Do Owls Migrate? Some Do And
Some Don’t! It’s Awesome.

Do the aggressive raptors migrate to another region to hunt their prey voraciously, including owls? Explore all about owl migration here.

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Iñigo Navarro

October 17, 2021


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What’s this Post About?

Silently cruising around the woodlands, raptors hunt for a delicious meal amidst the darkest of winters with dense layers of snow as it assiduously searches for the sound of footsteps of its prey.

The magnificent owls, having around 19 different species in America, can be found almost everywhere globally. Covered in a thick coating of thermally efficient feathers, this nocturnal bird of prey can attack and capture its meal even on the darkest nights of the winters.

Possessing such survival tactics, owls can quickly get through the harsh conditions without needing to migrate.

Some, but not all, species of owls migrate from one spot to another. They move in search of better food sources during times it is tough to hunt their prey. However, most species of owls have profoundly adapted to the habitats they dwell in and travel very little distance to capture their prey.

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Do Owls Migrate?

Most species of owls inhabit the same region throughout the year.

Unlike the many birds in the kingdom known for their long migratory journeys, most species of owls dwell in the same region all year round.

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They have some incredible adaptation abilities that enable them to hunt rodents, insects, and other prey throughout the year.

Migration to a warmer region during extreme colds is quite prevalent among the birds, as they travel long distances each year to search for better food sources. However, owls, due to their peculiar characteristics, do not need to undergo migration.

Typically, most species of owls stay in the same place and are even known to use the same nest the next season.

Migration to another region isn’t an innate instinct of these owls; in fact, they do not even follow a uniform migratory trend annually. Instead, the difficulty of hunting for food sources forces these birds to move south of their range to hunt easily accessible prey.

However, since owls tend to stay confined to a limited area, not moving around too much, this movement from one region to another is the migration for them.

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However, some owls in the extreme cold migrate closer to the equator during the winter months. They do so because it becomes difficult for them to track their food sources during the winter.

Why Don’t Most Owls Migrate In The Winters?

Over the years, most species of owls have gradually evolved to embrace the climatic and environmental conditions of the regions they are inhabiting. In essence, they have become the perfect inhabitants for their dwelling - so they don’t need to migrate to another place.

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Feeding on a vast array of species, these raptors satiate their hunger needs from the numerous kinds of prey available. Primarily feeding on mice, insects, spiders, and numerous other types of rodents and birds mean there will always be some food source available, regardless of where they live.

Typically, these food sources are available throughout the year, so owls don’t need to embark on a journey to a different region. Owls have constantly present and reliable food sources, though they may not be easy to catch at all times.

FUN FACT

Rodents are a vital part of the owl's diet. In fact, they have such a strong connection in the food web that wherever there are rodents, there are owls as well.

Ubiquitously found around the farmsteads, barns, woodlands, and even the prairies, these places offer a rich, year-round supply of rodents. This serves as a delightful treat for owls that do not need to go too far searching for food. As a result, owls aren’t likely to face the issue of what we would call food shortage.

Why Do Some Owls Choose To Migrate?

Food is an essential component that affects the migration pattern of owls. However, owls don’t necessarily choose to migrate only if there’s a fall in lemming and rodent population or an apparent food shortage.

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Hence, it’s important to know that food inadequacy isn’t the driving factor behind migration. It is not the starving owls that cause the irruptive behavior.

Owls sometimes leave their habitat to travel to another area to take advantage of the plentiful food sources or to hunt their prey easily.

Frequently, the prey of owls may be abundant, but they are covered under the dense layer of snow, making them inaccessible for the owls to hunt.  

The difficulty of finding food might compel these owls to move to other areas. However, they wouldn’t mind going to places where their food is an easy catch rather than a challenging hunt.

A full breeding season of the owls also indicates their irruptions. Sometimes, there’s an abundance of prey, but owls’ movements towards the south are still observed. This is because owls require a highly specialized diet during the breeding season, and surviving only on the available prey might not be sufficient as they survive on a wide array of creatures during the winter.

Is It Migration?

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Contrary to the annual migration pattern of most songbirds, owls do not follow any predictable routes, timings, or exact destinations. In fact, they might move south of their range one year and not the other year, depending on the circumstances.

