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Wildlife Spotlight: Owls

There are many different species of owls that call Yellowstone home, including Great Horned Owls, Great Grey Owls, Boreal Owls, Burrowing Owls, Long-eared Owls, Short-eared Owls and Northern Pygmy Owls.

Learn all about the owls in Yellowstone below!

Great Horned Owl:

  • This is one of the most common owls in North America. It's color can vary from red/brown to gray to black and white, but it's most defining characteristic is it's large, yellow eyes and large, tufted ears that look like horns.

  • Great Horned Owls can weigh up to 3.5 pounds, and are the heaviest owl in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem-- the second heaviest owl in North America, behind the Snowy Owl.

  • They most commonly hunt from high perches, spotting their prey from above, and swooping down to catch it with their sharp talons. Their diet consists of rodents, rabbits, other birds, frogs, snakes and anything else they can catch.

  • When they clench their talons, it has the force of 28 pounds!

Great Grey Owl:

  • Standing at about two feet tall, the Great Grey Owl can have a wingspan of up to 5 feet, making it the largest owl in North America.

  • Despite it's size, they only weigh about 2-3 pounds, since most of their mass is feathers, and are often called "little owls in big owl clothing".

  • Great Grey Owls often nest abandoned hawk or eagle nests or tree stumps.

Boreal Owl:

  • True to it's name, they do live in fir and spruce forests.

  • A truly nocturnal owl, the Boreal Owl does all of it's hunting under the cover of darkness; waiting on a perch for small mammals or birds.

  • With a body length of 8-11 inches, and a wingspan of 20-25 inches, the Boreal Owl only weighs about 3-7 ounces.

  • Their ear openings are asymmetrical, one opening higher on the skull and the other side much lower. The different positions allow Boreal Owls to gauge distance and height of where a sound came from.

Burrowing Owls:

  • This small, ground-dwelling owl is characterized by it's round head with no ears tufts, and long white legs.

  • Burrowing Owls are in fact burrowing owls. They either dig their own burrow, or take over the burrow of a ground squirrel.

  • Unlike other owl species, Burrowing Owls hunt from dusk to dawn. They typically prey on mice, voles, grasshoppers or crickets.

Long-Eared Owls:

  • The long ears of a Long-Eared Owl are actually just tufts of feathers; their ears are holes on either side of their head, underneath the feathers.

  • Although Great Horned Owls also have large ear tufts, the Long-Eared Owl is distinguished by it's smaller and more slender physique.

  • Since they dwell in dense forests and are nocturnal, they rely on their excellent flying skills and superb sense of hearing, giving them the ability to snatch their prey in complete darkness.

Short-Eared Owls:

  • As you might guess, this owl's ears are short-- so short, you probably won't see them at all.

  • Short-Eared Owls are active during the daytime, and commonly fly low and erratically when they hunt.

  • If a female Short-Eared Owl is forced to leave her eggs unattended in the nest, she will defecate on the eggs so the putrid smell will deter any predators.

Northern Pygmy Owl:

  • Although they are the size of a common sparrow, the Northern Pygmy Owl can take on prey that is up to three times their size!

  • Weighing in at a mere 2 ounces, they may be tiny, but they are ferocious. They hunt in the daylight by sitting still and surprising small songbirds.

  • As a defense mechanism, songbirds gather to mob the Northern Pygmy Owl until it flies away. Sometimes, you can identify the inconspicuous owl by the cluster of songbirds that it has around it.

Now you know all about the owls in Yellowstone.

Hopefully you're lucky enough to see on while you're in the park!


Featured Trip: Cascade Corner

“Cascade Corner” refers to the southwest corner of the park, and it’s easy to see why — this guided trip through Yellowstone follows the Bechler River and its many cascading waterfalls. You have the chance to experience the solitude of backcountry geysers, soak in hot springs, gaze into crystal-clear rivers, and enjoy the vast and expansive Bechler Meadows. This backpacking trip offers a little bit of everything.

Come see why so many people call this the best backpacking trip in all of Yellowstone!

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