Owls in New Mexico

15 Types of Owls in New Mexico

New Mexico is considered the fifth largest city in the Southwestern United States. This city contains incalculable mountains, such as rocky and forest mountains, along with deserts and abundant lands enclosed by the wilderness that protects this state.

Consequently, this New Mexico state is diverse for avian species, especially the nocturnal birds. In this article, I will provide you with the top 15 New Mexico state owls and their physical characteristics such as scientific names, size, wingspan, lifespans, native places, foods, and other facts. 

15 Types of Owls in New Mexico

As a bird watcher or enthusiast, I have always wondered about these nocturnal birds’ survival behavior in nature.

Therefore, my love for these nocturnal owl birds led me to explore their mysterious wild nature thoroughly. I have traveled through the southwestern United States into the New Mexico state, where these owls are widely distributed.

In this section, I will discuss my last visit to this state, during which I explored the top 15 owl species of New Mexico state, along with their physical characteristics, geographic distribution, habitats, diet, and other behaviors like breeding, nesting, hunting, etc.

So let’s explore these mysterious night birds of the wild.

1. Barn Owl

  • Scientific name: Tyto alba
  • Lifespan: up to 18 years
  • Wingspan: around 100-125 cm
  • Native to: Europe, Western Asia, Africa
  • Size: 33 to 39 cm
  • Food or Diet:  rodents, birds, lizards, insects, etc. 

Barn Owls are the highest-spotted owls among other owl species in the New Mexico region. These owl species are native to this country and are found everywhere.

However, they are also rarely spotted in polar and desert regions like Asia, North of the Himalayas, Indonesia, and the Pacific Islands.

Concisely, these Mexican owls’ breeding seasons cover all the European regions, Africa, the Sahara, the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Australia, and Central and South America. Besides, you can easily find their habitats as they prefer open countries like farmlands, grasslands, and woodland areas.

They usually fly above 6,600 ft to 9,800 ft altitude ranges in those areas. I have also seen these nocturnal owls hunting during nighttime as they remain active at night.

They also use their sense organs to detect any prey near themselves. Another interesting part about these owls is that they can fly without making any noises; they will roam around their environment full silently.

Researchers found that these barn owls contain metabolism within their bodies.  This metabolism helps them to eat more food compared to other owls. Talking about their hunting skills,  I have seen their hunting techniques where they detect their prey and dive to the ground to catch it.

Sometimes they spread their talons while attacking the prey. However, I have also tracked down their diet, where they eat rodents and small birds like sparrows, lizards, reptiles, and other insects. 

2.   Boreal Owl

  • Scientific name: Aegolius funereus
  • Lifespan: up to 16 years 
  • Wingspan: 50-62 cm
  • Native to: North America
  • Size: 22 – 27 cm
  • Food or Diet: voles, mammals, mice, chipmunks, squirrels, moles, bats, small birds, amphibians and insects

Boreal owls are another owl species that is highly spotted in New Mexico City. They are also found in North America, Europe, and the Palearctic. They prefer dense forests and coniferous forests.

These New Mexico owls are very hard to capture by humans; they usually avoid human interaction due to their shy nature and unwilling behavior.

Similar to other owls, boreal owls use nests constructed by other birds, like woodpeckers. In the clutch, I have found that females give 3 to 7 eggs within a two-day gap.

Later, female owls incubate the eggs, usually starting after they lay their second eggs. During summer, these owls reluctantly hunt during the daytime because of the short night.

I have also observed that their maximum diet consists of voles. These owls are also fond of small mammals, rats, bats, mice, moles, and insects.

We have reported that these New Mexico owls are eaten by other large raptors or prey birds, which is why their population is decreasing gradually.

3.  Burrowing Owl

  • Scientific name: Athene cunicularia
  • Lifespan: around 6 to 8 years
  • Wingspan: 20 to 24 inches 
  • Native to: North and South America 
  • Size: 7 to 11 inches 
  • Food or Diet: invertebrates, insects, small rodents, ground squirrels, reptiles, etc.

Burrowing owls are also known as shoco in North America. These owls have comparatively small bodies with long large legs. Besides, they have bright eyes with dark yellowish beaks depending on the different subspecies.

