There are many interesting things about Missouri, starting with its name which means “town of the large canoes” or “the wooden canoe people.” Also on the state’s fact sheet is that it’s the home of Mark Twain and the first place to serve iced tea.
But the trivia we’re most interested in pertains to the state’s wildlife. In its 13 national parks and 13.9 million acres of forested areas, you’re bound to see a few of the 435 species of birds that live there (even though some of them are accidental).
Of the wide variety of birds you’ll find in the state, eight of them are owls, and in this article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about each of them. Keep on reading to learn more about these beautiful birds of prey!
Great Horned Owl
- Scientific Name: Bubo virginianus
- Length: 17-25 inches
- Weight: 32-88 ounces
- Wingspan: 36-60 inches
Despite the implications of its name, the great horned owl doesn’t actually have horns. Instead, it has ear-like tufts of feathers on top of its head. The bird also sports mottled grey-brown feathers and yellow eyes. This owl will be hard to miss in Missouri, as it’s the largest in the state.
The great horned owl’s deep hoots can be heard from a great distance, and chances are, if you follow its classic sounds, you’ll find it perched on a fence. The best time to see these owls is at dusk when they’re about to begin hunting for prey.
Fun fact: the bird depends on its hearing to hunt in the dark. Known for its power, the great horned owl can usually kill prey that’s larger than it is, including raptors like falcons and other owl species. The clenched claws of this owl are strong enough to sever the spine of the prey, rendering it powerless.
Because of its poor sense of smell, the great horned bird is one of the few owl species that can actually eat skunks. However, it feeds on other animals, too, like rabbits, lizards, mice, and even the occasional turkey! If you have pets outside, keep a close eye on them; great horned owls have even been known to attack domestic dogs and cats!
- Scientific Name: Megascops asio
- Length: 6.3-9.8 inches
- Weight: 4.3-8.6 ounces
- Wingspan: 18-24 inches
The eastern screech-owl is small, and the male of this species is usually even smaller than the female. This owl has yellow eyes, ear tufts, and mottled feathers, and the ones found in Missouri can be red, grey, or brown.
Their feathers provide excellent camouflage for these owls as they roost all day. Although they don’t mind living next to residential areas, screech-owls are often easier heard than seen. A good way to find them in Missouri is to pay attention to songbirds; if they start screaming and flying frantically about, they’re probably trying to scare one of these predators away.
The eastern screech-owl is an opportunistic hunter that searches for food in open woodlands and along the edges of open fields at night. The bird feeds on large insects, invertebrates, shrews, small rabbits, mice, rats, and even bats.
They swallow their prey whole before regurgitating all of the indigestible parts — bones, hair, and feathers — into oval pellets that scientists have studied to learn more about the owl’s diet.
- Scientific Name: Strix varia
- Length: 16-25 inches
- Weight: 16.6-37 ounces
- Wingspan: 38-49 inches
Barred owls’ color ranges from grey to brown, and they have dark striped undersides and big black eyes that help them see better at night. Like most species of owls, the female barred owl is typically bigger than the male.
The barred owl has a variety of common sounds that can be heard from up to half a mile away. It prefers to nest in old-growth forests and usually looks for old tree cavities, especially those near water, to nest in. Though the bird hunts by night, you may occasionally hear it during daylight hours.
This owl is usually mobbed by smaller birds like woodpeckers and smaller mammals. You’ll find it hunting from a perch and mainly feeding on voles, mice, rats, squirrels, invertebrates, amphibians, or even fish.
- Scientific Name: Asio otus
- Length: 12-16 inches
- Weight: 7.8-15.3 ounces
- Wingspan: 34-40 inches
The long-eared owl is a slim and medium-sized owl with dark plumage and a slightly orange face. It also has black and orange ear-like tufts of feathers.
These owls prefer to roost within dense stands of wood, where their plumage provides effective camouflage, making this owl challenging to locate. It usually uses the nest of other birds, like the common raven and the American crow, as its own.
In most cases, the long-eared owl can be seen living close to the slightly larger short-eared owl. It’s a nocturnal bird that hoots and squeals at night but is usually silent when it roosts during the day.
The bird’s left ear is higher than the right one and compared to the overall size of its skull, its ear slits are large. They allow the owl to hear high and medium pitches ten times better than humans can.
