Friday, June 12, 2015

Owling Arizona: 15 Ways to Become Better At It, 13 Owls to Find

Owls are among the most impressive of creatures in all of nature.  Have you ever taken the time to go out and look for them?  If you haven't, it may be something you'll enjoy doing.

There are 19 species of owls that regularly call North America home.  These 19 species are diverse in habitat choice, size, habits, behavior, and more.  Whether where you are in North America or elsewhere in the World, there should be an owl or two nearby.  There's always that lingering and often-painful question in mind when it comes to seeing owls for most folks.  That question is: can I find them?  Can I find them outside of zoos or birds that have been turned into rehab centers?  Many folks think that seeing them in zoos or raptor shows is the only way to go about it.  It's a great way for such a treat, but believe me, it's not the only way.  This owl photographed below is named Malachi.  Malachi is a Eurasian Eagle-Owl.  He's not native to North America as stated, but he was at a raptor flight show in northern Arizona's Bearizona wildlife park.  Malachi shows thousands of eager folks every year that owls are present throughout the world, and for many of these folks, Malachi is one of the only living owls they will ever see in their life.

People who aren't into birding and don't go wildlife watching often do ask that question in doubt, "Can I find owls ever?"  The truth is, yes, you can!  Owls are thought-of-in-general as being mythical and mysterious and "impossible" to find and see.  They are mysterious and mythical, but they aren't "impossible" to see.  When people who aren't birders see my owl photographs that I take at night or day, they often ask, "How in the world do you find these things?!"  I answer them back and say, "It's really pretty simple: you have to get out there and try to find them, you've gotta know what to listen for and where to look, and you need to try going out at night pretty often to learn how to find owls".  When I was a young lad, I was stuck in the misconception too that owls are "impossible" to find.  I would find myself complaining about the fact that I never saw any of them and I thought that National Geographic photographers who photographed these remarkable birds were a different species of human.  When I first graduated from being only a "wildlife watcher" and became a birder, I looked at the 13 owl species that are found in Arizona with amazement but yet with a strange type of fear.  How in the world could I possibly see all thirteen of Arizona's owls?  It was intimidating.  I never thought I would be able to find all 13 species, and getting one of them seemed hard enough.  But the truth is, it's not that hard after all!  I'm glad to say now that I have seen all of Arizona's 13 owls, and have photographed them too.  A lot of learning has been involved in finding these birds effectively, but it is something that is worth the time and effort.  Some owls are very difficult to find and see, others are easy, and some just sit there without a fear in the world.  Owls have become one of my favorite bird families, and owling has become my favorite birding tactic.  I love it, and I'm writing a post on how to become a better owler.  I hope this will help any of you reading this on how to find these birds in Arizona and beyond and what approaches to use when searching for these birds.  It's a load of fun, and heck, you might even find yourself getting in "selfies" with owls someday!


Tip # 1:  Get Yourself Out There:  This first tip is one of the biggest.  When I was younger, I would look into my field guides dreaming about an owl sighting.  There was a problem though, I wasn't getting out there to look and attempt sightings.  The first step is sometimes the biggest step.  Owling is not only challenging at first, but finding the time and will to go look for them for the very first time can be just as challenging.  Once your out there, owling is something you may or may not like.  After all, you are in the dark and the dark is creepy.  To resolve this, bring a buddy along.  My first every owling expedition was in Greer, Arizona.  After going my first three birding years without seeing any owls, my brother Tyler and I went on a four mile hike after dark to look and listen for owls in Greer, Arizona.  We used family walkie talkies to communicate with our parents while we were hiking in the dark.  This first attempt came up owlless but it was good to get an attempt in!

Tip # 2:  Go Owling Often:  This tip echoes the first tip.  Once you make your first owling trip, plan a few more.  Every night out there is different, which can be a result of weather, temperature, or the owl's life cycles.  The only way to succeed in this activity is to go a lot.  This can bring a lot more confidence to one when it comes to finding these night raptors as well, and it will aid more and more into the knowledge of these birds and this activity.

Tip # 3:  Invest in a Strong Flashlight!:  Many birders make the mistake of looking for owls with weak flashlights.  I'm not trying to be mean, but most of them have weak flashlights and the actual chance for seeing an owl beyond hearing it's vocalizations are extremely slim.  Although the owl may be fairly close, most will fly away before one gets close enough to light up the source.  This is another thing I had to learn when I started owling.  While one has there own choice of what they want to use (and that is completely fine with whatever they use!), investing in a strong flashlight will make the experience more enjoyable.  Good flashlights range from twenty dollars to several hundred dollars.  Personally, I use a 500 lumen flashlight that I picked up at Walmart for roughly thirty dollars.  Using lumens a little lower than 500 (250-300) can work well too, but I recommend using a light that is 500 lumens at the minimum.  This way, you can study birds much better and have a much better chance of detecting them.  It's amazing to see the results of two different flashlights at the same distance.  If you have a powerful flashlight and find an owl, really limit the amount of time you shine the light on birds.  Some flashlights have high and low beams.  Either use a low beam after a look or shine the light a few feet above or below the owl so the bird is still lit up partially but is yet still view-able.  I often put the light on a branch near the owl so I can enjoy the owl well without the owl constantly having a bright light in it's face.  At this point, the bird seems to forget that I'm even there.  

Tip # 4:  Know the Weather Forecast:  This tip is a very useful one, and is one that can make or break a trip for me.  Know the weather forecast at night before you make a trip out owling!  Windy nights make this task nearly impossible at times and adds to the challenge.  Pick a night with low wind speeds.  I don't remember a time when I've succeeded in a night of owling with high wind speeds.  Owls don't use microphones when they call at night, so most of them aren't audible over the wind.

Tip # 5:  Know your Owl's Life, Habits, and Behavior:  A key factor for owling is knowing where to look and also knowing how your preferred target behaves and lives it's life.  Is your desired owl more elusive than others?  Is it active in small time frames of the day or night?  Is it nocturnal or diurnal?  What does it feed on?  What habitat can it be found in?  Does it call more at certain times of the year over other times of the year?  When is this owl present in our region?  Reading up on owls and studying their natural history is essential to having successful owling expeditions.  Study the field marks of each owl and get to know what to look for in each species if visuals are provided.  In order to get to know somebody well, you have to spend some time with them by finding out what they like to do, what they are passionate about, where they live, and more.  It's really no different with birding.  The more you know your birds, the easier it is to succeed in finding them.