However, unlike other owls, these New Mexico owls lack facial discs or round faces and ear tufts. They have prominent eyebrows and a white chin patch on their faces.

In addition to New Mexico, these owls revolve in North American regions such as Canada, the United States, Mexico, and the Southern United States.

You may detect these owls in subtropical coastal regions, temperate region areas, grasslands, rangelands, agricultural areas, deserts, and open areas with dry and low vegetation for their habitats.

Unlike other owls, I have noted that they also remain active during the day. Most of these owls hunt between dusk and dawn. Besides, they use their special night vision and hearing skills to observe the area and detect the prey within it.

Usually, they wait for their prey on a perch and try to look for it. Whenever they detect any prey, they swoop down on it, sometimes catching it in their flight position.

According to my experience, their maximum diet consists of invertebrates and small vertebrates, which cover two-thirds of their diets daily. However, they also consume bats, mammals, and birds for their food.

4. ELF Owl 

  • Scientific name: Micrathene Whitney
  • Lifespan: 3 – 6 years 
  • Wingspan: 27 cm
  • Native to: southwestern United States, Mexico, Baja California peninsula
  • Size: 4.9 to 5.7 inches 
  • Food or Diet: arthropods, moths, crickets, scorpions, centipods, beetles etc.

Elf owls are small grayish-brown owls with large eyes. They are widely distributed in New Mexico City. In the summer season, they have also been spotted in the Southwestern United States, Arizona, and the Baja California peninsula for breeding purposes.

In the winter season, they migrate to central and southern Mexico and return again in the north in mid-April. Regarding their habitats, you can find these new Mexico owls in open wooded areas.

Usually, you can find them choosing abandoned places, mostly prefer cavities that have already been constructed by woodpeckers. Besides, they prefer cottonwoods, saguaro cacti sycamores, and hardwood trees for cavities and nestings.

You can also attract them by providing them with a man-made structured nest. Usually, these New Mexico owls prefer natural structures or man-made structure cavities such as telephone poles in urban areas for their nesting purpose.

These owls of New Mexico are extremely territorial; both male and female owls mostly defend their territory areas from intruders. Besides, they hunt mostly during the night hours.

I have noticed that these owls mainly eat arthropods in their diets. However, they also eat moths, crickets, scorpions, beetles, and small mammals like rats, mice, lizards, snakes, and birds on an occasional period. 

5. Flammulated Owl

  • Scientific name: Psiloscops flammeolus
  • Lifespan: up to 7 years
  • Wingspan: 14 inches 
  • Native to: North America
  • Size:  15 cm
  • Food or Diet: insects, beetles, rodents, small mammals, butterflies, etc. 

Flammulated owls are very small-scale owls native to North America, including New Mexico. In North American regions, they are local to British Columbia and the Western United States.

Later, these owls were identified as traveling in the southern United States, including South Texas, Arizona, and California. Unlike other owls, these owls are migratory. They usually leave Canada and the United States during the fall seasons.

During the winter, you can find them mostly in Central America. If you keep thinking about their breeding seasons, let me tell you that they start in late April and early May.

However, I have watched them making nests in tree cavities where female owls incubate the eggs for 26 days. Usually, females select the cavities that have already been made by woodpeckers and Northern flickers.

Their nests rarely have nesting materials as they use other cavities for themselves. During my observation in New Mexico, I saw them following insects and butterflies in their diets. Sometimes, they also eat small mammals, small rodents, crickets, and beetles.

6.  Great Horned Owl

  • Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
  • Lifespan: 20 to 30 years
  • Wingspan: 91- 153 cm
  • Native to: America 
  • Size: 17 – 25 inches 
  • Food or Diet: rodents, small rabbits, birds, lizards, reptiles, etc.

Great horned owls are also known as tiger owls or hoot owls because they resemble the tiger species in New Mexico. This owl is generally famous for its camouflage techniques.

Their underparts are usually light brown, and they have mottled brown upperparts and wings. Besides, these owls also have facial discs that are mostly reddish, brown, and gray in color.

Their distribution region covers America, including North America, Central America, South America, the Subarctic, oak, and Newfoundlands. They prefer suburban and urban areas, open habitats, and wooded areas, as they thoroughly avoid humans.

