series of harsh kru kru kru noises. Clucking, grunting, screeching, cackling, and hissing are some of the other voices.

Another distinctive aspect of the snowy owl is that it might forage during any time of the day or nighttime, unlike certain other owls. They also lack the sharp hearing that owls have; therefore, they rely on their great eyesight.

They hunt from perches or swoop on their prey, mostly on the field. Small animals, such as lemmings, are their primary diet. They also feed on other rodents, birds, and the occasional invertebrate, fish, or amphibian. 

It is tough to understand the migration patterns of this species due to its irregular character and the distance from its breeding habitat. They have very few threats and a large mating range that is mostly undisturbed. However, it is predicted that their snowy owl population has dropped dramatically.

Changing climate, which affects their environment and prey abundance, is one potential concern. They are also vulnerable to strikes with fences, autos, and powerlines throughout migrations, especially during the winter season.

The IUCN has classified them as vulnerable.

5. Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl

The eastern screech owl is really a short-tailed raptor having large wings. It has striped underparts and patterned feathers. This species has two color variants that range between gray to rusty-brown, with the gray form nearly identical to the highly associated eastern screech owl.

This gray variant is more likely to be found across Michigan. It has a big head featuring noticeable ear tufts, a yellowish beak, and yellow eyes. It has feathery legs and huge, strong feet.

Eastern screech owls prefer woody areas, including mixed deciduous forests, woodlands, riparian woods, parks, orchards, and gardens. They are abundant throughout Michigan and may be seen all year.

During the night, listen to hear their whining call, then search for them throughout the day in nest boxes, tree holes, and other man-made constructions. They have also been seen roosting in bushes or the thick foliage of trees near the trunk.


They hunt at night, usually from a perch. During the mating season, the bulk of their food consists of spiders, insects, and other invertebrates like worms, crayfish, and snails.

They feed on tiny birds and animals like voles and mice throughout the wintertime. The eastern screech owl is a hardy species that can modify its food and habitat to flourish in developed regions.

6. Barred Owl

Barred Owl

The barred owl is a big bird having barred feathers. It has a brown upper body with cream-white striping and a light lower body with a scallop mantle and brown stripes on the lower chest and abdomen.

It has a broad, spherical head having faint, concentric patterns and a light face disk. It features huge, black eyes that are close together, as well as a pale yellow beak. The feathery legs and yellow foot with black claws of the barred owl.

It is a noisy raptor with a diverse repertoire of magnificent, long-distance sounds. The most typical cry is a sequence of eight hoots that might be like hu hu hoo, hu hu huhoo. Eerie cackling, shrieking, grumbling, and cat-like howls are among the other voices.


Barred owls prefer older deciduous and diverse woods, although they also live in coniferous forests, semi-open woodlands, forest borders, and vast parkland having ancient trees. They build their nests in the hollow trunks of huge trees or snags in densely forested areas. They exist throughout the year in Michigan.


The prey of barred owls includes birds, small mammals, and amphibians, as well as fish, reptiles, and invertebrates. They are opportunistic predators who prey after dusk from perches.

Despite being among North America’s most numerous owl species, barred owls are highly sensitive to logging and the degradation of ancient forests, making them the perfect marker species.

Nonetheless, this is really a hardy and adaptable bird with a broad range, and population figures have grown in recent decades.


Owls are important to humans since they consume more rodent infestations than any other creature, rendering them both economically and ecologically advantageous.

They are particularly meaningful in agricultural areas because they are probably more efficient at pest management than pesticides. Pesticide use, unfortunately, is one of the most significant threats to owls since they are killed unwittingly by the hazardous substances ingested in their food.

The majority of North American owl populations are stable, but some are falling. Besides chemical use, habitat destruction is a severe threat.

Owl boxes are a way of attracting owls to your backyard, where they could help eliminate insects and provide much-needed nesting habitat for these important birds.


What is Michigan's largest owl?

Great horned owls are now the biggest of the owl subspecies that dwell in southwest Michigan all year. On the natural, they can be found in forest borders, wetlands, parks, suburbs, woodlands, deserts, and even tropical rainforests.

Last Updated on March 22, 2023 by Lily Aldrin

About Lily Aldrin

I am Lily Aldrin. I attended Cornell University, where I obtained my degree to become an Ornithologist so I could pursue my love of these magnificent creatures in and out of their natural habitats.

1 thought on “6 Different Species of Owls in Michigan”

  1. Hello, Lily! Great article. I have seen Barn Owls here in St Clair County three times in the past 50 years. The first time was in 1977 when there was a huge blizzard. It was taking shelter in our barn. I went in the hayloft in the middle of the night to throw down hay for the cows. It was resting on one of the beams. The 2nd time was about 15 tears ago. I went out to the barn to check on my dogs about 1 AM. It was resting on an overhang beam outside of my barn. It was snowing very hard. It was a raging blizzard. The owl was right over my hear, about 12 feet up. This is a different barn than the first sighting. I live about 5 miles away from my childhood home. Third siting a few years ago. I got a close-up view of it, again. It was flying right in front of my vehicle – it’s distinctive, moth-like flying style, clean legs and very white, monkey face easily seen, just like in the barns those two other times, except this time it was summer, not winter, and it was at dusk. One of my childhood friends has also seen them once or twice. All of these sightings have happened here, in St. Clair County Michigan.

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