Tip # 6:  Know Owl Vocalizations:  In similar ways to the previous tip, knowing the vocalizations of different owl species increases chances of success for this activity rapidly.  Different field guides and iPhone/Android birding applications often give the sounds and calls we think of to be heard more frequently.  Although it's true that these are the sounds, songs, and calls that we hear most often from owls, these descriptions and applications are far from being complete.  Owls have a wide range of sounds that go beyond the typical field guide descriptions and basic birding sound applications.  Not only do owls sing, but they have a variety of calls, screeches, fledgling calls, and burps.  Maybe not so much on the last example, my point is is that there are a lot of sounds out there to learn.  Try listening to sounds on Zeno Canto, a global bird sound uploading program and website where thousands of birders share the bird sounds they have heard live and have recorded in the field.  I'm going to use the Northern Pygmy-Owl as an example.  Besides the usual calls that this species gives, it also gives a sound that birders have called the "agitated trill".  I once heard this out in the field and didn't know what it was.  When I heard a Northern Pygmy-Owl giving it's basic toot calls soon after, I thought it could have been some sort of call that the species makes on occasion.  When I went to Zeno Canto, sure enough, I found the recording to match what I heard, and it was a Northern Pgymy-Owl.  This sound is not mentioned in field guides or any other birding application that has bird sounds as a part of the application.


Tip # 7:  Not All Owls Are Active At Night:  Although the majority of owls in Arizona, North America, and the World are active at night, some of them are active during the day.  Owls that are active during the day are known as diurnal owls and owls that are active at night are known as nocturnal owls.  Diurnal owls include Burrowing Owl and Northern Pygmy-Owl.  There are also birds that are crepuscular, meaning they are active at dawn and dusk.  A perfect example of a crepuscular owl would be the Short-eared Owl.

Tip # 8:  Mobbing Birds Can Aid in Locating an Owl's Day Roost:  Songbirds hate owls for obvious reasons.  Owls are skilled and are silent predators that are a threat to any songbird.  Mobbing happens when birds discover an owl's day roost and then they all "gang up" on the owl and form large flocks to attempt at moving the owl out of the area.  These mixed flocks can include most songbirds, but chickadees, jays, crows, titmice, nuthatches, kinglets and warblers are some of the most frequent.  Agitated calls will come out of these birds, which is very obvious if you are paying attention.  Listen for a mixed flock of birds making a lot of noise in one concentrated area.  Anytime this is heard in the field, there is likely an owl or another bird of prey nearby.  Do use caution though, because I have found birds mobbing rattlesnakes.  These songbirds will mob any owl as large as a Great Horned Owl to one that is small like a Flammulated Owl.  I have an audio example on here that can be listened to of a group of corvids mobbing a Great Horned Owl in Greer, Arizona.  While I was walking in the field, I heard numerous American Crows, a few Clark's Nutcrackers, and a few Steller's Jays calling and scolding repeatedly at a certain source.  When I came up upon the scene, I found the Great Horned Owl they were mobbing.  To listen to such a sequence, click on the link for the YouTube video below.


Tip # 9:  Analyse Whitewash and Look For Pellets:  Whitewash is owl poop.  It is obvious when it is present on the ground, on limbs, on a structure, or coming out of a nesting cavity.  Looking for whitewash sometimes leads to finding owls roosting in the daytime.  If you find whitewash, scan the area and immediate perches above the poop.  Whether or not an owl is there, it helps to know where owls have been and what kind of habitat they are enjoying using the most during the course of their life.  Looking for owl pellets also increases chances of finding birds and knowing where an owl has been.  A similar sequence fifty yards down the trail may hold your target.  Below is a pellet that I found from a Long-eared Owl roost.

Tip #10:  To Find Owls During The Day, Scan Many Things:  In order to find an owl, you have to think like an owl.  Think:  If I'm an owl and I don't want to be found, where am I going to hide during the day?  Small owls may be impossible to see during the day as a lot of them sleep in cavities.  Not all of them do though.  For day roosts, scan: dense thickets, mistletoe clumps, dense clusters of branches in trees, as well as riparian trees with heavy foliage and leaf cover, and more.  Larger owls, such as Barn and Great Horned Owls, will roost under structures such as bridges and abandoned buildings.  Small isolated patches of bigger trees are also a good place to look for roosting owls.

Tip # 11:  Using Playback:  Playback for owling can often be a controversial issue among birders.  There are right ways to use playback as well as wrong ways to use playback.  Playback involves playing recordings of owls in the field through recording devices and speakers.  Although it is best for playback to be kept to a minimum, it can aid in successfully locating species.  If one is in the right habitat at the right time of the year, chances are is that playback won't be needed much of the time.  A good way to use playback would be to have the owl answer back once or twice and then limit use of playback after that.  Having the owl answer back usually gives one a better chance at seeing the bird.  Despite the fact that playback is thought to always bring birds in to some birders, the fact is, most owls don't come directly to the playback source.  It is best to go to the owl's area to listen for it further rather than try to bring it in.  The wrong way to use playback would be to consistently play tapes over and over again throughout the night.  There are nights when owls show themselves better than other nights, and it's best not the force any birds into calling more and getting agitated more if they aren't showing well anyways.  Just like people, owls have life routines they go through.  They may not be so visible on nights when adults are feeding fledglings or when birds are incubating eggs.  What I'm trying to say is that this activity isn't something that needs to be pushed over the top.  It's really very simple.  Some owls, like Ferruginous Pgymy-Owl and Spotted Owl are federally protected and are listed as threatened and endangered, do not use playback for these species because it is illegal.

Tip # 12:  When Owls Are Heard, Head In Their Direction ASAP:  Whether one is listening for owls and hears one start calling or if one is using playback in attempting to detect an owl and hears one start to call back, don't stand there and continue to listen.  If the surrounding terrain is one that supports foot access, head in the direction of the bird as soon as possible.  There are ways to walk more quietly but yet at more of a speedy pace and still be able to hear the owl calling.  Owls often call for a minute or two before going silent or moving onto a different location.  It's easy to stop and listen for a few calls or more from the owl, but that will often result in the bird going quiet or moving on.  By heading in the owl's direction immediately, it gives the birder a much better chance to win!  Sometimes owls will call for long periods of time, and there are other times when they won't call for very long.  So when your target starts calling, head in it's direction ASAP (as soon as possible) to give yourself a better chance to win.

