Living in a sparsely populated region of northeast Maine has its many privileges. Watching wildlife in their natural surroundings is but one. It is also one of my most cherished.
Owls of Maine is the first installment in a series of multimedia articles titled “Wild: Life on the Ridge” detailing the sights and sounds of local wildlife in my neck of the woods, where Penobscot and Aroostook counties come together, creating a unique and vibrant ecosystem.
Quick facts: Barred owls make a habit of occupying the nests of other raptors and crows. Lack of ear tufts and dark brown eyes set in a prominent facial disc make them easily recognizable.
Habitat & Range: Prefers swamps and woodland. Widely spread throughout Maine and are year round residents of greater New England. Males may winter in urban areas returning to home territories in spring.
Viewing Tips: Barred owls hunt by night and some will sit tree branches by day. Mimic the well-known “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” Click for more
Quick facts: Snowy owls are nearly silent in winter. Older males are pure white while females and young males display black dots and scale coloration.
Habitat & Range: Spends summer on the Arctic tundra. Over winters in Canada and as far south as Maine. Preferred winter habitat is open country.
Viewing Tips: Hunts by day or night in winter, hovering or flying low seeking prey by sight and sound. Sightings are rare south of the Canadian border but opportunities exist in Northern Maine. Look for snowy owls around large, open expanses with plenty of rodent prey. Marshes, farmland and even regional airports are good places to start. Click for more
Great Horned Owl
Quick facts: One of the largest owls in Maine. Recognizable by large up-swept ear tufts and piercing yellow eyes. Like barred owls, great horned owls also occupy the nests of other birds. An aggressive hunter, taking prey such as rabbits and other birds as large as geese in the north.
Habitat & Range: Primary habitat is woodland and forest. Found also in open country and along stream sides. Widespread throughout New England year round.
Viewing Tips: Nests are usually 20-60 feet off the ground. Barred owls mostly hunt at night but may also be seen feeding at dusk. Call with a series of six to eight low hoots with the second and third notes rapid and doubled “hoo, hoo-hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo”. Click for more
Long Eared Owl
Quick facts: Often confused with a great horned owl. The long eared owl is smaller and like the snowy owl, is usually heard only during breeding season.
Habitat & Range: Long eared owls prefer dense conifer stands for roosting and nesting. Hunting takes place in open country. They sometimes head south depending on prey availability.
Viewing Tips: Best time is during breeding season in summer. In winter, look for large groups roosting together in a stand of conifers. Try to get them to answer by making low soft hoots “whoop, whoop, whoop”. Click for more
Great Gray Owl
Quick facts: Hunts in daylight or at night. Dives in more than a foot of snow to catch prey. Thick, fluffy plumage creates the illusion of a larger size than it actually is.
Habitat & Range: Remote country with mixed dense conifer, bogs and clearings. Nomadic range depends highly on rodent, especially vole, populations.
Viewing Tips: In the northeast, look for great gray owls in similar habitat that moose watchers favor. Nests are usually 10-50 feet above ground. A deep, resounding “whoo” repeated as much as ten times, slowly softening in timbre at the end may get you an answer. Click for more
Authors note – This list isn’t meant to be an all-inclusive register of the entire Maine owl population. Rather, it’s a look at these birds of prey known to inhabit my neck of the woods. These owls have all been viewed, heard and/or photographed in Penobscot or Aroostook county.