In literal terms, this is not really migration. However, when owls move towards a different location to easily hunt for their food, they engage in what is called an irruption.

However, since owls aren’t too mobile birds, who tend to stay confined to only a limited area, this movement is quite close to migration.

Do Owls Hibernate In The Winter?

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If not migrate in the winters to escape the severe colds, do owls hibernate to protect themselves from the freezing temperatures?

Actually, no! Most species of owls do not migrate, and they certainly do not hibernate. 

How do these magnificent creatures survive in the extreme colds? This often leaves us intrigued.

These raptors possess impeccable adaptations to sustain themselves throughout the winter months and, even more, to hunt food for themselves that they do not require the need to hibernate.

Over the years, they have developed astounding mutations to their bodies that make survival possible without the need for Migration.

Before we explore these amazing characteristics of owls, let’s find out why they don’t hibernate.

Many animals hibernate through the winter months - such as bats, bears, hedgehogs, among the many. Hibernation is a survival technique that animals adopt when they cannot cope with the extreme climate or the food sources are scarce to sustain them.

Since none of this is pertinent to owls, these predatory birds do not hibernate.

How Do Owls Survive In The Winter?

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One of the most interesting species of the birding world, owls have amazing mechanisms and peculiar adaptations to the environment they live in to make them the most ravenous birds of prey.

They do it best at night with incredible hunting potential as they dig their feet in the deep snow. Their bodies are conditioned to cope up with the severe temperature.

Making distinct modifications to the many parts of their body aids in the robust survival of the owls. These mutations have greatly helped the owls to become efficient and voracious predators.

A Thermal Layer Of Feathers

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To cope with the extreme winter, owls produce an additional layer of short and soft down feathers. Since adding this supplemental layer of fat onto the bodies of an owl would make them heavy, impeding them in their smooth flight, this layer of feathers is sufficient to trap a handful of warm air around the body.

Owls then fluff up these feathers to hold this layer of warm air and create a thicker air around them as they shiver frequently—this aids in keeping their body temperature higher to combat the extreme winters.

Numb Feet

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Owls have an impeccably interesting mechanism operating in their feet that tremendously protects them from any cold damage.

Owls are one of the rare species that do not have any pain receptors in their feet. This lack of receptors and fluids inhibits the outer temperature from affecting the body. As a result, their outer feet are still extremely cold, but this doesn’t impact their internal temperature, and they can easily escape the effects of frostbites.

Not only this, but the owls have a special counter current blood flow system in their feet and legs, which helps them feel warmer in the extreme cold. The blood that flows towards the body from the feet extracts the heat from the freshly oxygenated blood.

This helps the cold blood return to the body to gain some heat and prevents any heat from escaping the body by reaching the freezing feet. Hence, owls can retain all the valuable heat in their body, preventing them from heading out to the environment.

How incredible is that?

Off-center Ears

Do you know that the ears of owls aren’t aligned on the same level? Strange, right?

Instead of having two centrally equidistant ears, one of the owl’s ears is situated at a slightly higher level than the other one. This is what contributes to the profoundly brilliant hearing potential of the owls.

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With their off-center ears, along with the facial disks that cause the sound to enter into the ear canal directly, owls get their impeccable directional hearing capability.

Owls can hear things even through snow, and the unique positioning of their ears enables them to precisely determine the sound of their prey moving, even if they can’t really see and catch it immediately.

Even a layer of snow underneath doesn’t hinder their hearing. That’s what gets fascinating raptors through the extreme winters.

This means there’s no more escaping for these tiny rodents and insects once the owls have detected them. The raptor wouldn’t miss out on it!

Sharp Talons

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Their sharp, razor talons are an incredible feature that lets the voracious owls get through the intense breeze. Mind it, the talons of owls are sharper than you can imagine, capable of ripping apart an entire animal.

Having intensely piercing talons along with the unusually long legs that aid in penetrating deep into the snow, owls indeed possess the best arsenal for capturing their prey.

Long legs are not a characteristic of all owls. Instead, it varies among species, depending on the type of food they feed on. But you’ll be amazed to learn that many fluffy owls have much longer feet than what they appear to be when they’re perched on the branch of a tree.