Tip # 13:  If the Owl Stops Calling, It May Still Be There!  Scan Away!:  This tip will echo my previous tip.  There have been many times lately when I have gone owling where I have followed the calls of owls immediately after hearing them.  While I was on my way into the immediate area, the birds would stop calling.  There were times before where I would give up on my chase because I thought the bird would be too hard to locate if it wasn't calling.  A lot of times, that simply isn't true!  A recent Elf Owl search with a few of my buddies resulted in hearing an Elf Owl barking along a line of mesquite trees.  It was barking often as we initially started to head over to the spot it was calling from.  As we got closer, the bird stopped.  I thought it might have flown, but with some careful scanning of the trees and luck with my light, I was able to locate the bird for us at a very close range.  It then proceeded to sit there quietly for about ten minutes before moving on.  As owls are certainly easier to locate at night when they are calling, it is certainly very possible to be able to locate them during the night by scanning through their appropriate habitat.  Owls, especially small ones, can perch in many different spots in a specific tree.  I'll use a mesquite as an example and I'll use the Elf Owl as an example again.  I've seen Elf Owls utilize many different perches within a mesquite tree.  Such perches have included them perching on thin twigs/branches on the outskirts of the tree, birds perching near the base of the trunk in the open, birds perching deep in the tree on branches, and birds perched at different height levels.  Most owls utilize a variety of different perches, so it's best to scan throughout the trees they may be in.

Tip # 14:  Accept the Challenges of Owling, And Learn New Things:  Because owls or mysterious creatures and looking for them at night is challenging, learn to accept that challenge.  There will be nights that are good and there will be nights that are bad.  Some owls are more elusive and harder to see than others.  It took me 6 or 7 times of hearing Flammulated Owls before I actually got to see one.  Don't let tough species be discouraging to the point where trying is no longer an interest.  This is a birding approach where consistency pays off.  After every owling night I partake in, I usually learn something new.  It may involve hearing the owl give a slightly different call than what I'm used to, seeing a new behavior, or observing owls in habitats that aren't their most common habitats.  As an example, I found a number of Elf Owls close to 6,000' in the area of Maricopa County's Four Peaks Wilderness.  These Elf Owls were commonly utilizing ponderosa pine trees among a drainage in the area where they were found.  Elf Owls appear to be becoming more adaptable to different habitats, and it is interesting to keep in mind.  Because most of these birds are active at night, there is a lot more to learn about them.

Tip # 15:  Proper Behavior and Responsibility to Use When Owling:  It's always great to have fun when looking for owls.  With that being said, it's also great to keep the welfare of these birds in mind.  Owls are sensitive to human presence, and although some of them allow close approach, it is best to still keep a respectable distance from them.  If approaching an owl, it's letting you know when your getting to close by it's body language.  If the bird turns it's head quickly, looks around, or starts to move it's talons around, it is then most likely getting ready to leave it's perch.  When the bird starts to show this behavior, stop and wait for it to calm down again and try not to approach any closer.  Keep flashlights on owls to a minimum, especially those with higher beams.  It is also best to not post the exact locations of owls on the internet, whether it being eBird, a Facebook group, or birding forum/listserv.  Owls are among the most popular of birds to birders and people in general.  Most jump at the chance to see an owl.  Keeping exact locations away from public use prevents crowds from invading the owl's area.  If you find an owl nest, that should never be shared publicly.  Some owl species are more sensitive than others.  Long-eared Owls are perfect examples, and they tend to seek out regular roosting sites during migration and winter.  They are an owl that should never see a lot of human attention, and should never be reported to a public place.  Arizona is also home to two federally threatened owls, which are Mexican Spotted Owl (threatened) and Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (endangered).  If encountering these birds or if listening for them, don't approach too closely and stay for long time periods, don't use flash photography, don't report them to public birding sources, and certainly don't use playback to get them to call back (it's illegal).  


Arizona may be home to more owls than any other state in the U.S.  Let's take a look at all of Arizona's thirteen owls and learn more about them.

1. Barn Owl (Tyto Alba)

The first time I ever saw a Barn Owl came very unexpectedly when I was playing a game of basketball with my buddies in Glendale, Arizona.  As we were seeing who could reach 21 quicker than another, we heard a loud chilling screeching sound coming from overhead.  We caught sight of a largish white bird flying overhead.  I knew right away that it was a Barn Owl.  My friends started laughing at what happened, and when I told them what it was, they were quite shocked.  "In the middle of the city!?", they asked.  I told them that they would be surprised.  True to the basketball experience with this bird, Barn Owls are seen in man-made areas very often.  They roost and nest under bridges, barns, and various buildings.  In Arizona they prefer open areas close to statewide with such structures nearby, as well as riparian areas and lowland deserts as their other most frequently used habitat choice.  Groves of trees are good places to look in suburban areas, as well as under bridges and in willow and cottonwood riparian zones.

The Barn Owl is strictly nocturnal in it's activities, but there are times where it may be observed under bridges and if one is lucky to find one at it's daytime roost in a riparian area.  Barn Owls are very distinctive in their appearance, having a heart-shaped face and almost appearing "monkey-like" at times.  They are the one owl in their genus that could be found in North America, and they don't belong to the Strigidae complex (True Owls) but are in the Barn Owl family (Tytonidae).  Barn Owls mainly feed on rodents but will also take birds.  This owl is rather easy to age and sex.  Below is a picture of an adult male Barn Owl.  Male Barn Owls are separated by female owls because of their clearer and white breast.

This Barn Owl is a female.  She has a very buffy breast and has a more defined "heart-shape" around her face than the male does.  Both of these owls were found under a bridge in the Phoenix area.

Here is a young juvenile Barn Owl who is being a "brancher".  I got extremely lucky with this shot.  This bird still has some of it's recently fledged feathers on the back of it's neck.  

The adult Barn Owls that were shown above and the juvenile that was shown above all came from the same area, which is under that big Phoenix bridge.  These two birds have mated in this area for years now and they usually have a brood every year.  Some of the young make it, and some of them don't.  Here is one of the Barn Owl broods of four fledglings.  

The Barn Owl was made to be a silent killer.  Although it has a rather large size, it is almost entirely silent in flight.  It's a skilled and deadly killer to any rodents nearby, but it is oddly graceful in it's flight at the same time.  Although the Barn Owl is primarily nocturnal, I did see this bird flying around on a very overcast day once in late summer.  

2. Flammulated Owl (Psiloscops flammeolus)

The tiny Flammulated Owl is the only small owl in North America and in Arizona with dark eyes.  It's small size, bark-like coloration, and it's tendencies to perch up high while hugging the tree bark in it's habitat make it one of the toughest owls to see visually.  It took me many times of trying for Flammulated Owls and hearing them only without any visuals before I finally was able to obtain a look at this neat owl.  The first time I heard one was back in the year of 2010 in the White Mountains of Apache County.  The time frame was nearing the end of July, which is long after Flammulated Owls start to quiet down.  A Flammulated Owl called back to my iPod while I tried.  It called a few times before completely going silent, and I had to leave it as a heard-only life bird for the time being.  I then started to go more and more to try for this bird when they would arrive on territories and I would hear many of them as they called up high in conifers, and they seemed almost impossible to see.  One night, I had a visual of one in flight fairly well three separate times in under an hour at Maricopa County's Slate Creek Divide.  Luck finally hit when I went to the Bradshaw Mountains in Yavapai County, which are just south of Prescott.  The Flammulated Owl pictures below are of a very cooperative individual, and one that I didn't think I'd ever get to see as well as this one showed.

