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Michigan Owls: Top 10 Biggy Eyed Birds With Enigmatic Auras

Last Updated on: May 9, 2024

Home to over 100 state parks and with more than 11,000 inland lakes, Michigan is a paradise for nature lovers. According to the Michigan Bird State Records Committee, the state has more than 450 species of birds. 

Fact is…

Amongst the hundreds of feathered creatures in The Great Lake State, owls are some of the most popular. 

If you are curious about the different types of Michigan owls, read on! I will walk you through some that you will find, including their physical characteristics and behaviors. 

The Most Common Owls in Michigan 

1. Great Horned Owl 

Great Horned Owl

With a length of up to 25 inches and a weight of up to 2,500 grams, the great horned owl is the largest of its kind in The Wolverine State. 

This owl got its name from the large ear tufts, which look like horns. 

It is not just the most common in Michigan but also in other parts of North America.

The great horned owl is versatile, adapting to almost any habitat especially in places with dense trees and rocky nesting sites. 

Because of its size, this Michigan owl is also known for its scary appearance. It has yellow eyes that look like they are ready to attack any time. 

2. Barn Owl

Barn Owl
Barn Owl

You will most often find them in southern Michigan, including Detroit. Even in this part of the state, the sightings are rare because of their status as threatened. 

Beautiful but elusive, you will find the barn owl of Michigan throughout the year. 

They prefer nesting in covered areas, including abandoned buildings, under bridges, and on the side of cliffs. 

As for its appearance, one of the most distinctive characteristics is the heart-shaped face with pale and speckled plumage. The upper body is rusty brown with dark patches. The lower body, on the other hand, ranges from white to cream. 

3. Eastern Screech Owl 

Eastern Screech Owl

Because of their nocturnal habits, they are difficult to spot. If you want to see them, look for wooded areas near bodies of water. You can also attract them to your yard by providing nesting boxes. 

The eastern screech owl is one of the smallest owls in the state. On average, it has a length of 6.3 to 9.8 inches and weighs 120 to 244 grams. They make a consistently pitched trill known as tremolo, which sounds like mating toads. 

Listening to Michigan owl sounds is an easy way to spot them. 

4. Barred Owl 

A Barred Owl looking down from the treetop.
Barred Owl

Also called hoot owl, a barred owl has alternating dark and light brown stripes on the back, wings, and tail. Their pleasant demeanor makes them picturesque. 

As a vocal raptor, the barred owl is easy to recognize beyond its physical appearance. It has eight hoots that sound like hu hu hu hoo, hu hu hu huhoo. They are known for being inquisitive, often staring as you go near them. However, once they feel nervous, they will fly off. 

One of the best places to find them is at Lake Michigan. 

5. Long-Eared Owl 

Long-Eared Owl 

The long eared owl is also known as a cat owl because of its appearance. Aside from the prominent ear tufts, they are easily recognizable because of their dark gray and brown patterned plumage. 

While you will most likely find it in the south and central Michigan throughout the year, they are only out in the summer in the northern part of the Great Lakes region.  

It is shy and elusive, so you might have a hard time spotting the long-eared owl. 

Keep an open ear and you can quickly detect their presence in grasslands, shrublands, and woodlands. Males create a deep whooping sound while females have a nasal and high-pitched whistle. 

6. Short-Eared Owl 

Short-Eared Owl 

A medium-sized bird common in grassland, the short-eared owl has a round head and curved small ear tufts, which is where it got its name. 

One of the easiest ways to identify their presence is through flight patterns. As the sun sets, they will be flying in the sky like bats. 

Witnessing these owls can be a hard feat since they only have a small number in the state. Among others, they are most prominent in Saginaw. 

A short-eared owl is not too vocal. When it calls, it sounds like mating cats. 

7. Northern Saw-Whet Owl 

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

At only seven to nine inches, the northern saw-whet owl is one of the smallest you will find in The Great Lakes State. 

