Previous Page - Table of Contents - Next Page




While seven or eight species of Owl occur in New York and New England, only one, the Screech Owl, is at all common in inhabited regions. The Barred Owl and the Great Horned Owl are the species most frequently heard in deep forests. The other species are either uncommon and retiring permanent residents, or rare or regular wanderers from the north. The Snowy Owl and the Hawk Owl hunt by day, and the Short-eared Owl is often seen in the daytime, but the other Owls are nocturnal, hiding by day in some hollow tree or thick evergreen. Here they are occasionally discovered by a band of jays, crows, or smaller birds, who surround or pursue them with great outcries. Owls bolt their prey bones and all and then disgorge the indigestible portions in the form of pellets; their presence is, therefore, often indicated by the appearance on the ground of numbers of these gray pellets. They hoot at all seasons of the year, but less commonly in summer and very constantly in late winter and early spring. An Owl is easily recognized by its noiseless flight and by the peculiar human appearance of the face, due to the position of the eyes, both of which look forward. The feathers which surround the eye are known as the facial disk; in one or two species their color serves as a good field-mark. It is important also to determine the presence or absence of “horns,” or erect tufts of feathers, which in several species rise from the head.

AMERICAN [NORTHERN] HAWK OWL. Surnia ulula caparoch
15.00 in.

Ad.— Top of head and hind neck spotted with white; back dark brown; under parts white, streaked on the throat, barred on the breast and belly with brown; wings and tail brown, barred with white; face whitish, encircled with black; tail considerably more than a third as long as the whole bird; bill yellowish-white.

The American Hawk Owl is usually a very rare winter visitant in northern New England; occasionally, however, it is fairly common in winter in Maine and northern New Hampshire. It is as diurnal as a hawk, and watches for its prey on a perch in plain sight. It may be known by its tail, which is much longer in proportion than that of any of our other owls.

SNOWY OWL. Nyctea nyctea
25.00 in.

Ad. ♂.— Entire plumage white, more or less barred on head, back, wings, and tail, and often on the belly and sides, with brown. Ad. ♀.— Much darker than ♂, only the face, front of neck, and middle of breast pure white; rest of plumage heavily barred with brown.

The Snowy Owl is a very irregular winter visitor from the north, sometimes occurring in large numbers, but often absent for several years; it is found more often along the sea-shore than inland. It is strictly diurnal, and may be seen perched on some rock or tree, conspicuous enough if there is no snow about. The sexes vary in the amount of brown color in the white feathers, but the general effect is always so white that there is no chance of confusing it with any other owl.

GREAT HORNED OWL. Bubo virginianus
22.00 in.

Ad.— Head and neck speckled with black and tawny; rest of the upper parts speckled with gray; collar across breast white; rest of the lower parts tawny, barred with black; disk tawny; ear-tufts nearly two inches long, black and tawny; eyes yellow.

Nest, in trees, often a deserted hawk's or crow's nest. Eggs, white.

The Great Horned Owl is a permanent resident of New York and New England; it is found only in extensive tracts of woodland, particularly where swamps give shelter to hares and grouse, on which it feeds. Its common call is a deep-voiced hoot, made up of a number of syllables. It differs from the cry of the Barred Owl in keeping on the same note to the end, and being less regular in form and accent. It may be written thus: Whoo', hoo-hoo, hoo, hoo. If discovered in the daytime, it may be readily identified by its great size, prominent ear-tufts, and broad white collar.

SCREECH OWL. Megascops asio
9.40 in.

Ad.— Either bright reddish-brown, or delicate brownish-gray, streaked with black, the two phases of color having nothing to do with sex or age; two "ears,” tufts of feathers about an inch long, on the sides of the head.

Nest, in a hole in a tree. Eggs, white.

The Screech Owl is a common permanent resident of New York and New England, more common in the southern portion of its range, and absent from the mountainous and heavily forested regions of the north. It is the only owl which remains in the towns and villages, the only one whose voice is regularly heard away from deep woods. Its notes are a frequent accompaniment of winter twilights, and though more often heard in autumn and winter, they are uttered occasionally at every season. The name, borrowed from Europe, is not appropriate to our species. The cry is trémulous, quavering, suggesting the soft whinnying of a horse, or the rapid and muffled beating of wings. Sometimes the little owl is seen sitting on a branch of the tree in the gathering dusk, but as a rule it keeps concealed during the day in thick evergreens, or more often in the hollow of a tree. The presence under a tree of gray pellets of mouse-fur, inclosing skull and bones, is evidence that an owl either inhabits or has inhabited the tree. Sometimes an excited scolding and fluttering of Chickadees about a hole in an apple-tree betrays the little recluse. The ear tufts distinguish it from the much rarer Acadian, our only other small owl; its small size should easily distinguish it from the other owls. (See also American Long-Eared Owl.)


Screech Owl

SAW-WHET OWL; ACADIAN OWL. Cryptoglaux acadica
8.00 in.

