Colorado is home to hundreds of species of birds and 12 different owls. From Durango to Sterling, there are an endless number of places where you can view these majestic raptors. While the avian population has been declining in many areas, there are still many places in Colorado where the birds are still abundant.
On the bright side, human encroachment means that we can see many owls in cities and suburbs that we would have had to travel miles and miles to see.
That means that even if you live in Denver you can see numerous different owls. But if you’re exploring Rocky Mountain, Mesa Verde, or the Great Sand Dunes parks, you have the chance to see even more species.
The summer can be an excellent time to find birds, but the winter presents numerous unique opportunities, so don’t let the weather stop you.
Here is the list of owls in Colorado:
- Great Horned Owl
- Western Screech Owl
- Eastern Screech Owl
- Flammulated Owl
- Short-Eared Owl
- Barn Owl
- Burrowing Owl
- Long-Eared Owl
- Northern Pygmy Owl
- Northern Saw-Whet Owl
- Boreal Owl
- Snowy Owl
12 Types of Owls in Colorado
1. Great Horned Owl
- Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
- Size: 20 inches long
- Weight: 32-88 ounces
- Wingspan: 40-57 inches
Most people recognize the great horned owl thanks to its appearance in movies like the Harry Potter franchise and its characteristic hoot. These massive owls can weigh up to five-and-a-half pounds. They have massive claws, and they’re strong fliers, which enables them to take down fierce prey like ospreys and falcons.
Once they clench their claws around something, it takes 28 pounds of force to pry them back apart.
These birds live in every part of North America, from Mexico to the northern parts of Alaska. It’s one of the most common owls and makes itself home in deserts, mountains, forests, and prairies. The great horned owl is just at home in cities as it is in the suburbs, and wilderness areas.
All this means that you have a good chance of being able to see one. You can find it anywhere in Colorado.
Look for the giant bird with yellow eyes and long tufts of hairs near its ears. They can be gray or cinnamon with barring over a cream or light gray body.
If you were wondering, they can’t really move their heads 360 degrees, despite what you might have heard. They can swivel their head over 180 degrees, though, giving the illusion that they’re turning their head completely around. These birds can’t move their eyes from side to side, so they move their heads back and forth instead.
2. Western Screech Owl
- Scientific name: Otus kennicottii
- Size: 7.5-10 inches long
- Weight: 3.5-11 ounces
- Wingspan: 21.5-24.5 inches
Western screech owls are small, about the size of a robin. But the screech they emit is anything but petite. They’re hard to spot in the wild because they blend in super well with their environment. If you want to find a screech owl, sit outside at night and listen patiently.
The base of their body is gray, brown, or red, with a pale breast. Their body is covered in dark streaks that look incredibly similar to the bark of many trees. They have yellow eyes and distinct ear tufts in a V-shape.
They’re nocturnal, and they make their home in the holes of trees and cacti, but they’ll also make their home in a nestbox in your backyard if you provide them with one. They’re common in suburban areas, and they’ll even make their home in urban parks. In Colorado, these owls only live in the western half of the state.
While they prefer to eat small rodents, they’re powerful birds and can even pick up a full-grown rabbit.
3. Eastern Screech Owl
- Scientific name: Megascops asio
- Size: 6.3-9.8 inches long
- Weight: 4.3-8.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 18.9-24.0 inches
The eastern screech owl is related to the western screech owl, as you might expect. This owl lives on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, with a little overlap in the Rocky Mountains between their western cousin.
In Colorado, you can find them in the very eastern edge of the state.
Eastern screech owls are excellent hiders. Their gray or reddish-brown mottling makes them blend right into the bark of the trees where they like to perch and nest. In fact, you might not even notice them until you see their bright yellow eyes shining.
They have distinct ear tufts and a yellow beak, with a dark V between their eyes.
These owls are night hunters, which makes them even more of a challenge to see. Your best bet is to listen for the whining trill call that they make and then keep your eyes peeled. If you’re not big on bird-watching at night, look at the cavities of trees as you walk around their native range. You should be able to see them as they sleep the day away.
