Owls Of Colorado: Identification & How To Easily Spot Their Species For Bird Watching

barn owl looking at prey

Last Updated: July 21, 2021

You’re probably wondering “are owls native to Colorado?”

So...

If you’re headed this way, then count yourself lucky because if it were a lucky draw for owls, you just hit a jackpot! This article will help ease your search for Colorado owls. This article enlists some of the most popular owls in Colorado.

On the whole, there are 13 different and interesting species of owls in the region.

The climate of Colorado is the biggest reason why you can see that many species of owls here. The region has three climates: continental, sub-tropical, and sub-arctic. Moreover, the state and national parks offer good attractions and resting places for these birds.

Types Of Owls In Colorado

Now that we have had a quick word about what makes Colorado the best place for owls let’s check out some of the most commonly sighted owls that live in Colorado:

1. Great Horned Owls

great horned owl at nest on top of a tree

The great horned owls Colorado variety is by far among the largest owls native to the region. The snowy owl is bigger but quite uncommon. The great horned owls are abundant in North America and are common in all 48 States of America – including Colorado.

These owls are the most common image we get in our minds when we hear the word “owl.”

The reason is that they are extremely photogenic, and hence you can find them a lot when you search for pictures of owls in Colorado.  

They also rank on the top for Colorado owl identification because of their incredibly larger size, yellow eyes, and ear tufts. Moreover, they are also known for killing and eating skunks. At the same time, they are known to be the worse enemy to raptors.

For the same reason, the great horned owls are fierce predators who don’t bother much about their territory.

Size Specifications

  • Length: The great horned owls are about 18.1 to 24.8 inches long
  • Weight: They weigh between 32.1 and 88.2 oz.
  • Wingspan: An adult great horned owl’s wingspan is between 39.8 and 57.1 inches

2. Short-Eared Owls

short-eared owl in flight in the middle of field

You can usually see a short-eared owl in Colorado after the breeding season. Hence winters in Colorado are the best times to spot a short-eared owl. 

However, still, you can see pockets of short-eared owls in Colorado around the year.

But they usually visit the state by the end of November and will leave by March. If you want to see the short-eared owl, visit open fields or bushy areas during dusk or dawn. This is the time when you’ll be out hunting.

Size Specifications

  • Length: A short-eared owl is about 13.4 to 16.9 inches long
  • Weight: They weigh between 7.3 and 16.8 oz. 
  • Wingspan: An adult short-eared owl has a wingspan between 33.5 and 40.5 inches

3. Long-Eared Owl

long-eared owl on tree branch covered with leaves

The long-eared owls are also a common sight. They are medium size owls, and you can see them all around the USA. The long-eared Colorado owl species usually migrate to different parts of Canada and the North of the USA for breeding.

These owls are stealth flyers are amazing nocturnal hunters.

You can easily spot them due to their distinctively long ears. These owls usually roost in groups during the winter season. Hence it is much easier to spot them.

Size Specifications

  • Length: A long-eared Colorado owl is about 13.8 to 15.8 inches long
  • Weight: They weigh between 7.8 and 15.3 oz.
  • Wingspan: An adult long-eared Colorado owl has a wingspan between 35.4 and 39.4 inches

4. Barn Owls

brown and white owl standing on a log in yard

The barn owls of Colorado are statewide residents. You can see them all year round; however, they are extremely elusive hence, rare to spot randomly. The barn owls are the most distributed birds around the globe and in the USA.

You can easily identify the barn owls by their heart-shaped face and attractive plumage.

They like to nest in man-made structures, so it is somewhat easier to welcome them in your backyard.

Size Specifications

  • Length: The barn owls are about 12.6 to 15.8 inches longer
  • Weight: They weigh between 14.1 and 24.7 oz.
  • Wingspan: A grownup barn owl has a wingspan between 39.4 and 49.2 inches

5. Mexican Spotted Owls

white and brown spotted owl perched on a tree

Mexican spotted owl is among the three subspecies of spotted owls. They are also among the biggest owls you can find in North America. 

They are listed as endangered species of owl.

The core reason is the loss of suitable habitat for Mexican spotted owls.

Right now, they have a population of 15,000 owls around the globe. Moreover, the barred owl also drives them away with their aggressive nature and bigger build.

Size Specifications

  • Length: The Mexican spotted owl is about 18.5 to 18.9 inches long
  • Weight: On average, they weigh between 17.6 and 24.7 oz.
  • Wingspan: An adult Mexican spotted owl has a wingspan of about 39.8 inches

6. Snowy Owls

Snowy owl in front of a wall

The snowy owls are a rare sight. If you are lucky enough, you can see them around lakes in the winter. You can also find them around the shores in the hunt for their prey. These owls are bigger, even larger than the horned owl.

The snowy owls have rounded, smooth heads with a feathered and bulky body.

They also have black specking and white plumage that makes them stand out from the rest of the crowd. Moreover, unlike other species, you can find the snowy owl sitting on or close to the ground and even in open areas.

Size Specifications

  • Length: A snowy owl is about 0.5 to 27.9 inches long
  • Weight: Generally, they weigh between 56.4 to104.1 oz.
  • Wingspan: An adult snowy owl has a wingspan of between 49.6 and 57.1 inches

7. Northern Pygmy-Owl

brown owl perched on a tree

The northern pygmy-owl is commonly found in the mountains of Northern America. This species is smaller and mainly feeds on songbirds. These owls are diurnal which means that they are usually active during the day, quite unusual for owls.

Hence you’ll have a better chance of spotting them. However, they sit reticent, waiting for a surprise attack on their unwary prey. 

They also like to nest in artificial structures.

They are as big as an American robin but still can feed on prey three times bigger than them.

You can identify them with their yellow beaks, much smaller size, and a white speckle on the head.

Size Specifications

  • Length: A northern pygmy-owl is about 6.3 to 7.1 inches long
  • Weight: They usually weigh between 2.1 and 2.5 oz.
  • Wingspan: Their average wingspan is between 14.5 and 16 inches

8. Burrowing Owl

brown owl with yellow eyes on the grass

A burrowing owl visits Colorado for breeding purposes; hence you can only find them in warm weather. They nest and roost underground, which makes them one-of-a-kind raptor to do so. For nesting, they prefer burrows left by prairie dogs or groundhogs.

However, occasionally they dig their burrows as well.

The burrowing owl has sandy color with yellow eyes and long legs. They hunt on the ground in daylight and protect the den at night. 

So if you wish to look at a burrowing owl, search for them early in the morning or in later hours of the day. These are the times when they are the most active.

Size Specifications

  • Length: A burrowing owl is about 7.5 to 9.8 inches long
  • Weight: They normally weigh about 5.3 oz.
  • Wingspan: They have a wingspan of 21.6 inches

9. Boreal Owls

boreal owl on a tree branch

The boreal owls can be seen in 7 states in the USA, including Colorado. They are stealthy and silent owls which are extremely nocturnal. Hence they are a rare sight to enjoy. However, you can look for them during the months from February to April.

The boreal owls are smaller in size and live in forests, and as the name lets on, they usually live in the boreal area.

So if you’re nearby, you can set up a nesting area to attract them to your yard.

Size Specifications

  • Length: The boreal owls are about 8.3 to 11.0 inches long
  • Weight: They usually weigh between 3.3 and 7.6 oz.
  • Wingspan: The boreal owls have a wingspan between 21.6 and 24.4 inches

Frequently Asked Questions Section

What type of owls lives in Colorado?

On the whole, there are about 13 different species of owls in the state.

Some of these are common and can be seen all year round. However, others come to visit in the winters or extreme summer seasons; sometimes you can spot owls in Colorado Springs. Here is a list of Colorado owls that you can see at different times of the year:

  • Barn Owl
  • Snowy Owl
  • Burrowing Owl
  • Boreal Owl
  • Flammulated Owl
  • Eastern-Screech Owl
  • Western-Screech Owl
  • Great Horned Owl Colorado Variety
  • Northern Pygmy-Owl
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
  • Spotted Owl
  • Short-Eared Owl
  • Long-Eared Owl 

What is the largest owl in Colorado?

The great horned owl is the largest owl species that you can find in Colorado. They are also top on the list of the largest tufted owls living in North America. This is among the most common species of owls and is abundantly found around the globe.

Unlike the name, these owls do not have any horns. Instead, it’s the tuft that looks like horns. They also have filaments on the feathers that serve a silent fly. With an extremely silent flight, they can easily attack prey.

Another amazing feature is the eyesight of a horned owl. Moreover, the eyes do not move in the eye socket, but they can rotate their head to 270 degrees. The owls also have exceptional hearing abilities. 

How big do owls get in Colorado?

The great horned owl is the biggest living species in Colorado, with a wingspan of up to five feet (usually 4.6 feet). They are heavier in built with an average weight of 88 oz. and have a total length of up to 24 inches.

Are there barn owls in Colorado?

Yes, barns owls are a common sight in Colorado. They nest in cavities and also like to nest on artificial structures or old abandoned barns. These owls feature rusty brown color on their back and wings with specks of white. 

Is it illegal to kill an owl in Colorado?

Yes, among many other birds, the owls are also protected by law in Colorado.

These birds are protecting both under federal and state law. According to these laws hunting or killing these birds is illegal. In case you are having trouble with any owl, consult the authorities for help.

Before you move on, take a look at this amazing YouTube video of a very vocal Snowy Owl, later on, you can explore other Colorado owl sounds:

Closing Thoughts

Even though several species of owls that you can find in abundance, they are entitled as threatened animals. And for the same reason, Colorado has special laws to protect the owls. However, having sight of these birds without causing them is something you must experience when you are in the state.

With about 13 different species of owls in the region, the chances are decently high that you will see one species any time of the year. So if you are planning to visit Colorado, let’s say Denver, sighting owls in Denver should be on your to-do list.

And you’ll love it!

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