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Amidst the diverse landscapes of New Mexico, from its arid deserts to its pine forests and high mountain ranges, a fascinating array of owls make their home. The owl species found in New Mexico range from the small Western Screech Owls to the majestic Great Horned Owls, each displaying unique adaptations and behaviors attuned to their specific habitats.
The Whiskered Screech-Owl is predominantly found in pine-oak and evergreen forests in Mexico and the southwestern United States.
The Whiskered Screech-Owl presents a fascinating blend of colours; a rufous or grey hue dominates its plumage, accompanied by streaks and patterns of white on its underparts. One of the most distinctive features of this owl is the presence of “whisker” like feather tufts around its beak, which gives the species its name.
Whiskered Screech-Owls diet is primarily insectivorous, feeding on a variety of insects and spiders, but it’s also known to consume small mammals, birds, and reptiles when available.
Whiskered Screech-Owls are cavity nesters, often occupying tree holes left by woodpeckers or naturally occurring cavities in trees. They lay a clutch of 2 to 4 eggs, which are incubated by the female for about a month.
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
Great Horned Owl Sound
Scientific Name:Bubo virginianus
Length: 18.1-24.8 in
Wingspan: 39.8-57.1 in
Weight: 32.1-88.2 oz
The Great Horned Owl is a large owl with long wings and a large head. It’s one of the most common owls in North America.
Great Horned Owls are large, stocky birds with soft feathers that are gray to brown on their backs and white on their chests. Their faces are characterized by two black “ear” tufts, which can be raised or flattened depending on the owl’s mood. The eyes are yellow, orange, or red in color.
The habitat of the Great Horned Owl is a variety of different environments such as forests and deserts. They also live near water sources such as lakes, streams and rivers where they can hunt for fish.
The diet of the Great Horned Owl consists primarily of small mammals such as mice and rats; however they will also eat other rodents such as squirrels, rabbits and porcupines. They have been known to eat skunks too.
Western Screech-Owl (Western Screech-Owl)
Western Screech-Owl Sound
Scientific Name: Megascops kennicottii
Length: 22 cm (8.7 in)
Wingspan: 55 cm (22 in)n
Weight: 88 to 220 g (3.1 to 7.8 oz)
The Western Screech-Owl, or Megascops kennicottii, is a small species of owl native to North and Central America. Western Screech-Owls are nocturnal predators, and its diet primarily consists of small mammals, birds, insects, and occasionally fish.
This owl is medium-sized compared to other screech-owls. It has a compact, stocky body, and is often recognized by its large head with yellow eyes surrounded by greyish-brown facial disks. The plumage is generally a mixture of grey and brown, with intricate patterns of spots and streaks that provide excellent camouflage against tree bark.
These owls prefer mixed woodland habitats, including deciduous forests and semi-open areas with trees. They often nest in tree cavities, but will also readily take to nest boxes if available. These birds are primarily non-migratory, and once they’ve established a territory, they tend to stay within the same area year-round.
Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio)
Eastern Screech-Owl Sound
Scientific Name: Megascops asio
Length: 6 to 10 in
Wingspan: 8 to 24 in
Weight: 4 – 8.5 oz
The Eastern Screech-Owl is a small owl species native to most wooded environments of the eastern half of North America, from the Canadian provinces to Florida and Texas.
Eastern Screech-Owls are relatively small and exhibit a complex pattern of gray or reddish-brown coloration, which provides excellent camouflage against tree bark.
These owls are known for their distinctive call, which is often described as a haunting trill or a whinny-like sound. Despite their name, they do not actually produce a “screech.”
Eastern Screech-Owls feed on a variety of prey, ranging from small mammals and birds to insects and even earthworms. It is primarily nocturnal, hunting at night from a low perch and swooping down onto prey.
Eastern Screech-Owls nest in tree cavities or abandoned woodpecker nests, but they readily adapt to nesting boxes where natural cavities are not available. They typically lay between 2 to 6 eggs, which are incubated primarily by the female.
Barred Owl (Strix varia)
Barred Owl Sound
Scientific Name: Strix varia
Length: 40 to 63 cm (16 to 25 in)
Wingspan: 96 to 125 cm (38 to 49 in)
Weight: 468 to 1,150 g
The Barred Owl is a medium-sized owl with a barred pattern on its chest and belly. They have large yellow eyes that allow them to see well in low light conditions. Their ears are not very large which means they do not hear very well but they have excellent hearing abilities which allow them to detect sounds up to 1 mile away. Their feathers are brown and streaked with white, and they have black bars on their chests and wings.