This is why these owls prefer areas such as parks or developmental areas where humans are inactive. Because of their natural color plumage, they can effortlessly camouflage themselves within their surroundings.

This camouflage technique also assists them in hunting at night and roosting during the day times. I have also eyed male owls, where they defend their territory, and females help their partners in hooting activities to ensure the intruders’ surroundings.

Like other owls, these New Mexico owls eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, lizards, and insects.

7.  Long Eared Owl

  • Scientific name: Asio otus
  • Lifespan: around 10 to 30 years 
  • Wingspan:  86 to 102 cm
  • Native to: North America 
  • Size: 12 to 16 inches 
  • Food or Diet: mammals, birds, rodents, rabbits, mice, rats, insects etc.

Long-eared owls are also referred to as the northern long-eared Owl, lesser horned owl, or cat owl in New Mexico. Apart from this city, they are also local to North America, Europe, the Palearctic, and the Peninsula.

Again, their habitats are in open places, short vegetation, and wooded areas suitable for their roosting and nesting sites. These owls of New Mexico mostly have yellowish-black plumage with long ear tufts located directly in the middle of their heads.

These owls showcase their activities at dusk. Some researchers have claimed that they become less active from 8 to 10 p.m. and 5 to 6 a.m. On the other hand, around 10 to 12 p.m. and 3 to 5 a.m. are the high points where they show their active behavior.

At that time, they become more tentative about hunting their prey or hooting while sitting on a tree. During their non-breeding seasons, they make a group of 6 to 50 owls and roost together, generally known as an aggregation of owls.

Talking about their diet, I have seen them consume small mammals like rats, mice, rabbits, rodents, and birds like passerines and jaybirds.

8. Mexican Spotted Owl

  • Scientific name: Strix occidentalis
  • Lifespan: about 15 years
  • Wingspan: around 114 cm
  • Native to: western North America 
  • Size: 43 cm
  • Food or Diet: squirrels, deer mice, rabbits, pocket gophers, voles, snowshoe hares, bats, passerine birds,  reptiles, etc.

Mexican Spotted Owls are a subspecies of the true owl family, and they are widely native to western North America, including New Mexico City.

However, these owls also inhabit British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona. They mostly prefer coniferous, hardwood, closed-canopy, and old-growth forests for their habitats.

However, you can also spot them in chaparral and Pinyon woodlands to inhabit. You will not find them by making their own nests; these New Mexico owls use cavities left or already used by other birds, such as woodpeckers, squirrels, and raptors.

They also have a tendency to repeat their nests for a couple of years with their breeding partners. However, due to failure or unsuccessful breeding, they might change their mates or barely re-nest with the same mating partners.

These owls of New Mexico seem to patiently wait for their prey on a perch before looking to hunt. Their diet mostly remains seasonal, and I have seen them consume mammalian species, flying squirrels, woodrats, deer mice, voles, rabbits, small birds like passerine birds, jays, woodpeckers, reptiles, and insects.

9.  Northern Pygmy Owl

  • Scientific name: Glaucidium californicum
  • Lifespan:  7 years 
  • Wingspan:  12 inches 
  • Native to: western North America 
  • Size: 15 to 17 cm
  • Food or Diet: mammals, birds, insects, etc.

Northern Pygmy Owls are small owls native to Western North America, including New Mexico City. These New Mexico owls have round white heads along with spotted marks.

They also have disc-size facial features with dark upper breasts, tails, wings, and yellowish-green bills. These owls’ breeding range covers Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

Additionally, they are fond of temperate, subtropical, and tropical moist forests, savannas, and wetlands for their habitats. Researchers have found that these owls are very difficult to spot in the wild of New Mexico because of their size and color.

Luckily, I observed them using old woodpecker cavities and holes for nesting purposes. Female owls lay 2 to 7 eggs in a clutch and incubate them. Male owls bring food to the nests and protect them from outside danger, such as other prey birds and intruders.

These owls are also diurnal, meaning they remain active day and night. I also saw them consuming prey similar to their body or comparatively bigger than their body size without any hassle.