Ad.— Upper parts brown, more or less spotted with white, under parts white, striped with brown; wing, when spread, crossed with several rows of white spots; no ear-tufts. Im.— Upper parts plain brown; under parts brownish, fading on the belly into yellowish-brown.

Nest, in holes in trees, often in a deserted woodpecker's hole, Eggs, white.

The Acadian Owl is a rare permanent resident of northern New York and New England, and a rare migrant and winter visitant in southern New York and New England. Its notes, which have given this owl one of its names, suggest the rasping sound made in filing a saw. It is smaller than a Screech Owl, and is readily distinguished by the absence of ear-tufts. The spots of white on the brown back, moreover, give it a very different tone of color from that of the Screech Owl, with its fine streaking of black and reddish-brown, or gray.

BARRED OWL. Syrnium varium
20.00 in.

Upper parts dark brown, barred or spotted with buffy; lower parts whitish, barred with brown across the breast; belly striped with brown; disk gray; bill yellowish; no ear-tufts.

Nest, in trees, usually in hollows, sometimes in a deserted hawk's or crow's nest. Eggs, white.

The Barred Owl is a permanent resident of New York and New England. Like most of the large owls, it is now rare and confined to the wilder, more heavily wooded districts, where its hooting is a characteristic sound of wild, swampy woods. Its ordinary cry is composed of a regular number of syllables, about eight in all, divided into two sets of four each, very similar in form; the second, however, ends in a deep hollow note with a downward cadence. It may be written hoo hoo hoo hoo, hoo hoo hoo hoo'-aw. Its regular form and the falling cadence at the close distinguish it from the other common hooting sound in the wild forests, that of the Horned Owl. It is oftener heard in winter and early spring than in summer; it is regularly uttered in the evening, but not infrequently in the daytime also, especially in answer to an imitation of the cry, or because of some other unusual excitement.

Sometimes the Barred Owl is discovered in the daytime, hiding in a thick evergreen, or in some hollow tree, the centre, perhaps, of a little mob of angry birds. It may then recognized by its large size, absence of ear-tufts, and the brown barring across the breast.

SHORT-EARED OWL. Asio accipitrinus
15.50 in.

Ad.— Upper parts yellowish-brown, streaked with black; under parts buffy, streaked with dark brown, particularly on the breast; wings and tail, when spread, spotted and barred with white; disk blackish around the eyes; ear-tufts very short. Im.— Upper parts darker; under parts dull buffy, unstreaked; disk brownish-black.

Nest, on ground. Eggs, white.

The Short-eared Owl is a rare and local permanent resident of New York and New England, but is chiefly met with as a migrant, especially along ocean beaches and in extensive marshes. It is occasionally as diurnal as the Snowy Owl, and may be seen beating over the marshes or sand dunes. When startled it sometimes flies to a post or knoll in the marsh or on the beach, and lights there. Dusk, however, is its favorite hunting-time, and it generally spends the day on the ground in thick grass. Its ear-tufts are not at all prominent, even in the live bird, but it may be known from the forest-haunting Barred Owl by the nature of the country in which it is generally found, by its smaller size, the lighter tone of its upper parts, and by the absence of barring on the breast.

14.80 in.

Ad.— Prevailing color of the upper parts dark brown, speckled with whitish and yellowish-brown; lower parts whitish, streaked and barred with dusky; ear-tufts conspicuous, over an inch long, blackish, rising from the middle of the head; disk about eyes rich reddish-brown.

Nest, in trees, generally a deserted crow's or hawk's nest. Eggs, white.

The Long-eared Owl is a rather uncommon permanent resident of New York and New England. Like all the larger owls, it is more common in the wilder parts of its range. It frequents swampy woods or thick evergreens, hunting at night and hiding in thick foliage by day. Its cry is "said by some to resemble the noise made by kittens, while others state that it is like the barking of small dogs" (Fisher). It may be known by its size, intermediate between the Screech Owl and the Great Horned Owl, and by its conspicuous ear-tufts, which rise from the middle and not the sides of the head. If it faces an observer, the rustybrown facial disk is conspicuous.


AMERICAN BARN OWL. Strix pratincola
18.00 in.

Ad.— Upper parts buffy-yellow, mixed with white and gray, and speckled with black; under parts varying from white to bright tawny, dotted with black; disk varying from white to tawny.

Nest, in a tower, steeple, or hole in a tree. Eggs, white.

The Barn Owl is a rare but regular resident from Long Island and northern New Jersey southward. It very rarely issues forth in the daytime. Bendire describes its common cry as a "peevish scream,” frequently heard at night; he mentions also “a feeble querulous note sounding somewhat like the call of the Nighthawk," and "an unpleasant hissing noise.” If seen perching, it will be readily recognized by its white or tawny face, encircled by a reddish-brown ring, and by its conspicuous long legs, which are not hidden by its plumage, as in the other owls.

Previous Page - Table of Contents - Next Page