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Owls in North Dakota

Neal Herbert
National Park Service
Great Horned Owl

Spring might seem a long time away, so it may come as a surprise that Great Horned Owls are likely already nesting near you!

I was recently looking at Robert Stewart’s 1975 book, Breeding Birds of North Dakota. He notes that Great Horned Owls lay claim to an old hawk or crow nest and begin egg laying as early as February.

I suspect most everyone is familiar with Great Horned Owls, they are perhaps our most commonly observed owl. However, there are several other owls that nest in North Dakota:

  • Although uncommon, Eastern Screech Owls are nesters in the state. They are cavity nesters and may have active nests by mid-March.
  • The more common Short-Eared Owls may be observed over much of the state. They are ground nesters and begin their breeding season in early April.
  • Burrowing Owls are occasionally observed on the ground near their nesting sites. There are scattered records of them nesting in most counties across the state. Their breeding season begins in mid-May.
  • Long-Eared Owls are uncommon to rare in the state. Stewart cites nests documented for Ward, Benson, McHenry, Nelson, and Ramsey counties. They lay claim to an old crow, hawk, or magpie nest and begin nesting in late April or early May.
  • The North Dakota Birding Society lists Barred Owls as nesting in the state, all west of Highway 281.
  • Stewart listed the Saw Whet Owl nesting as hypothetical, but more recently, the North Dakota Birding Society has them listed as nesting.
  • The North Dakota Birding Society also lists Barn Owls as nesting in North Dakota.

Other owls that have been observed in the state include the Snowy, Great Gray, and Northern Hawk Owl.

If you're interested in learning more about owls and other birds in our region, here are some further reading and resources:

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
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