10.  Northern Saw-whet Owl

  • Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
  • Lifespan: 16 years
  • Wingspan: 42-56.3 cm
  • Native to: North America
  • Size: 17- 22 cm
  • Food or Diet:  mammals, rodents, deer, mice, voles, birds, etc.

Northern Saw-whet Owls are another owl species that has been highly observed in New Mexico City and throughout North America, Alaska, and the United States. These New Mexico owls prefer coniferous forests, mixed wooded areas, and deciduous woods for their habitats. 

During my inspection inside the state, I noticed certain color combinations on these owls’ bodies. They have round, light white faces along with brown cream patches. Besides, they also have dark blue and yellow Irish with dark brown heads and wings.

They have a “Y” shaped white distinctive coloration over the forehead areas or in the middle of their two eyes, which helps you easily identify this species. I have heard their frequent vocalized whistling sounds; mostly they do these sounds to find their partners or call them.

Sometimes, they also make a sound with their bills, like bill snapping sounds, to make warning calls to their community or partners. Like other species of owls, these also consume mammals in most diets. Besides mammals, I have seen them eat small birds, deer, mice, rodents, and voles in their diet.

11.  Short Eared Owl 

  • Scientific name: Asio flammeus
  • Lifespan: 4 to 15 years
  • Wingspan: 85 – 110 cm
  • Native to: north and South America, Europe, and Asia 
  • Size: 34 – 43 cm
  • Food or Diet: voles, rats, mice, rodents, moles, insects, caterpillars, grasshoppers etc. 

Short-eared owls are another owl species that are highly noticeable in New Mexico City. Similar to their names, their tufts may or may not be seen by you because of their short size.

Additionally, they have big heads, short necks, broad wings, and short black hooked bills, which are usually stronger than other owl species. Apart from New Mexico City, these owl-breeding regions cover Europe, Asia, South America, the Caribbean, and Hawaii.

They are also seen to migrate partially, meaning they often travel to the south from the northern parts during winter. Additionally, these owls’ breeding season starts from March to June, especially April month.

Moreover, these diurnal owls hunt at night because of their dual behavior. If they catch any prey, they tend to fly only feet above the ground in open fields and grasslands and then swoop down the prey from their feet.

More or less, I have noticed that these species consume small mammals, small birds, mice, squirrels, bats, rats, voles, small gulls, seabirds, shorebirds, and insects in their diets.

12. Western-Screech Owl

  • Scientific name: Megascops kennicottii
  • Lifespan: around 13 years in the wild 
  • Wingspan: 55 cm
  • Native to: North and Central America 
  • Size: 22 cm
  • Food or Diet: insects, small mammals,  mice, rats, squirrels,  bats, birds etc.

Western screech owls are small owls that are highly distributed in Central and North America, including New Mexico City. These owls have large feet and streaked brown-gray plumage over their bodies, with tutus ears, yellow eyes, and bills.

Their regional surroundings mostly cover Canada, the United States, Guatemala, and Costa Rica. These owls mostly prefer temperate forests, subtropical and tropical nonstandard forests, rural fields, shrubland deserts, parks, and gardens in this region.

Later, through my observation notes, I found out they chose open wood and mixed wood forest edges for their breeding sites. During their courtship day, male Owls grab food for their partners and make clicking noises while giving it.

I have discovered their singing skills where they perform duets with each other. Later, female owls of New Mexico lay 2 to 7 eggs in the clutch, and both male and female partners share their parental duty by protecting their nests and territory areas from danger like snakes, crows, jays, etc.

If I talk about their hunting skills, they use unique skills to attack their prey. Besides, these owls catch their prey while in a flight position. During the night, they usually use their keen eyesight to detect any prey near them and hunt them.

During my observation of New Mexico City, I noted that they eat small mammals like rats, mice, squirrels, bats, and birds. However, their diet changes per season, and they consume different foods each season.


To sum up the whole article, these 15 nocturnal owls are mysterious wildlife that have been widely spotted in New Mexico because of this state’s eco-friendly environment.

Apart from this state’s fruitful nature and ecosystems, let’s not forget these owls’ amazing camouflage techniques, hunting skills, and nocturnal behavior, which help them sustain through nature as mysterious night birds of the wild. 

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *