Utah has hundreds of species of birds, many of which visit the state to stop over in the important Great Salt Lake wetlands. For owl-lovers, there are 12 different species that you can find in the state, whether you live in the suburbs of Salt Lake City or you’re visiting one of the five breathtaking national parks in Utah.
While birdwatchers might be lucky to see the rare snowy or spotted owl in Utah, causal lookers will likely spot a great horned or barn owl in the state because they’re extremely common.
Some of Utah’s owls make the state their home all year-round, while others only visit during the breeding or nonbreeding season. The good news is that whenever you’re looking for these majestic raptors, whether it’s the dead of winter or the heat of summer, you’re sure to find them.
Here is the list of owls in Utah:
- Great Gray Owl
- Great Horned Owl
- Snowy Owl
- Spotted Owl
- Western Screech Owl
- Northern Saw-Whet Owl
- Flammulated Owl
- Short-Eared Owl
- Burrowing Owl
- Long-Eared Owl
- Northern Pygmy-Owl
- Barn Owl
12 Types of Owls in Utah
1. Great Gray Owl
- Scientific name: Asio flammeus
- Size: 24-33inches long
- Weight: 24.7-60 ounces
- Wingspan: 53.9-60 inches
Great gray owls are one of the largest owls in the US. They are larger than a Great Horned Owl, but they are a bit lighter. They sit somewhere in size between a goose and a crow.
As the name suggests, they are gray with silver, white, and brown streaks or bars. They have bright yellow eyes surrounded by brown circles, and a white “X” that separates their eyes. They lack ear tufts but have a large, round head.
They dislike being near humans or human settlements, so they’re hard to find. They’re quiet when they fly, and they don’t call out often, so you’ll usually see them rather than hear them.
Great Gray Owls live in coniferous forests and hunt small mammals. In Utah, you’ll only find this owl in the mountains of the northwest corner of the state bordering Wyoming during the nonbreeding season. They don’t usually move their home unless they travel further south or to lower elevations during the cold weather.
2. 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 Utah, from the Nevada border to the edge of 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.
3. 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 Utah, you may rarely see these birds in the northern part of the state only if food is scarce in their normal range.
The snowy owl is a rare bird to see, especially because their populations are declining.
4. Spotted Owl
- Scientific name: Strix occidentalis
- Size: 18.5-19 inches long
- Weight: 17.6-24.7 ounces
- Wingspan: 40 inches
As the name suggests, spotted owls have white spots, but they look dark brown overall. You’ll see more white spotting on the chest and less on the back and wings. They have distinct dark brown facial disks with a white “X” between the brown eyes.
These nocturnal birds hunt for small mammals like rats and squirrels. They’re silent hunters, and once they find their prey, they fly down and snatch them up. They live and hunt in mature forests, but since many are being cut down, the spotted owl population is in decline.
This bird is federally protected, but logging, habitat loss, and competition from Barred Owls are driving down populations.
Count yourself lucky if you’re able to spot one. They’re rare. Go out at night and listen for their hooting to have a chance at finding one.
There are three subspecies, which include the Northern Spotted Owl, the California Spotted Owl, and the Mexican Spotted Owl. In Utah, you’ll see the Mexican Spotted Owl in small flocks across the state, particularly in rural areas.
5. 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 difficult to find 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 for their distinctive screeches.
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 Utah, these petite owls live everywhere all year-round.
While they prefer to eat small rodents, they’re powerful birds and can even pick up a full-grown rabbit.
6. 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 most parts of Utah year-round, but you will only find them in the west desert around the Great Salt Lake during the nonbreeding season.
7. 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 a narrow strip down the middle of Utah only during the breeding season. 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.
8. 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.
These owls live in Utah only during the non-breeding season.
9. 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 breed in Utah and head south during the rest of the year.
10. 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 Utah should look for this bird year-round throughout the state.
11. 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. Those bird hunting in Utah can find this petite owl in the northeast and southwest part 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.
12. 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 Montana and North Dakota. The owl lives in every part of Utah, so your chances of seeing them are good.
Also Read: Woodpeckers in Utah