Of the twenty species of owls in North America, Indiana is home to about half of them. While some of these owls are year-round residents, others are winter visitors that you will need to be lucky enough to see in the right place at the right time. Seeing one of these amazing raptors is always a delight and frequently even a surprise, regardless of their residency status in the state. As you go through the list of eight owl species that can be found in Indiana, from rarest to most common, make sure you have your binoculars ready to go. It could be a once-in-a-lifetime discovery for some of these species!
Even though this species of owl migrates to Indiana from November to April, you may have trouble seeing them against the stark white winter landscape. The name “snowy” owls (Bubo scandiacus) comes from their appearance like snow. But this only applies to the species’ males. All over their bodies, females have patches of dark brown pigment. The snowy owl’s round, bright yellow eyes may be able to identify it if its hue alone isn’t enough. The vast grasslands and lakeshores of northern Indiana are the most likely places to spot snowy owls. Because of the longer daylight hours in these areas, snowy owls hunt at any time of day, mimicking their original tundra hunting grounds.
The long-eared owl, or Asio otus, gets its name from the feather tufts on top of its head that resemble ears. The owl’s vivid orangey-yellow, rounded eyes highlight the “alert” expression these tufts impart to them. Their brown and tan coloring provide them with good concealment to avoid being noticed by their prey and enthusiastic bird watchers, even though they appear to be simple to spot.
If you know where to look, you may be in a better position to spot this species. Compared to others, they are not as alone. Typically, they roost throughout the winter with other members of their species. These owl groups are usually found in pine trees close to pasture ground, which is where their nightly hunting takes place. Search close to the tree’s trunk to discover the owls gathering for protection and warmth. To identify this owl, look for a bird that resembles a crow and has long “ears” and a brownish face. The best months to see them are October through April.
Another species that is easily recognized is the barn owl (Tyto alba), which has a large, flat face and dark eyes. Their face is frequently referred to as “heart-shaped,” which gives this vicious predator a charming or romantic quality. This species is fairly elusive, despite being present year-round in Indiana and practically every other contiguous US state. This is a species that is exclusively active at night. They are also incredibly successful predators, using just sound to catch food in complete darkness. Try searching for these creatures in open areas like farmlands or prairies if you’re feeling very fortunate. Of course, when they’re not out hunting, you might also see them roosting in deserted structures like barns.
Northern Saw-whet owl
The northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus), a diminutive but powerful owl, spends the entire year in the northern regions of Indiana. This predatory bird may be visible in old-growth coniferous woods throughout the winter, when it nests in tree cavities. From October to April, keep an eye out for this cute raptor—but be vigilant! Even though their small size gives the impression that they are more predator than prey, these little birds have the ability to consume songbirds and even other small owls during hard times. They are little, about the size of a robin, and primarily nocturnal, so you may need some expertise searching for these kinds of birds at night. Look close if you’re searching for them in the forest water or in areas inhabited by songbirds or tiny rodents.
The round, flat faces of barred owls (Strix varia) are distinguished by the dark brown bars that run the length of their lighter-colored bodies. Its eyes are dark, not bright yellow or orange like the barn owl’s. Bird observers may easily identify these birds by their eyes and the design on their feathers. They are primarily active at night or around dusk and dawn, just like the majority of other owls on this list. It is possible to see barred owls all year round in Indiana. Despite their excellent camouflage, you may be able to spot one napping during the day on a branch in a coniferous forest, such as a pine, cedar, or spruce. In pursuit of food, they also frequently hunt in marshy areas at dark.
Eastern Screech Owl
This small species of owl lives permanently in Indiana and can be seen there year-round. But, when the leaves have dropped from the trees, which is September through January, is when you should be searching for it. The nesting chambers of oaks and pines are preferred by the eastern screech owl (Megascops asio). They are typically speckled red or gray in color, but their hues don’t indicate age or sex—rather, they indicate location. Since they typically hunt at night, if you try to find them during the day, be very alert to what’s going on within abandoned nests and tree cavities.
The northern regions of Indiana are home to the short-eared owl (Asio flammeus) throughout the year. In the winter, you may come across this species in other parts of the state and possibly the nation. November through March is the optimum time of year to search for this bird. It is an open-field hunter, best observed at dawn and dusk. The majority of owls are classified as “crepuscular,” which is another term for being most active during these hours. Seeking voles or other tiny rodents, they soar at a low altitude over prairies and other open spaces. Not only are they a ground-nesting kind of bird, but you may also be able to spot this pale-faced beauty if you look closely enough in trees.
Great Horned Owl
If you are looking for this owl, there’s a good chance you will eventually see it. Indiana is home to the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) all year round. They are among the most frequently encountered and easily identified species of owl. Winter, though, may be the greatest season to see them. September through May are the months when they are most active. Owing to its vivid yellow eyes and protruding “horns” above them, the owl effectively conveys its predatory instincts. This versatile raptor can be seen foraging for prey in farms, wetlands, and forest areas. Although it prefers to eat rodents and rabbits, this owl will not hesitate to hunt other birds, such as crows, or other owls, like the barred owl.
|Owl Species (Rarest to Most Common)
|When and Where to Find
|1. Snowy Owl
|November-April in open areas.
|2. Long-eared Owl
|October-April in pine forests near pastures.
|3. Barn Owl
|Year-round in abandoned buildings or open fields at night.
|4. Northern Saw-whet Owl
|October-April in old-growth coniferous forests.
|5. Barred Owl
|Year-round in coniferous forests or near swamps.
|6. Eastern Screech Owl
|September-January in pine and oak forests.
|7. Short-eared Owl
|November-March in open areas at dusk or dawn.
|8. Great Horned Owl
|September-May in swamps or forests.
Indiana is home to about half of the twenty species of owls in North America, with some being year-round residents and others being winter visitors. These eight owl species are diverse and can be found in various locations throughout the state.
The snowy owl, also known as Bubo scandiacus, migrates to Indiana from November to April, and its name comes from its appearance like snow. The long-eared owl, or Asio otus, gets its name from the feather tufts on top of its head that resemble ears. Their vivid orangey-yellow, rounded eyes highlight their alert expression. They typically roost in pine trees close to pasture ground, where their nightly hunting takes place.
The barn owl (Tyto alba) is another easily recognized species with a large, flat face and dark eyes. They are referred to as “heart-shaped” and are fairly elusive, but they are active at night and successful predators. They can be found in open areas like farmlands or prairies, or in deserted structures like barns.
The northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus) is a diminutive but powerful owl that spends the entire year in the northern regions of Indiana. They may be visible in old-growth coniferous woods throughout the winter, nesting in tree cavities. From October to April, keep an eye out for this cute raptor, as they can consume songbirds and other small owls during hard times.