Their habitats include forests, woodlands, orchards, parks, farmland and suburban backyards.
Barred Owls (also known as hoot owl) eat small mammals such as mice, rats and squirrels. They also eat insects such as beetles or grasshoppers. These owls hunt during the day when it is light out so that they can see their prey better than at night when they would be using senses other than sight like sound or smell to find their food source.
Barred owls are monogamous birds which means they mate for life. They build nests in trees or cavities on the ground and lay 2-4 eggs per year. The incubation period for these eggs lasts about 28 days before hatching takes place.
Barn Owl (Tyto alba)
Barn Owl Sound
Scientific Name: Tyto alba
Length: 13 to 15 in
Wingspan: 31 to 37 in
Weight: 9.2 oz
The Barn Owl is a widespread species of owl known for its distinctive heart-shaped facial disc.
Barn Owls are medium-sized owls, they are pale overall with golden-brown wings and back, contrasted by a white face, chest, and belly. Their most notable feature is their heart-shaped facial disc, which helps channel sound to their ears.
Barn Owls are typically found in open habitats, including farmland, woodland, and marshes. They are named for their habit of nesting in human structures such as barns, church towers, and in the hollows of large trees. These owls are nocturnal, hunting at night and roosting during the day.
The diet of Barn Owls primarily consists of small mammals, particularly rodents such as mice and rats. They are known for their silent flight, which allows them to sneak up on their prey without detection.
Barn Owls have a unique nesting behavior. They do not build nests, but instead, lay their eggs directly on the bare surface of a secluded ledge or cavity. A female typically lays 4-7 eggs, and both parents help incubate the eggs and care for the chicks.
The long-eared owl (Asio otus)
Long-eared Owl Sound
Scientific Name: Asio otus
Length: 12 and 16 in
Wingspan: 2 ft 10 in to 3 ft 4 in
Weight: 5.6 to 15.3 oz
The Long-eared Owl is a medium-sized owl species known for its distinctively long ear tufts, which can be raised or lowered depending on the bird’s mood or intention.
Long-eared Owls have mottled brown and cream plumage, which provides excellent camouflage among the trees. Their most distinctive features are their long, black-tipped ear tufts, which are set closer to the center of the head than in most other owl species.
These owls inhabit a wide variety of habitats, including deciduous and coniferous forests, woodlands, and even semi-deserts.
The Long-eared Owl’s diet primarily consists of small mammals, especially voles, but they will also take small birds and insects. They are skillful hunters, often capturing prey from a perch or in flight.
In terms of nesting behavior, Long-eared Owls do not construct their own nests, instead they take over old nests built by other bird species, usually those of corvids or other large birds. They lay an average of 4 to 5 eggs, which are incubated by the female while the male provides food.
Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)
Short-eared Owl Sound
Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
Length: 13–17 in
Wingspan: 33 to 43 in
Weight: 7.3–16.8 oz
The Short-eared Owl is a medium-sized owl species with a wide distribution, found across North and South America, Europe, Asia, and many Pacific islands. Despite its name, the “ears” of the Short-eared Owl are not often visible, as they are small and tend to blend with the bird’s feathers.
The owls are predominantly brown with buff and white accents throughout their body and wings, and dark patches around their yellow eyes.
Short-eared Owls diet consists largely of small mammals, especially voles. However, they are opportunistic hunters and will also prey on a variety of other animals, including other birds, when available.
Their habitat is characterized by open areas like grasslands, marshes, and tundra. They nest on the ground, which is unusual for owls, and this makes them vulnerable to ground predators. As such, they often live in areas with tall grasses or other ground cover for protection.
Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)
Northern Saw-whet Owl Sound
Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
Length: 17–22 cm (6.7–8.7 in)
Wingspan: 42–56.3 cm (16.5–22.2 in)
Weight: 54 to 151 g (1.9 to 5.3 oz)
The Northern Saw-whet Owl is a tiny, speckled gray owl and it’s one of the smallest owls in North America. It’s also known as the Little Owl or Wood Owl in some areas.
Northern Saw-whet Owls have dark brown eyes, white eyebrows, and yellow beak. It has brownish-grey feathers that are spotted with white. The owl’s legs are covered in feathers and appear nearly invisible when the bird is perched on a branch or tree.
In the winter they migrate south to warmer climates. They prefer to live in dense coniferous forest with large trees but will occasionally nest in shrubs or other vegetation that can protect them from predators.
The Northern Saw-whet Owl eats mice and voles (small rodents), small birds, frogs, salamanders, moles and shrews, but unlike most owls they chop their prey up and spread over a few meals. They will also eat insects like beetles and grasshoppers if they are available. It hunts from a perch at night using its excellent hearing to locate prey items within about 30 feet (9 meters) of its nest.
These owls nest in tree cavities usually located close to water sources such as lakes or rivers where they can find their food source (insects). They lay 2-4 eggs at one time which incubate for about 30 days before hatching.
Snowy owl (Bubo scandiacus)
Snowy owl Sound
Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
Length: 20.7 to 28 in
Wingspan: 3 ft 10 in to 6 ft 0 in
Weight: 3.2lb to 5.3lb
The Snowy Owl, is of the most well-known species of owls, the Snowy Owl is renowned for its striking appearance and adaptations to its extreme environment.
Snowy Owls are medium sized birds that possess a rounded head, yellow eyes, and a black beak. The most distinctive feature of the Snowy Owl is its white plumage, which provides effective camouflage in its snowy habitat. Male Snowy Owls are often almost completely white, while females and younger owls have more extensive dark barring on their plumage.
Unlike many owl species, Snowy Owls are primarily diurnal, which means they are active during the day. This is an adaptation to life in the Arctic, where there can be 24 hours of daylight in the summer. Their diet mainly consists of small mammals, particularly lemmings, but they are known to eat a variety of animals including birds, fish, and even carrion when necessary.
Snowy Owls nest on the ground, usually on a mound or boulder. Their breeding success is closely tied to the availability of food, and in good years a single pair of owls can raise a large brood of chicks.
Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)
Burrowing Owl Sound
Scientific Name: Athene cunicularia
Length: 7–11 in
Wingspan: 20–24 in
The Burrowing Owl is a small, long-legged species of owl found in North and South America. Known for its unusual habit of living in burrows in the ground.
Burrowing Owls have a rounded head with no ear tufts and bright yellow eyes. Their overall coloration is mottled brown and white with a distinct white “eyebrow” above each eye.
Their primary habitat includes open landscapes such as grasslands, deserts, agricultural areas, golf courses, and even airports. As their name suggests, these owls often reside in burrows, many of which are abandoned by prairie dogs, ground squirrels, or other burrowing animals. In some cases, they may also dig their own burrows.
Burrowing Owls diet consists mainly of small mammals and insects, but they also eat birds and reptiles.
Burrowing Owls have a unique nesting behavior. They lay their eggs in an underground burrow to protect them from predators and extreme weather. Clutch sizes range from 6 to 11 eggs, which are incubated for about a month before hatching.
Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma)
Northern Pygmy-Owl Sound
Scientific Name: Glaucidium gnoma
Length: 7 – 7 1/2 in)
Wingspan: 14.5 – 16 in
The Northern Pygmy-Owl is a small owl species native to North and Central America. Despite its small size, this owl is a fierce predator, known for its distinctive call and daytime hunting habits.
They have a rounded head without ear tufts and large yellow eyes. Their overall coloration is gray or brown with a pattern of white spots on the back and streaks on the front.
Northern Pygmy-Owls inhabit a range of habitats, including coniferous forests, deciduous woodlands, and mixed forests. They can be found at a range of elevations from lowlands to mountains. Unlike many other owl species, they are often active during the day, particularly in the early morning and late afternoon.
Their diet primarily consists of small mammals and birds, but they are also known to eat insects and reptiles. Despite their small size, they have been known to take prey up to three times their own size.
Northern Pygmy-Owls nest in tree cavities, often those created by woodpeckers. They do not build nests of their own but will add a few feathers to the cavity. Clutch size is usually around 2 to 7 eggs, which are incubated by the female while the male brings food.
Flammulated Owl (Psiloscops flammeolus)
Flammulated Owl Sound
Scientific Name: Psiloscops flammeolus
Length: 6 in
Wingspan: 14 in
Weight: 1.8 – 2.3 oz
The Flammulated Owl is a small owl species native to North America, notable for its incredible migratory journeys, which may span thousands of miles.
Flammulated Owls name “flammulated” comes from the Latin word for flame, and it refers to their flame-like markings. These owls sport a mottled gray and rust color, with dark eye patches and a white throat. Their small size and cryptic plumage help them to blend into the bark of the trees in which they reside.
One of the defining traits of the Flammulated Owl is their diet they predominantly eat insects, particularly moths and beetles.
These owls prefer to nest in mature forests, often in old woodpecker holes or natural tree cavities. They typically lay 2-4 eggs, with the female incubating them for about three weeks, while the male provides food.
Flammulated Owls are known for their soft, low hooting call which can be difficult to hear. This, along with their excellent camouflage, often makes them challenging to spot, despite their widespread distribution.
Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus)
Boreal Owl Sound
Scientific Name: Aegolius funereus
Length: 8.7–10.6 in
Wingspan: 20–24 in
Weight: 3.8 oz–6.3 oz
The Boreal Owl, also known as Tengmalm’s Owl, is a small yet captivating nocturnal bird found predominantly in the northern hemisphere’s boreal forests, hence its name.
The Boreal Owl is petite in size, its plumage is predominantly grayish-brown, with white spots sprinkled on the upper parts and pale streaks on the underside, which lends a mottled effect. The bird’s rounded head, lack of ear tufts, and large yellow eyes are characteristic traits of this species.
Boreal Owls have a distinctive call, described as a series of soft, low hoots, which can often be heard during the cold winter months. As strictly nocturnal birds, they rest during the day, usually in tree cavities or similar concealed spots, and become active at night.
These owls are remarkable hunters, feeding mainly on small mammals such as voles and shrews, although they have been known to consume small birds when available. Their exceptional hearing allows them to locate prey under the snow in the darkest of nights.
Elf Owl Sound
Scientific Name: Micrathene whitneyi
Length: 4.9 to 5.7 in
Wingspan: 10.5 in
Weight: 1.4 oz
The Elf Owl is a small species of owl that inhabits the southwestern regions of the United States and Mexico. It holds the distinction of being one of the smallest owl species in the world.
Elf Owls are tiny, they have a round head with no ear tufts, large yellow eyes, and a pale gray-brown body with a lightly spotted or streaked pattern.
The primary habitat for Elf Owls includes desert and woodland areas. They are especially fond of regions with saguaro cacti or other types of cavities in trees, which they use for nesting. They are nocturnal creatures, with most of their activity occurring after dusk.
Elf Owls feed primarily on a diet of insects and other small invertebrates. Occasionally, they may also eat small mammals and birds. They are known for their agile flight and keen hunting skills, often catching insects in midair.
When it comes to nesting, Elf Owls take advantage of the natural cavities in trees or cacti, where they lay a clutch of 2 to 4 eggs. The female is responsible for incubation, which lasts about three weeks, while the male provides food.
Where to Spot New Mexico’s Owls
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, Socorro: This refuge’s wetlands, riparian forests, and grasslands provide excellent habitats for Great Horned Owls, Barn Owls, the mexican spotted owl and Western Screech Owls.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Carlsbad: The park’s extensive cave system is a haven for several owl species, including Western Screech Owls, Great Horned Owls, and Barn Owls.
Gila National Forest, Silver City: This forest is home to several owl species, including Mexican Spotted Owls, Northern Pygmy Owls, and Western Screech Owls.
Bandelier National Monument, Los Alamos: The monument’s vast wilderness area provides excellent habitats for Great Horned Owls, Northern Pygmy Owls, and Western Screech Owls.
Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, La Joya: This refuge is a great spot for birdwatchers and is known for hosting several owl species including the Western Screech Owl, Great Horned Owl, and Burrowing Owl.
Big Bend National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Tips on How to Spot Owls in New Mexico?
Locations: Aim to explore a variety of habitats, including desert scrub, mountainous regions, and riparian corridors. Noteworthy locations include the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, the Gila Wilderness, and the Sandia Mountains.
Timing: Most owls are active from dusk till dawn. However, some, like the Burrowing Owl, can be spotted during the day too.
Look and Listen: Many owls camouflage well with their environment, so listen for their calls as well. Get familiar with the various owl calls in New Mexico to help identify them.
Tree Cavities and Burrows: Look for cavities in trees and holes in the ground. These are potential nesting or roosting sites for different species of owls.
Patience and Quietness: Owls can be elusive. Move quietly and be patient to increase your chances of spotting one.
Equipment: A good pair of binoculars is essential for spotting owls. For night viewing, consider a red flashlight that doesn’t disturb wildlife.
Guided Tours: Consider going on a birdwatching tour led by local experts. They know the best times and places to spot specific owl species.