4. Flammulated Owl
- Scientific name: Psiloscops flammeolus
- Size: 5.9-6.7inches long
- Weight: 1.5-2.2 ounces
- Wingspan: 15.9-16.1 inches
The Flammulated owl is tiny. It’s barely larger than a sparrow. These are night-hunting owls that roost in trees during the day. At night, they swoop out to spot their insect prey and devour it.
They live in coniferous forests in the western part of the US. You can find them in the central areas of Colorado during the summer. They spend their time year-round in Mexico.
For such a tiny bird, you might mistake them for something much, much larger if you were to only hear their call. They have a deep, booming hoot that makes them sound large. This helps them scare away other predators.
Look for a tiny owl with feathered ear tufts and vertical stripes on the belly. They have dark eyes and a grayish back.
5. Short-Eared Owl
- Scientific name: Asio flammeus
- Size: 13.4-17 inches long
- Weight: 7.3-16.9 ounces
- Wingspan: 33.5-40.5 inches
You’re right if you guessed that these owls have short ear tufts. Owls have ear tufts to help direct sound to their ears, enabling them to hunt and hear potential predators. Short-eared owls have ear tufts, but they’re small, like little horns.
They’re distinctive owls because they have brown and white mottling edged in black bars. The face is cream with dark black outlines around the yellow eyes.
Their distinctive appearance makes it easier to spot them, but the fact that they are active during the day makes it even easier to see them. They even have a distinct, moth-like flight pattern that makes identification even simpler.
Unlike many owls, they don’t prefer wooded areas. They like open fields and grasslands, where they sit on the ground and watch and listen for prey to catch. Then, they fly up and dive down to catch their prey. They even nest in the ground.
Short-eared owls live in most parts of Colorado during the nonbreeding season, but you can find them in the northern strip of the state during all year.
6. Barn Owl
- Scientific name: Tyto alba
- Size: 12.5-16 inches long
- Weight: 14-24.7 ounces
- Wingspan: 40-50 inches
The barn owl got its name because it likes to live in abandoned barns and other buildings in rural areas. They’ll also nest in the cavities of trees. They hunt by soaring across open areas and listening for prey. As you might guess, they have excellent hearing.
You can tell it’s a barn owl by its distinct face. They have pure white, heart-shaped faces with large, dark eyes. Their wings and back are gray, golden, or cinnamon and somewhat mottled. The undersides of their wings are white, as is their chest, which means they look all-white from underneath when they’re flying. They don’t have any ear tufts as the great horned owl does.
Young barn owls will fly far away from where they were hatched to find their own territory, but once they find a spot they like, they stay there for life.
You can find barn owls across the US and Mexico except in a few parts of the central northern states like North Dakota. The owl lives in nearly every part of Colorado, so your chances of seeing them are good.
7. Burrowing Owl
- Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
- Size: 7.5-9.8inches long
- Weight: 5.3 ounces
- Wingspan: 21.5 inches
Most owls live in the trees or shrubs, but burrowing owls have long legs to run along the ground in prairies, deserts, and grasslands. They hunt for rodents and then live in tunnels that animals have abandoned, like ground squirrels and prairie dogs.
They’ll even hunt small rodents and then take over their burrows. If that’s not available, they’ll live in pipes or tubing.
They’ve adapted to life underground by developing a high tolerance for carbon dioxide, which builds up in underground spaces.
Look for long-legged owls with mottled brown coloring and bright yellow eyes to identify them. They have flat heads.
Burrowing owls live in Colorado only during the summer. They move south during the rest of the year.
8. Long-Eared Owl
- Scientific name: Asio otus
- Size: 13.8-15.8 inches long
- Weight: 7.8-15.3 ounces
- Wingspan: 35.5-39.5 inches
Long-eared owls have surprisingly long ear tufts, which is how they got their name. The tufts are black with bits of buff or orange. They have two white lines between their yellow eyes.
They’re slender with mottled brown bodies. These nocturnal birds roots in trees and hunt in grasslands or open country.
You can often identify them by their hoots, squeals, and barks. They are quite vocal. They usually only migrate at night, but they can fly exceptionally long distances. Researchers have identified birds that have traveled from Canada to Mexico in a single year.
Those who live in or are visiting Colorado should look for this owl all year-round in the western part of the state and in the eastern half during the nonbreeding time.
9. Northern Pygmy Owl
- Scientific name: Glaucidium gnoma
- Size: 6.3-7.1 inches long
- Weight: 2.2-2.5 ounces
- Wingspan: 12 inches
As you might guess from the name, this is a tiny owl. They’re brown overall with small white spots on their head and more prominent white spots on their wings and back. On the back of their neck, they have two spots that resemble eyes to scare away other predators like Great Horned Owls.
They live in forests and nest in conifers, which is why they’re prevalent in the Pacific Northwest and in much of the Rocky Mountains. Anyone bird hunting in Colorado can find this petite owl in the western half of the state. They don’t migrate, but stay in the same area for their entire lives. They will move to lower elevations during the coldest time of the year.
Like many other owls, they nest in cavities in trees. They don’t make the hole themselves, though. They look for holes left by other animals or natural decay.
Northern pygmy owls eat small birds, lizards, insects, and mammals, but they might even snag a larger bird like a quail. They hunt during the day.
10. Northern Saw-Whet Owl
- Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
- Size: 7.1-8.3 inches long
- Weight: 2.5-5.3 ounces
- Wingspan: 16.5-19 inches
Northern saw-whet owls are petite, about the size of a robin, with a mottled brown and white body. They have big yellow eyes and a heart-shaped face with a small, white V-mark between their eyes.
They are difficult to see, especially because they hunt at night, but if you listen for their shrill call, you’ll know they’re nearby. During the day, they nest in cavities in trees at about eye height, so you might see them if you look carefully. Don’t disturb the sleeping birds, though!
They only live in forests, particularly mature forests, so don’t look for them in open areas or cities. They migrate long distances to breed. They eat small rodents like mice and shrews. They’ll also eat birds like chickadees, juncos, waxwings, and sparrows.
They live across the US, with scarce breeding populations in the South and permanent populations in the northern part of the country and throughout the Rocky Mountains and western Coastal ranges. Nonbreeding populations exist across the rest of the country.
The northern saw-whet owl lives in the west part of Colorado year-round and the east part during the nonbreeding season.
11. Boreal Owl
- Scientific name: Aegolius funereus
- Size: 8.3-11 inches long
- Weight: 3.3-7.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 21.5-24.5 inches
Boreal owls live in the central part of Colorado. They stick around the same general area for their whole life, but they will travel if they can’t find food in their neighborhood. They stick to forests and prefer the high mountains. However, if you live near a mountain or forested area, you can place a nest box in your backyard, and they might come to live.
These owls hunt at night, looking for small mammals. But they don’t fly around actively hunting. Instead, they sit in a tree and patiently wait for a rat or mouse to run across the ground. Then they attack.
Boreal owls are adorable. They’re about the size of a robin, and have a large square head. They’re brown overall with white mottling on their bodies and a mostly white face. The females are twice as large as the males.
12. Snowy Owl
- Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
- Size: 20.5-28 inches long
- Weight: 56.5-104 ounces
- Wingspan: 49.5-57 inches
Snowy owls are striking birds. The males are mostly white with bright, cat-like yellow eyes, and their plumage becomes whiter as they age. The females and immature birds have dark brown or black spots.
Snowy owls live in the Arctic Circle, where they hunt for mammals such as lemming and ptarmigans during the long summer days. They travel south to Canada, Alaska, and the very northern parts of the US during the winter months.
Most of the time, you can see them sitting on the ground near their hunting areas. They’ll also perch on power or telephone poles, fences, hay bales, and abandoned structures. They fly low to the ground as they scan the tundra or fields where they hunt.
In Colorado, you can see these birds across the northeastern part of the state during the winter season.
The snowy owl is a rare bird to see, especially because their populations are declining.
Also Read: Woodpeckers in Colorado