Animals

Discover 13 Types of Owls in Arizona (From Rarest to Most Common)

There are at least thirteen distinct species of owls in Arizona. Their lengths vary from less than 6 inches to over 25 inches. A few consume insects, while some devour bunnies and even other owls. While some owls in Arizona remain awake during the day, most of them are active throughout the night, with some being most active between twilight and dawn. Throughout the state, owls can be seen in grasslands, forests, mountains, and canyons in addition to the desert. Continue reading to learn about Arizona’s 13 different species of owls, arranged loosely from rarest to most common.

Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-owl (Glaucidium brasilianum cactorum)

One of the subspecies of Ferruginous Pygmy-owl is the Cactus Pygmy-owl. This little owl is only 5.5 to 7.1 inches long and has a wingspan of roughly 11.8 inches. Their plumage varies to gray, however it is usually reddish colored. This specific subspecies inhabits sections of northern Mexico, far southern Texas, south of Laredo, and southeast Arizona, including the Tucson region. In 2023, the Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-owl was classified as a threatened subspecies by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There are reportedly fewer than 1,000 people living there. This subspecies builds its nests in columnar cacti and tree cavities. Unlike most other species, ferruginous Pygmy-owls are active throughout the day.

Mexican Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis lucida)

In 1993, the Mexican Spotted Owl was classified as a threatened subspecies by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Scientists believe that there are between 1,000 and 10,000 of these owls in the wild, while the precise number is unknown. The primary cause of its declining population is wildfires. Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico were identified as essential habitat for owls by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2004.

Geographically and genetically, the Mexican Spotted Owl is distinct from the Northern Spotted Owl and the California Spotted Owl, the other two subspecies found in the United States. Only little areas—mostly mountains or canyons in mixed coniferous forests—are home to the Mexican Spotted Owl. With a wingspan of up to 45 inches, this mottled brown owl grows to a height of approximately 16 to 19 inches.

Flammulated Owl (Psiloscops flammeolus)

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists the Flammulated Owl as a species of least concern, despite estimates from Partners in Flight placing the bird’s population at barely 12,000 individuals. This little owl, which has a design like flames, is about 6 inches long and has wingspan of about 14 inches. It mostly breeds in ponderosa pine forests found in Arizona’s central, northeastern, and southeast regions. Typically, Flammulated Owls travel south for the winter.

Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi)

The Elf Owl, the smallest owl found in Arizona, is between 4.9 and 5.7 inches long. Their size is similar to that of a sparrow, with a wingspan of slightly more than 10 inches. The little Elf Owl builds its nests in hollowed-out big cactus and hardwood trees. It migrates south for the winter after breeding in the southern portion of Arizona. With an estimated population of 72,000, the Elf Owl is classified as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Recent years have seen a decline in numbers as a result of habitat degradation.

Whiskered Screech-Owl (Megascops trichopsis)

Though the population of Whiskered Screech-owls is estimated to be over 200,000, only about 5% of them reside in the United States. These are found in southwestern New Mexico and far southeast Arizona, east and south of Tucson. Because of this, the Whiskered Screech-owl is among the state’s rarest owls and has some of the least amount of habitat. This little owl is between 6.5 and 7.9 inches long and has a wingspan of up to 19.7 inches. Their feathers range in color from dark gray to brown.

Northern Pygmy Owl (Glaucidium californicum)

The number of Northern Pygmy-owls is estimated to be between 80,000 and 180,000 individuals by various sources. They stretch from far northern Mexico to northwest Canada and the western United States, primarily in the coastal and mountainous areas. The woodlands in the eastern portion of Arizona are home to the Northern Pygmy-owl. Another species that is active during the day is this one. This tiny owl can reach a length of 6.3 to 7.1 inches and a wingspan of up to 16 inches. It has a golden beak and a speckled head.

Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

The population of the Short-eared Owl is scattered extensively, with estimates ranging from 1.2 million to 2.1 million according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The Americas, Asia, Europe, and a portion of Africa are home to this species. The Short-eared Owl is a non-breeding bird that is rare in Arizona. In the winter, they migrate to the area from the south. Despite having a big total population, the species is actually relatively uncommon in the state. The skulls of short-eared owls have very small tufts, and their big golden eyes have a dark smear. Their remarkable wingspan can grow up to 43 inches, and they can reach lengths of 13.4 to 16.9 inches. In the winter, this species may roost in large numbers close to open regions where they can go hunting.

Western Screech-Owl (Megascops kennicottii)

All throughout Arizona, the Western Screech-owl is a year-round inhabitant. This species, which has an estimated population of 180,000, is found over most of the western United States, from the Rocky Mountains to the coast, as well as most of Mexico. It ranges from Alaska south along the Canadian coast. The underparts of Western Screech-owls are striped and range in color from brown to dark gray. Though for a while they were confused with Eastern Screech-owls, they are now identified as a distinct species. This owl is primarily found in areas with forests. Its wingspan can extend up to 24 inches, and it grows to lengths of roughly 7.5 to 9.8 inches.

Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)

The enormous range of the Long-eared Owl, also called the Northern Long-eared Owl, includes much of North America, Europe, Asia, and far northern Africa. The population of this species is estimated to be between 2.2 million and 3.7 million individuals by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The majority of Arizona is year-round home to the Long-eared Owl, with the exception of the far southwest, where it winters but does not breed. With a wingspan of up to 40 inches, this bigger owl reaches lengths of 12.2 to 15.7 inches. Even though they usually favor wooded settings, some Long-eared Owls have successfully adapted to living in desert environments.

Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)

With the exception of south Florida and deep southern Texas, the entire United States is home to the Northern Saw-whet Owl. Additionally, a large portion of Canada, up to Alaska, is home to them, and small numbers can be found in Mexico. The population of Northern Saw-Whet Owls is estimated by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species to be approximately 2,000,000.

With the exception of the extreme southern border, this owl is present all year round in north and east Arizona and throughout the winter in the remainder of the state. Most of the time found in thickets, Northern Saw-whet Owls can be challenging to locate. With a wingspan of up to 22 inches, these light-faced owls have golden eyes and range in size from 6.7 to 8.7 inches.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)

The population of burrowing owls is staggeringly big.The species’ population is estimated by Partners in Flight to be around 18,000,000. Their wide range includes most of Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, much of South America, and the western United States into southwestern Canada. In Arizona, a breeding population moves into the northern region of the state during the warmer months, while a resident population remains in the southern half of the state. The Burrowing Owl builds its nests underground, in contrast to other owl species found in Arizona. This species can reach a maximum wingspan of 24 inches and an average length of 7.5 to 11 inches. Its barring on its brown plumage and its white eyebrows above its piercing yellow eyes give it a stern appearance.

Barn Owl (Tyto alba)

With an estimated population of over 4 million, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species states that barn owls have the largest range of any owl species worldwide. This owl is a permanent resident throughout Arizona, with the exception of the northeastern region. The face of the Barn Owl is clearly recognizable as a heart shape. Its length ranges from 11.4 to 17.3 inches, and its wingspan can reach up to 41 inches. It inhabits a variety of environments throughout the state. Barn owls build their nests in man-made structures, nest boxes, and naturally occurring tree cavities. They’ve evolved well to coexisting with people, and farmers frequently feed them by giving them appropriate nest boxes in return for free rodent control.

Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

The Great Horned Owl, the largest owl in Arizona, is also most likely the most prevalent. The Great Horned Owl is a species that is exclusive to the Americas, with an estimated population of 5.7 million, according to Partners in Flight. This versatile owl inhabits a variety of Arizonan environments. It is found in woodlands, frequently close to farms or open grasslands. It also inhabits mountain, canyon, and desert areas.

With a vast wingspan of up to 60 inches, Great Horned Owls can reach lengths of 16.9 to 25.2 inches. This owl has big tufts on its head and a striped, brown look. Its talons are enormous, as are its eyes. Among the world’s most skilled nocturnal predators, the Great Horned Owl eats a lot of rodents and other small animals. Unfortunately, this species has been harmed and its number has declined due to pesticides that have made their way up the food chain.