The Flammulated Owl is only an inch larger than the world's smallest Elf Owl.  Flammulated Owls inhabit higher elevation forests in western North America and range as far north as southern British Columbia.  In Arizona, they are found throughout much of the state in coniferous forests with the exception of the southwestern section of the state, which doesn't have any of the Flammulated Owl's preferred habitats.  While Flammulated Owls are found in the highest concentrations in pure ponderosa pine forests, they also like pine forests with Gambel's oak understory, as well as mixed pine and fir forests that have aspen in the mix of trees, where they nest in cavities.  I have heard Flammulated Owls in all of these habitat sequences, and the one I have photographed here was in a selection of ponderosa pine, Gambel's oak, Douglas fir, white fir, and aspen.

Flammulated Owls are primarily insect eaters, and they really love to feed on moths.  Small birds and rodents will round out their diet as well.  Vocally, the typical call of the Flammulated Owl are quiet hoots that are given in both single and double notes, "Poot" or Poo-doo...Poot".  

After going six or seven times of trying for Flammulated Owl visuals, that goal was finally won recently as I visited the Bradshaw Mountain's Kendall Camp Trail at night with Kurt and Cindy Radamaker.  While most of the Flams I have heard in the past were almost impossible to see and were calling from high up in fir and pine trees, this one was luckily calling from lower oak trees rather consistently.  It didn't take us very long into the night to see a Flammulated Owl well for the first time in our lives.  Seeing this little owl is a special treat, and it is indeed a tough task!

3. Western Screech-Owl (Megascops kennicottii)

The Western Screech-Owl is a smaller owl that inhabits western North America and is found throughout the state of Arizona in a variety of different habitats.  It is a very common owl and it's array of habitats include low and high deserts, suburban areas, riparian corridors, and juniper and oak woodlands.  Because it is primarily nocturnal, this owl is very difficult to locate in the daylight.  On the other hand, it is usually very cooperative for birders at night.  

The song of the Western Screech-Owl is serenading.  This owl will call often throughout the night, which makes it's location easier to locate.  The sound sounds similar to a bouncing ball, and it is usually a very noticeable sound if the owl is within good range.  On top of that, this owl can act very tame and will perch in the same location for minutes.  Recently, I had the pleasure of showing a group of twelve people who aren't birders their first ever Western Screech-Owl in the wild.  For most, it was their first ever owl out in the wild to begin with.  What makes this owl fun when owling is the fact that it is cooperative, and seems to be just as curious about us as we are of it.  

As you can see by now, the Western Screech-Owl is not only diverse in some of it's habitat selections, but it is also diverse in it's appearance.  This owl has quite the personality.  It has long ear tufts that sometimes show and sometimes don't show and it has both active and relaxed postures with it's tufts raised or kept low.  This owl can really be quite the entertainer.  

The Western Screech-Owl is a very fierce and skilled predator, as it feeds on a selection of small mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, and more.  

Although these owls will roost in dense tangles and cavities during the day, they will sometimes roost in caves and other spots.  Because I didn't go owling at night very often in my first years of birding, I heard Western Screech-Owls many times in the wild before I got to see one.  On one hot June afternoon in 2011, I finally got to see a Western Screech-Owl in a cave in a desert on the outskirts of Phoenix.  It was shown to me by my buddy Norman, who is avidly into herps.  Ironically, a Tiger Rattlesnake was coiled up a few feet below the owl!  It was a neat combination of nature in one small cave!

4. Whiskered Screech-Owl (Megascops trichopsis)

The Whiskered Screech-Owl is very similar to the Western Screech-Owl, but there are some noticeable differences visually if one is given good views of this bird in the field.  Vocally, the two birds sound entirely different.  While Western sounds like a high-pitched bouncing ball, the Whiskered Screech-Owl has evenly spaced whistles/high pitched notes that sound very similar to Morse code.  It's an eerie sound to hear in the field, but it is an awesome way of eerie.  Finding the Morse code owl is even funner. 

Birders have often had the misconception that Whiskered Screech-Owls are challenging to identify from Western Screech-Owls.  They may be in most regards if birds aren't vocalizing.  Whiskered Screech-Owls have a pale gray bill while Western Screech-Owls have a very dark bill.  As shown in the photo below, Whiskered Screech-Owls are very barred on their front, much more so than the Western Screech-Owl.  If one has a good look at either species and are level with the birds, their feet may be visible.  Whiskered Screech-Owls have much smaller feet than Western Screech-Owls do.

I haven't had many encounters with this species visually in my times birding so far, but when I have been lucky enough, it sure has been a treat to observe this owl.  This series of photographs are all from Madera Canyon, Arizona.  My buddy Gordon and I happened to be in an area where several Whiskered Screech-Owls were calling from.  After we saw one of them in an oak tree, we found another foraging in an oak at eye level.  It had something in it's talons, and as we looked closer, we saw that it was a lizard.  The Screech-Owl than began to devour it's prey source in a way that I found to be very impressive.  It propped both of it's wings up on branches to support itself and hold itself up while it brought it's talons full of lizard up to it's bill to feed.  The sight was truly remarkable!  It's probably not a big deal for owls to feed this way, but for my simple mind it sure was.

Birders, you don't have to worry about Western and Whiskered Screech-Owls constantly being together either.  The Whiskered Screech-Owl has a very small range in North America.  They are only found in southeastern Arizona and extreme southwestern New Mexico.  Although they overlap with Western Screech-Owls in places, Whiskered Screech-Owls are usually found in oak woodlands at higher elevations than Westerns typically are.  Madera Canyon in southeastern Arizona is an excellent place to look and listen for Whiskered Screech-Owls where any groves of oak trees are found.  This owl feeds on insects more so, and doesn't have as varied of a diet as it's Western cousin.  But as my picture shows, it will take a lizard!  Birders, if you want to see this owl, go to southeastern Arizona where oak habitat is found in 5,000 feet in elevation.  Listen for the Morse code!

5. Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)

The Great Horned Owl is Arizona's largest, most common, and most often-seen owl.  This owl is a very interesting character and will live in some of the most human inhabited places.  Recently, I went on a trip to southeastern Arizona.  My buddy Josh and his son Evan found Great Horned Owls nesting in the vicinity of the hotel they were staying at.  A pair of Great Horned Owls utilized the hotel roofs, pillars, ledges, and lights for foraging and perching.  Almost every light post had white wash on it.  They did utilize a more nature-like palm tree for roosting sometimes too.  But Josh and Evan also discovered a nest on the hotel ledge, and it was even with the third story of the hotel.  There was an owl chick who had just hatched.  And how did we know all of this?  We were standing eye level with the owl, and looking out the hotel windows at it like it was in a zoo.  Here is a picture I took of one of these owls.

Other nesting areas within cities have included Home Depot and big stadiums.  Although this owl can adapt to many things, it is a hardy bird of the wilderness.  It's range covers almost all of North America, where it is the most widespread owl on our continent.  Because this owl is so well adapted, it can be found in almost any habitat throughout it's range.  In Arizona, I have observed it in the hottest desert lowlands to about 9,500' in coniferous forests throughout the state.  

Because of it's large size, the Great Horned Owl can be found quite often during the day.  Look in riparian forests in the lowlands, under bridges, on sheltered rocks, and in forests.  Mobbing birds can aid significantly in finding this owl commonly during the middle of the day.  The Great Horned Owl is a fierce and powerful predator.  Although it can be discovered on it's day roost quite often, this owl is mainly nocturnal.  It feeds on a variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians.  This owl is not to be messed with in the food chain.  It has taken large hawks and other owls as prey.  Cats in urban settings aren't safe from this bird, and cats that have been considered as large have been taken and killed.  Interestingly, the skunk is an animal that most predators avoid completely.  However, the Great Horned Owl is the skunk's worst enemy.

The Great Horned Owl was the first owl I observed in the wild.  My brother Tyler and I saw what we thought was a hawk flying up into a cliff area.  When we climbed up into the cliffs, we saw that it was a pair of Great Horned Owls who had two fledgling birds with them on the cliffs.  This took place in Fool Hollow Lake State Park, which is in northeastern Arizona in Navajo County.  Young Great Horned Owls look quite different than adults, such as the one photographed below.

When looking or listening for Great Horned Owls, start at dusk or maybe even look right before dawn.  If your in a desert with high cliffs around, owls will often sit on top of them or maybe even a saguaro cactus.  Throughout Arizona, the call of the Great Horned Owl, "WHWHOO!  Whoo-whoo-hoo!", is commonly heard on many nights in a variety of different habitats.

6. Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma)

The Northern Pygmy-Owl inhabits western forests in North America that consist of mixed-conifer and oak.  They often like broken patches within these forests.  I have found them in such places, with an example of pine and oak forest being broken up by patches of burned timber.  The Northern Pygmy-Owl is a diurnal raptor, meaning that it is active during the daytime.  It's a very small owl like the previously mentioned Flammulated Owl that was discussed earlier.  Although it isn't much larger than a sparrow, this owl is a very fierce predator.  One would think that because of the Northern Pygmy-Owl's small size and daytime habits, that it would be very vulnerable to being prey by a larger raptor.  Careful design has given this owl protection from other predators, and it is something I find amazing every time I look at this bird.  Here is a view of the Pygmy-Owl's head.  Once it turns it's back, it should be easy for a predator to sneak on in and grab a tasty pygmy owl lunch, right?

Wrong!  When the Pygmy-Owl turns it's head back around, it has false eye spots on the back of it's head!  This bird was carefully designed when it was created, and because of those false eye spots, hawks and other owls pass up on the Pygmy-Owl because they think that the false eye spots are really real and that the owl is looking back at them.  They then pass up on the opportunity because they think they will lose the chase.  It's probably equivalent to a hyena chasing a cheetah while the cheetah is already looking.

The Northern Pygmy-Owl is fearless, and it will often take prey much larger than itself.  Small mammals, small to medium-sized birds, reptiles, and insects are all at risk when this owl is present.  Northern Pygmy-Owls are usually fearless of people too.  There have been times where I've been birding only to look up and see this little owl feet above my head.  As the picture shows below, Northern Pygmy-Owls are cavity nesters and they will seek out old woodpecker holes.

Unless the Northern Pygmy-Owl is vocalizing, it can be very tough to find.  Birds give high pitched "toot" notes for their most common vocalization.  Males are most vocal in April through mid-May and they give birders the best chances of observation during that time frame.  They usually sit up high near the top of a pine or fir tree when calling, and they almost always attract attention from mobbing songbirds.  Songbirds coming to the mob will often include birds that are larger than the owl itself.  The owl will resemble a songbird foraging if it is hopping from branch-to-branch.  Other vocalizations that the Northern Pygmy-Owl gives are trills when agitated as well as a unique insect-like chirping call that fledglings and juveniles give.  Listen to this call on Zeno Canto, it is very helpful.  Young and curious Northern Pygmy-Owls will be active and curious in July and August after leaving the nest, and they give these insect-like calls often.  Many people will pass it off as "just a bug".  In the photograph below, this is a juvenile Northern Pygmy-Owl that I found in Greer, Arizona.  I located it by hearing those insect-like notes.

In Arizona, there are two subspecies of Northern Pygmy-Owl.  One is the more widespread form, known as the Interior West or Rocky Mountain Race.  The other is the Mountain/Mexican form.  The Northern Pygmy-Owl is found throughout much of Arizona where forested mountain habitat is present.  The Mountain "Mexican" race is found only in southeastern Arizona where the Rocky Mountain "Interior" race isn't known to be found anywhere south of central Arizona, but it has a larger range in Arizona as it is present in the central and northern parts of the state.  The Mexican race is smaller in size than the Interior race and the Mexican race gives two call notes together quickly when calling while the Interior race only gives one note about every second.  With these two subspecies, their ranges aren't known to overlap.  Many taxonomists believe they are separate species, which they probably are.  I've observed both races, but the Rocky Mountain "Interior" race I've observed more of.  It will be interesting to see if these subspecies are split in years going forward.  Here is another picture of a juvenile Northern Pygmy-Owl in Greer.  I observed it catching insects on it's own, which is what it is devouring in the photograph.  This fierce little predator is one that I always find fun to watch and observe!

7. Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium brasilianum)

We go right to another Pygmy-Owl after the first one was introduced.  This one is similar to the Northern Pygmy-Owl, but it prefers an entirely different habitat.  For this owl, we will go to extreme southern Arizona to look in lush deserts filled with mesquite and saguaro cactus.  This is the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, and it is Arizona's rarest owl.  Although common in Mexico, the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl is considered to be an Endangered Species in Arizona.  It's numbers are very low in it's limited reaches within Arizona, and many birders want to hear it or catch a glimpse of it.