The long-eared owl usually begins its first phase of hunting around midnight, then starts another phase that ends about an hour before the sun rises. It feeds on voles, pocket gophers, and mice, and in some cases, it will also eat lizards, moles, squirrels, or bats.
- Scientific Name: Asio flammeus
- Length: 13-17 inches
- Weight: 7.3-16.8 ounces
- Wingspan: 33-43 inches
One of the biggest differences between this owl and the long-eared species mentioned above is the size of its ear tufts, which might be totally invisible on the short-eared owl. The medium to large-sized owl has brown buff plumage and a barred tail and wings.
The diurnal or crepuscular owl can either be seen resting on the ground or flying close to it. Its diet mainly consists of rodents like voles, mice, shrews, and rats, and it can even be seen feeding on song or shorebirds.
To lure predators away from its nest, this owl often pretends to have a crippled wing, and when it needs to leave its eggs unattended, it often defecates on them to mask the smell of the nest and repel predators.
The short-eared owl’s natural predators include the snowy owl and the bald eagle, as well as foxes, dogs, and crows.
- Scientific Name: Athene cunicularia
- Length: 7.5-11 inches
- Weight: 4.9-8.5 ounces
- Wingspan: 20-24 inches
Burrowing owls are small sandy-colored birds with bright eyes, and unlike other owl species, males and females are usually the same size.
Naturally, the burrowing owl roosts in burrows, usually those excavated by the prairie dog. This species is usually one of the most difficult to find because of its small size, large open habitat, and feathers that are perfectly camouflaged against its surroundings.
This owl is active during the day but hunts in the hours between dusk and dawn. As far as their predators are concerned, burrowing owls are usually killed by vehicles when they cross the road, and their natural enemies include coyotes, badgers, and snakes.
The burrowing owl can catch insects while it’s flying and it uses its strong legs to catch small rodents, amphibians, and songbirds. In some cases, the burrowing owl can be seen nesting on man-made objects, like PVC pipes, or in burrows it dug itself.
- Scientific Name: Bubo scandiacus
- Length: 20-25 inches
- Weight: 2.9-5.5 pounds
- Wingspan: 46-30 inches
Also known as the polar or arctic owl, the snowy owl is one of the world’s biggest owls. Males of this species tend to have pure white plumage while females have dark markings on their bodies.
Most owls sleep during the day and hunt at night, and the snowy owl is no exception. It usually hunts mammals, like lemmings and voles, but in some cases, it might hunt seabirds, crustaceans, and amphibians. It often swallows its smaller prey whole, but it tears larger prey into pieces. After about 24 hours, the owl regurgitates the indigestible remains as oval pellets.
The nomadic bird may not breed at all depending on if there’s a mate and food available in its area, but when it does breed and it’s time to build the nest, the male usually selects the location while the female builds by pressing her body into the ground and scraping a nest from the indentation she left in the ground.
The snowy owl has a call that’s different from other owls and can be heard from as far as almost seven miles away.
Northern Saw-Whet Owl
- Scientific Name: Aegolius acadicus
- Length: 6.7-8.7 inches
- Weight: 1.9-5.3 ounces
- Wingspan: 16.5-22.2 inches
The northern saw-whet owl is one of Missouri’s smallest owl species and can usually be seen at eye level. This owl has a round cat-like face, and its body is mottled brown with white spots on its wings. Like most owl species, the female tends to be larger than the male.
You’ll likely hear these owls’ repeated tooting sounds, but seeing these elusive birds won’t be easy, as they prefer to roost in dense vegetation. To find this bird, you might want to keep an eye on the songbirds that usually scream, squawk, and caw in an attempt to get a roosting northern saw-whet to fly away.
These owls have asymmetrical ears, so the sound reaches them at different times, helping them more precisely locate their prey. They feed on voles, deer mice, and shrews and compete with squirrels and starlings for nest cavities. Their natural predators include larger owls and hawks.
Spending time in Missouri is a great way for any bird lover to scratch the birdwatching itch, as the state boasts plenty of opportunities to learn about all the astonishing birds that live there. Although owls aren’t usually the easiest to find, locating and studying one of them is an experience you’ll never forget.