One of the most elusive, mythical yet often heard residents of Indiana wildlands is the owl.
These nocturnal birds are abundant throughout the state but given their night-shift hours, they are seldom seen by outdoors enthusiasts but rest assured they are present.
A sharp eye is necessary to view owls as they are masters of camouflage and usually spend their days either hidden within cavities or roosting among thick vegetation. They are most commonly seen at dusk or dawn while feeding along field edges or grasslands.
These are the three most common species of owl you are likely to observe in Indiana-
Great Horned Owl: The biggest owl in Indiana, considered the night-time equivalent of the red-tailed hawk: they are abundant, occupy the same habitat, feed on the same prey and have similar nesting habitat. They are identified by their size and prominent feather tufts that look like horns.
Barred Owl: The most common owl, this medium-sized bird is very abundant and, while not frequently seen, is often heard in the early evening due to its well-known “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you alllll”-call that rings through the forest. The mottled brown bird nests within tree cavities and is often preyed upon by great horned owls.
Screech Owl: The smallest common owl in the state. It is oddly named as the bird doesn’t screech but rather has been described as an “eerie tremolo but with a descending, whinny-like quality” These can be brown or reddish and have prominent tufts on their head.
Other species (see gallery below for photos):
There are five other owls that spend at least part of the year in Indiana.
Saw-Whet Owl: A small owl with a tooting call, these frequently appear in Indiana, especially during cold weather.
Snowy Owl: The white owl that served as the icon for a well-known cigar brand. These northern owls are occasionally seen as transients during extremely cold weather as they search for food.
Barn Owl: A gray owl with prominent eye disks that, while not endangered in the U.S., has declined dramatically in Indiana due to habitat loss, especially the old, open buildings such as barns where it likes to nest.
Long and Short-eared owls: Less-common medium-sized owls that frequently hunt in more open areas than other species. The short-eared owl nests on the ground.