The word Ferruginous means "rusty-colored".  This owl matches it's name perfectly, and this bird is much more of a orange-brown color overall while it's Northern cousin is grayish-brown.  The tail of the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl is very rusty, as noticeable in these pictures.  Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls also have a streaked crown which differs from Northern Pygmy-Owl, which has a spotted crown.  The voice of the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl is very different also.  A high-pitched and rapid-paced tooting comes out of this small bird and it is the best way to locate it.

The Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl was once common in Arizona before seriously declining in numbers.  It ranged as far north as central Arizona at one point, where it was common in cottonwood and willow riparian forests.  After declining rapidly, the best place to see this small owl is at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in extreme southern Arizona.  These owls are also at a few isolated mountain ranges near Tucson, Arizona and are very rarely reported.  Due to the owl's status, it's not a bird to use playback on.  If one is observed, it's best to not give away the location where it was seen at.  With owls being popular birds and this being a scarce and limited one, birders may flock to the area and cause problems.  It's best to keep sightings of this bird a secret.

Like the Northern Pygmy-Owl, the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl is also a fierce predator and will take birds, insects, and more.  Birds will often mob this little predator, which will also cue birders into the presence of this owl.  In North America, extreme southern Texas is the only other place this owl may be observed.  The pictures I took came from an individual I was blessed to see at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.  With it being so close to Mexico, Organ Pipe isn't among the safest of places to visit.  Magill Weber and I made a trip down there and got lucky to observe this bird on our first attempt.  I'm happy with the results, but I still want to go back and observe more of this scarce and endangered Arizona owl.  And like the Northern Pygmy-Owl, the Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl also has false eye spots on the back of it's head.

8. Elf Owl (Micrathene whitneyi)

Whenever I get the chance to look at the Elf Owl, it is always a cool experience because I know that I'm looking at an extreme bird.  Out of all of the owls in the world, the Elf Owl is the smallest.  This tiny owl is found in southwestern North America and Mexico.  In Arizona, is is found throughout the southern half of the state.  It may be very common in numbers in places.  

I remember I once camped out in the desert to start a big day in Maricopa County that I was attempting.  I'll never forget it either, and it was especially memorable because I wasn't only seeing Elf Owls, but their sounds filled the desert the entire night.  It was a harmonic way to spend the night and enjoy these birds.  The Elf Owl almost sounds like a small puppy barking and yipping away.  You know the noise when you are potty-training the pup and you shut it in a separate room with newspapers?  That is what an Elf Owl sounds like!  Despite the Elf Owls tiny size, it is a very loud bird.  The Elf Owl is 5.75 inches in length, and it is roughly in the size category of the average sparrow.  

Elf Owls spend their nights hunting insects.  This owl is a cavity nester just like other small owls.  Elf Owls are highly migratory, and they arrive in Arizona in March and most depart by the end of September.  

Elf Owls use a variety of habitats, and they seem to be expanding their habitats.  These owls like deserts dominated by mesquite and saguaro cactus, sycamore riparian corridors, oak woodlands, and even places with ponderosa pine near 6,000'.  To find Elf Owls, listen for them and track their calls as best as you can.  With patience, walking quietly, and using a good flashlight, this owl can be observed on most April and May nights at known hotspots during nights that aren't windy.

I remember the first time I ever saw an Elf Owl I was owling at night in Madera Canyon with my buddy Jim.  There was a group of about twenty birders also looking.  An Elf Owl flew in and I was the first one to catch sight of it and get my light on it for everyone else.  There were "ooohs" and aaaahs" for a minute, and when the owl left and flew a short distance away, I turned around and the crowd was gone.  Although Jim and I enjoy listing, we enjoy birds too.  I couldn't understand why people wouldn't want to see more of the Elf Owls.  Since then, I've never passed up the opportunity to see this neat bird when I've had the chance to.  After all, we are talking about the world's smallest owl.  It's a special one, and certainly, and extreme one.  

9. Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)

The Burrowing Owl is unique among Arizona owls.  It is often active by day and can commonly been seen perched along roads, with birds being seen on posts, signs, canal edges, telephone pole wires, and more.  They are adapted to living near humans and utilize the burrows that have been dug out by mammals including squirrels and prairie dogs.  It is the easiest owl to see in Arizona.  

Burrowing Owls are found throughout much of western North America and are scarce in eastern North America.  They are found in open areas such as agricultural areas, grasslands and prairies, airports, and more.  Burrowing Owls hunt small rodents at night and they are actually more active at night despite being so visable and often active during the day.

In Arizona, Burrowing Owls may be found in appropriate habitat throughout the state in scattered locations.  The best way to locate Burrowing Owls is by driving through appropriate habitat.  Scan canal edges in agricultural areas, or dirt berms at field edges.  This photograph below was taken in an area in Yuma County where there weren't many mad-made structures around.  These owls were using very natural habitat selections, and as a result, they were a lot more shy than most Burrowing Owls are.

Burrowing Owls are 9.5 inches in length and are a smaller owl.  The photograph below is of a fledgling Burrowing Owl.

The Burrowing Owl is declining much over it's range due to habitat loss.  Many consider squirrels and prairie dogs as pests and they use poison control programs to wipe them out.  Without those mammals, the owls will have many problems finding homes.  As a result, people have made Burrowing Owl homes for these owls in places and it has helped the population of these ground-dwelling birds significantly.  This picture shows how Burrowing Owls adapt to being near humans.  The baby Burrowing Owl attempts to cross the sidewalk on it's own.

By watching and looking at these owls, they are definitely worth the effort to preserve and protect!

10. Mexican Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis)

There have been times where I've walked through forested canyons here in Arizona that have very thick and shady vegetation.  These walks were at times very casual and I wasn't expecting to see much.  I'd then happen to look up and see a Spotted Owl sitting above me.  At times it would look at me, but for the most part, it just sat there and wouldn't seem to care about my presence at all.  The Spotted Owl is one of my favorite birds, and it never fails to amaze me whenever I get lucky enough to encounter one.  

The Spotted Owl inhabits cool and dense coniferous forests in it's range in western North America.  There are two subspecies of Spotted Owl in North America:  the Northern Spotted Owl and the Mexican Spotted Owl.  The Northern subspecies is endangered and the Mexican subspecies is threatened.  In the Pacific Northwest, the Northern Spotted Owl prefers old-growth forests that rarely have sun shining through them because of their density.  These forests have towering conifers such as Douglas fir and redwood.  Because of logging, the Northern Spotted Owl has limited habitat and is protected as an endangered species.  In the interior southwest, the Mexican Spotted Owl is found in coniferous and oak forests.  These habitat sequences come especially where there are shady canyons with pine, Douglas fir, oak, and maple.  North-facing forested stands of conifers also harbor this owl.  Thick, lush, and shady drainages with such trees are also great places to find Spotted Owls.  If these habitats have cliffs along the conifers, the Spotted Owls will often use the cliffs for nesting.  Finding Spotted Owls in Arizona takes luck, but if one is spotted, they usually act very tame and will allow close approach.  Because this bird is threatened, it is best to limit being close to it and to observe it from a distance that is respectable.  Mexican Spotted Owls are federally threatened, so it is illegal to use playback on Spotted Owls and to harass them by spending too much time in close proximity to the bird or by using flash photography.

Spotted Owls are only active by night.  It gives four barking notes, "Whwooo, hoo-HOO, WhhHOO".  Females will give a piercing contact call to call to it's mate and fledglings.  Spotted Owls mainly feed on small mammals but will also feed on birds.  Behavior wise, Spotted Owls will usually sit still for observers and will act tame and allow close approach.  Despite this behavior, it is still best to give this bird it's space.

In Arizona, Spotted Owls are found throughout the central and eastern (north to south) parts of the state where appropriate habitat is found in forested mountains that range in elevation from 5000' through over 9000'.  I've even had Spotted Owl in my home county of Maricopa.  Although Maricopa County is one that has limited high elevations, it does have some high elevation, and that limited elevation does have a few Spotted Owls.  The one time I got to see a Spotted Owl at night and hear one sing at night came from Maricopa County's high elevations.  It was the best experience I've had with this species.  

Miller Canyon is a place in southeastern Arizona's Huachuca Mountains where Spotted Owls are easy to observe and are well monitored.  This often includes getting to see a resident pair in the canyon annually and getting to see the pair raise young.  I've been fortunate enough the see a fledgling Spotted Owl also, which is in the photo below.  This came from Miller Canyon, which is the best place in the State to see this neat species.  Other than Miller Canyon, birders will have to get lucky to stumble upon a Spotted Owl roosting elsewhere in another canyon or area in Arizona.

11. Long-eared Owl (Asio otus)

I don't think there's any owl that can camouflage better than the Long-eared Owl.  There have been numerous times when I've been walking through washes and thick stands of trees only to have this slender and medium-sized owl fly away from me.  I'll stop in frustration but with a feeling of amazement and think about how the owl was only feet in front of me before it took off.  They usually choose the most convenient perches for themselves when they are hidden, but every-once-in-awhile I'll stumble upon the luckier side of the owl's perch.  And this one encounter shown below was on accident...

Not two seconds later, this shy owl flew off and chose a much more hidden perch.  The Long-eared Owl is a very wary bird, and if it weren't so wary and skittish, it would be one of the hardest birds to detect.  As I just mentioned, I'm often feet away from these birds before I get to close to them and they fly off.  Once spooked initially, they are almost impossible to get a clean look at again despite not flying off very far.  And this comes when I'm actually looking for them, I don't try to spook them.  They just camouflage that well!

Long-eared Owls are rather widespread throughout much of North America.  The Long-eared Owl isn't common like Great Horned is, but is present in smaller numbers and of course it is often very hard to locate.  Long-eared Owls can be found in a variety of different habitats throughout their range.  In Arizona, they may breed in lowland deserts all the way up to coniferous forests.  Typically, they like to nest and roost in stands of dense trees that have openings nearby.  Most birders find Long-eared Owls at winter roost sites where owls may join together with numbers from anywhere to a few birds up to double digits.  

The Long-eared Owl isn't heard as often as some of the owls at night, but the male's call is rather low and isn't the easiest to detect.  The female gives a harsh nasal hoot, which may be easier to hear than the call of the male.  I actually haven't heard a Long-eared Owl vocalize in the wild yet, hopefully that will change soon.  Long-eared Owls are said to be silent outside of breeding season.  With them being hard to detect and with me obviously not being near them much in their breeding season, I'm sure that's why I haven't heard them yet.  These owls nest in abandoned nests that have been made by other large birds.  Long-eared Owls feed on small mammals and birds.  I once walked down a desert wash and saw a few Long-eared Owls throughout the wash.  When it started to get dark out, I started to see them beginning to fly and dive around at the ground at what looked to be prey.  They would then sit on a low perch and repeat the sequence.  

The Long-eared Owl is truly an odd and mysterious bird.  It even has two postures.  The first is the camouflage posture.  When the Long-eared Owl showcases this posture, it almost flattens it's body and looks almost "stick-like" against the tree.  It gives itself the advantage to anyone walking by, and at times, it is virtually unnoticeable unless the branches of the tree it is in are scanned very carefully.  In the picture below, it shows a Long-eared Owl in it's camouflage posture.  I was walking through a thick stand of Douglas fir with my buddy Gordon in northeastern Arizona, and I saw this bird perched in the stand.  It was surrounded by all sorts of branches.  It almost looked like a stick hanging down from one of the branches at first.  Because it looked a little off, I decided to give it a scan..

Because Long-eared Owls are shy, it caught on quickly that we were looking at it.  One little movement I made spooked the bird to another close by perch.  Luckily, it was still in sight.  This time, it was showcasing it's active posture.  Between these two postures, Long-eared Owls can sometimes look like completely different birds.  This mysterious owl is odd, but it is very awesome at the same time!  If you find yourself spooking up an owl that doesn't fly too far but yet flies before you can relocate or get a clean look at it, then it is probably the Long-eared Owl.  Take a look at the picture below to see the active posture of the Long-eared Owl!  If you find a Long-eared Owl, it is best to keep it a secret from any public attention.  This species is very sensitive to human disturbance.

12. Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus)

Out of Arizona's thirteen owls, the Short-eared Owl is the one I've seen the least of, and by obvious reasons, the one I've photographed the least of.  I saw this Short-eared Owl in southeastern Arizona's San Rafael Grasslands, and to this date, it is the only Short-eared Owl that I have ever encountered in my life.  Short-eared Owls give birders a different approach to owling than other owls do.  What makes them different is that they are a crepuscular owl, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk and maybe a little after dawn and maybe a little before dusk.  Short-eared Owls like open fields, grasslands, and marshes and are found in similar habitats that are favored by Northern Harriers.  A rule birders often use is, "Where Northern Harriers hunt during the day, Short-eared Owls will hunt also when it gets dark".  And it is quite true!  Rodents make up most of this owl's diet, which it cruises over fields for quite differently than any other North American Owls will behave like and hunt.  People often describe the Short-eared Owl's flight pattern as one that resemble's a great big butterfly.  It's choppy flight pattern is quite distinctive from a distance.  I wish I had more to show of this species, and it is now a serious goal of mine to see more of this bird in the future as well as obtain better photographs.  In North America, Short-eared Owls breed throughout Alaska and Canada as well as in the northwestern parts of the Lower 48 with a few scattered populations elsewhere.  The bird winters throughout most of the Lower 48, including Arizona.  Although Short-eared Owls have never been known to breed in Arizona, a sighting in Apache County's White Mountains in summer by Kenn Kaufman himself was interesting.  The White Mountains are under-birded but do have some inviting high elevation grasslands that may look attractive to this bird.  With that being said, Short-eared Owls are annual winter visitors to Arizona.  Some years have good numbers, and others have very few of them.  Southeastern Arizona's San Rafael Grasslands are often a good place to find this bird, and they may be found in other grassland and agricultural areas during winter in Arizona.  I'm hoping to get lucky this winter with more sightings of this owl in Arizona.

13. Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)

One of the calls this small owl gives sounds similar to a saw being whetted, which is where this bird gets it's name:  Northern Saw-whet Owl.  This owl ranges throughout the year in western North America, breeds in southern Canada, and then winters throughout eastern North America as well as the species also being resident in states near the Great Lakes.  In Arizona, Northern Saw-whet Owls are usually difficult to find.  This is because this owl breeds earlier in the year than most, and it often starts breeding in high elevation forests in March and April.  Snow is still on the ground in a lot of these places, and wimpy birders aren't (myself included).  Northern Saw-whet Owls are thought of as being more scarce in Arizona, but because there aren't many folks looking for birds when they are more frequently calling, they are probably more numerous than we may realize.  I have a lot more work to do on Northern Saw-whet Owls.  Take a look at the picture below.  My first ever look at a Saw-whet Owl was of a recently fledged bird.  Young Saw-whet Owls look completely different from adult Saw-whet Owls, and they are one of the only North American Owls where younger birds look like a completely different bird than the adult.

Kurt and Cindy Radamaker found this bird at Mount Ord in Maricopa County.  I went a few nights later and I was able to relocate two fledglings, and I was able to get some good photographs of this bird.  The adult Saw-whet Owls never came in while I observed this fledgling, but it's another goal of mine in photographing an adult Saw-whet.  A few weeks later, I did get to see an adult Saw-whet Owl visually for the first time in Yavapai County's Bradshaw Mountains, which is just south of Prescott.  The bird wasn't cooperative for photographs, but it did put on a good show and vocalized often.  The Saw-whet-being-whetted call of this bird isn't heard as much as a commoner call this bird gives, which is a rapid tooting that may be repeated for a long time when the bird is on breeding territory.  It sounds similar to a Northern Pygmy-Owl but with much more of a rapid pace.  Northern Saw-whet Owls may be rather widespread in Arizona in where habitat is appropriate.  They favor mixed coniferous forests with deciduous trees in the mix like aspen and oak.  They aren't believed to favor pure coniferous forests as much.

Northern Saw-whet Owls give the impression of a cute and fuzzy owl, but despite that impression, they are very skilled and fierce hunters.  Birds, small mammals, insects, and more are at risk when this owl is around.  At times in Arizona, birders will find Northern Saw-whet Owls during the day in lowland elevations.  These owls will move to warmer climates in winter if need be.  If one is reported in a tree that is easy to locate, than that is a way they may be seen also.  Saw-whets usually choose dense roosting sites, which makes them difficult to locate anytime of the day.  I'm hoping to see an adult Saw-whet Owl soon.  I've talked to many birders though, and most of them who have seen adult Saw-whets still haven't seen fledgling Saw-whets.  I think I'm going down the right path with this bird!  


Thank you for reading Owling Arizona: 15 Ways to Become Better At It (my first edition).  Owls have become one of my favorite bird families.  They are exciting and are fun to find in the wild.  Although I have photographed all of Arizona's thirteen owls, I still have a lot to learn on them and I still have a lot I want to photograph.  For example, I want a shot of an adult Saw-whet Owl to go with the fledgling shots, as well as a better shot of a Short-eared Owl.  The Short-eared Owl shot I have could really be thrown in the trash.  Other than that, I think it would be cool in the long run to have day and night shots of all thirteen species, as well as adult and juvenile/fledgling shots of all 13 species.  It's a long and challenging task, but I think I can do it.  Besides Arizona's thirteen, there are six other owl species that are found in North America that I plan on traveling to over the next few years.  Those owls are Great Gray Owl, Northern Hawk Owl, Snowy Owl, Boreal Owl, Barred Owl, and Eastern Screech-Owl.  I want to see all 19 of North America's regularly occurring owls, it has become a serious passion of mine.  In the meanwhile, I do live in an excellent state for seeing these fine birds.  All thirteen of them bring something different to the table.  One is cooperative and is easy to find.  One sits by the road all day.  Another is brutally hard to see, but is easy to hear.  One is painfully shy.  The other is tiny.  Another is huge.  

And there's one who watches you at point blank range without a fear in the world.  Most of the time, we walk by it, unless we luckily look up and happen to see it sitting right there...

Works cited (I've learned a lot about owls during my studies of them because of these three sources):
Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas-by Troy Corman and Cathryn Wise-Gervais
The Sibley Guide to Birds-by David Allen Sibley
Smithsonian Birds of North America by Fred J. Alsop the Third


  1. This is such a great resources Tommy!
    Thank you for posting. I hope to be back in Phoenix and trying again in the Bradshaws by June 24th!

    1. Thanks Laurence!

      Hopefully I can make it up there too and we can team up to look for Flams. It is fun to see them!

  2. Wonderful post and lovely photos!

    1. Thank you kindly Linda, I'm glad you stopped by!

  3. Thanks for a well written document with loads of great information. Hope to incorporate and use some of your suggestions in the future. I will never get the great photos you have of these elusive avian wonders, but just being able to see and hear them is fantastic. Thanks Tommy!

    1. Thank you Gordon! I still have a lot more to learn and see with these awesome birds. You've been there quite a few times with me when these awesome observation chances have presented themselves.

  4. Great advice for new and seasoned birders alike! They can be pretty hard to see!

  5. Super awesome post!! Great photos and your owl list is impressive. That Flammulated shot is unbelievable.

    1. Thank you Walker! I've been very blessed in the encounters I've had with these birds. The Flam is near the top!