The many species of owls found in North America occupy quite a range of natural habitats. Owls, depending upon their species, live from the cold tundra of the far northern portions of the continent to the hot and arid southwest deserts. Some owls take full advantage of the presence of human beings, while others stay as far as possible from civilization.
The snowy owl always inhabits open country, with the “National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds” stating that it rarely alights in a tree. This owl of far northern regions in Canada stays on the open tundra where it can hunt small rodents known as lemmings. The snowy owl sometimes migrates southward to lower parts of Canada and the United States, but still remains in the open. It makes its winter home in fields, plains, dunes, beaches marshes and even in the wide-open spaces provided by airports.
The small boreal owl needs a habitat that contains abundant coniferous trees such as spruce, fir and hemlock, as well as poplars and aspens. The boreal owl is very shy and retiring, so it needs dense cover in which to hide during the day. It takes refuge in the thick branches of conifers where nothing can get a glimpse of it; it then ventures forth at night to hunt for mammals, bugs and birds.
The great horned owl can adapt to nearly any habitat, as shown by its huge geographic range that covers all of the continental United States, most of Alaska and Canada, and large sections of Latin America. This owl can live in deserts as well as swamps, forests and open grasslands, with city parks included in the list of places it can reside. The great horned owl is able to have such a wide range of habitats because it has what the Cornell Lab of Ornithology calls a “broad diet,” consuming mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and invertebrates alike.
Habitat and Behavior
The burrowing owl is notable for its preference for open plains, where burrowing animals such as prairie dogs reside. The Owl Pages website notes that the burrowing owl will nest in the ground, occupying the abandoned burrows of animals from habitats such as deserts and grasslands. These owls frequently form loosely associated colonies, with their nests close enough together that they can warn each other of an impending threat from a predator.
Some owl species are keenly dependent on having specific habitat available. The barn owl, for example, is on the decline in places such as Connecticut because the open farmland fields in which it hunts are disappearing. The barn owl, according to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection site, requires open space to hunt small rodents such as mice and voles. The effectiveness of rodent-killing poisons has also caused the owls' food sources in the state to dwindle, as has the loss of available nesting sites such as hollow trees.
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology: Typical Owls
- Owl Pages: Burrowing Owl
- Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection: Barn Owl
- "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Birds"; John Bull and John Farrand Jr.; 2008
- owl image by vashistha pathak from Fotolia.com