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Owls of Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park’s owl population is difficult to spot due to their nocturnal habits. However, if you’re lucky, you might catch a glimpse of one of these incredible birds.

The Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
Great Horned Owl. William H. Majoros/Wikimedia Commons

This owl species is one of the most widespread types of owls in North America, and it’s the most common owl in Yellowstone National Park. Named for the tufts of feathers on the upper part of their head that resemble horns, the great horned owl has a light gray underside stripped with dark bars (basically stripes), a white band of feathers on its upper breast and yellow-orange eyes. They often hunt from high perches, spotting their prey and then swooping down to snatch it with large, sharp talons.

Great Horned Owl Chicks
Great Horned Owl Chicks Three Weeks OldPublic Domain

The Great Grey Owl

Great Gray Owl
Great Gray OwlJeff Vanuga

This species of owl prefers to live in secluded coniferous forests, taking over abandoned hawk or eagle nests or tree stumps and claiming them for their own. They typically eat small rodents like mice and squirrels. Although the great grey owl has a massive 60-inch wingspan, the bird looks brawnier than it is. A typical adult weighs only 2-3 pounds.

Burrowing Owls

Burrowing Owl
Burrowing OwlJeff Vanuga

You’ll recognize a burrowing owl by its round head, white eyebrows, yellow eyes and long legs. Their heads, backs and the upper parts of their wings are sandy colored, while their breast and bellies are whitish or cream with barring. Burrowing owls also have a white chin stripe. These ground-dwelling owls eat a variety of different things, including small mammals like mice, rats, gophers, and ground squirrels as well as beetles and grasshoppers.

Short-Eared Owls

These owls are brown with dark streaks on the chest, belly and back, coloring that provides great camouflage. Males tend to be a bit lighter in color than females. Short-eared owls are great actors; they’ll play dead to evade a predator.

Boreal Owls

Boreal owls are strictly nocturnal creatures that eat small mammals, birds and insects. They typically nest in abandoned woodpecker nests and other recesses in trees. Boreal owls are relatively small with a body length between 8 and 11 inches; however, their wingspans stretch to between 19 and 25 inches.

Long-Eared Owls

Long-eared owls have what appears to be, you guessed it, long ears—although actually these “ears” are just tufts of long, black and reddish brown feathers. Their actual ears are just holes on either side of their head under the feathers. Long-eared owls can be distinguished from great horned owls by their brownish-colored bodies with heavy barring and stripes on their breast and belly.

The Northern Pygmy Owl

This tiny, woodland owl feeds during the day. Their upper bodies are gray, brown or red with a lighter colored stomach streaked with brown. White dots cover the head and nape of the neck.