While it has a compact body, the owl has a large and round head. Meanwhile, the plumage is a rich brown with blotchy white streaks below the body and tiny white spots above. 

As for the habitat, these Northern Michigan owls prefer coniferous forests. The nesting sites are often old nests of other birds or tree cavities that have been excavated by woodpeckers. 

One of the distinct characteristics of this Michigan owl is its sensitive hearing. It detects prey, not through its eyes but through its ears. 

Their diet consists mostly of rodents. Nonetheless, they also feed on small mammals, insects, and birds. 

8. Snowy Owl 

Snowy Owl
Snowy Owl

The snowy owl is one of the most beautiful birds you will see in Michigan. 

Its white body makes the owl unmistakable. The color makes it easy for the bird to camouflage in the arctic, where it is most commonly found. 

Another easily distinguishable characteristic is its yellow eyes, which perfectly stand out amidst its white feathers. 

During winter, the birds leave their cold habitats, which is why you can spot them in Michigan. They are active both day and night, so you have a high chance of a physical encounter once they are in the state. 

9. Great Gray Owl 

Great Gray Owl
Great Gray Owl

The great gray owl is the largest in the world in terms of its length. With a wingspan of up to five feet, this bird is almost unbelievable. 

Being a rare bird, I haven’t had the chance to spot one myself. Nonetheless, by looking at pictures of owls in Michigan, I can say with confidence that it has a commanding appearance. 

This stunning raptor has bright yellow eyes with dark circles. Meanwhile, the body is predominantly gray with dark streaks. Your best bet of encountering this bird is in the Upper Peninsula, especially in coniferous forests. 

As nocturnal predators, they are more active at night. 

10. Northern Hawk Owl 

Northern Hawk Owl

As the name implies, these types of owls in Michigan look and behave like hawks. The Northern hawk owl is a diurnal creature, which means that it hunts during the day. That would have made it an easy target for bird watching, but since it is rare, sightings are once in a blue moon. 

It has a screechy sound, which is reminiscent of a red-tailed hawk. 

When males are showing off to females, they will often clap their wings several times as they fly. 

Watch This!

Frequently Asked Questions 

What kind of owls live in Michigan?

Michigan is home to a variety of owls ranging from common to rare species. Some of the most common that you will find in the state are the great horned owl, barn owl, eastern screech owl, barred owl, long-eared owl, short-eared owl, northern saw-whet owl, snowy owl, great gray owl, and northern hawk owl. 

What is the largest owl in Michigan?

The largest owl in Michigan is the great horned owl. It has a length of 18.1 to 24.8 inches, a wingspan of 39.8 to 57.1 inches, and a weight of 910 to 2,500 grams! Although large, this fierce raptor is silent, making it easy to attack its prey. 

How do you attract owls in Michigan?

To attract owls in The Great Lake State, give them food. They won’t visit bird feeders. However, if you have mice, gophers, voles, and small rodents, they will come to your yard. They must also have shelter, which often includes dense and mature trees. Having a large nest box is also an effective way to lure these attractive owls of Michigan. 

Where to find owls in Michigan?

Most of the owls that live in Michigan are in woodlands and forests with dense vegetation. You will find them in parks, cemeteries, farmlands, and orchards. Some can also visit private backyards and gardens, especially if there is food for owls. 

When do owls mate in Michigan?

Most of the Michigan owl species will begin mating in spring, although it can have slight variation across different owl types. It is during this time that the weather is comfortable for the owl, making it easy to find a mate. 


Michigan is a state gifted with expansive greenery, making it a paradise for owls. From small to large raptors, you can find varied species that every bird watcher is sure to appreciate. Many of these birds are available throughout the year while others are migratory and can only be seen at certain times. 

Whether you want to take a snap or simply admire their beauty, I hope that this guide to Michigan owl identification has been helpful. 

Are there owls native to Michigan that you would like to add to the list? Leave a comment below! 

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