Silent Aviation

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Another strong yet silent weapon of the owls is their feathers. Over a long period, the wing feathers of owls have undergone various twists and tweaks, making their flight completely silent.

What an incredible asset the owls have!

Making no sound at all when flying, it is no challenge for them to lurk their prey from behind. The clueless little rodents and mice have no chance to run for their lives. The poor little creatures can’t hear a thing.

Which Species Of Owls Migrate? Let’s Find Out!

Around 250 species of this spectacular creature can be found on Earth. Only a few are migratory, while the rest tend to stay in their permanent habitats throughout the year.

Barred Owls

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Mottled with brown and white streaks overall, the Barred Owl has a typical hooting call. These species are native to eastern North America and dwell across the woodlands, swamps, and deciduous forests of Southwestern Canada, Washington, Oregon, and Northern California.

Barred Owls are a species of owls that do not migrate at all. In fact, these monogamous birds rarely cross the same six-mile radius that they live in their entire lives.

Snowy Owls

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Among the many species of owls, snowy owls are migratory birds, practicing an irruptive medium to long-distance Migration.

However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the onset of winters in the Arctic region would begin the migratory trend for the snowy owls to start their journey towards the south. Owls differ in their strategies to tackle the severe temperatures and hunt for food.

Covered in a snowy white plumage overall, with slight streaks of brown and black, the snowy owl sometimes travels to far-off areas merely to take advantage of better hunting opportunities.

Since they dwell in the Arctic region, they might find it tough to readily track food due to the lemming population crashes, so they might move to a place where it is easier to hunt food.

In the case of snowy owls, research reveals that these birds typically migrate during the first year of their lives. According to the data observed, most of the owls that move towards southern Canada and the Northeast United States are less than a year old.

Barn Owls

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Primarily nocturnal birds of prey, they primarily hunt and catch small mammals. Having a white, heart-shaped face, this lanky bird has an orange plumage streaked with grey feathers.

The Barn Owl is one of the most widely distributed owl species in the world, with extraordinary characteristics to aid them in hunting for food.

Following an extremely irregular migration, young barn owls may travel and disperse hundreds of miles away from their birth habitat. However, adult barn owls tend to stay within a confined region, though they travel for short distances in search of food.

But unlike the snowy owls, they don’t migrate seasonally towards the warmer regions with a traditionally predictable pattern, even when they live towards the northernmost part of their range.

Read our post to find out where do barn owns lives.

Where Do Barn Owls Live? States & Best Hiding Spots!

Are you wondering where this amazing ghostly-looking bird lives? They are pretty common across the world. Keep on reading to find out more.

Great Horned Owl

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Known for their long, earlike feather tufts on the head, these owls are not difficult to identify. This aggressive and powerful hunter is the heaviest owl found in Central and South America.

A highly adaptable species, these owls dwell in a range of habitats from dense woods to farmlands, prairies, and desserts, populating the regions from the Arctic to South America.

Great Horned Owls living in temperate climates tend to live permanently in their habitats. However, populations living in the northern region migrate to warmer areas during the extreme winters.

Burrowing Owls

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The easily recognizable species of owls, with their sandy color and remarkably long legs, are found in the open landscapes of North and South America.

Rather small in size, they typically hunt and feed on the ground. Dwelling in the open grasslands, agricultural areas, desserts, or any other space devoid of trees or vegetation, they live in the burrows either dug by the prairie dogs or by digging burrows themselves.

These owls engage in irruption during the winters when the environmental conditions become unfavorable for them to hunt for food. Their movements from Canada and the Rockies area towards Texas and regions of Central America have been observed.

Short-eared Owls

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Such short are the ears of these species that you can barely see them. Widely considered as an open country hunter, this species is among the most widely prevalent owls.

Don’t be startled if you get a glimpse of one in broad daylight. The nocturnal bird can be quite frequently spotted during the day as well. They live in a wide range of habitats such as tundra, prairies, and marshes.

The short-eared owls living in the extreme cold regions tend to be migratory, typically moving towards places where their prey is abundant and easy to grasp.

Following an irregular and nomadic migratory pattern, the owls found along the coast, and lowland valleys of Western Washington are interim winter visitors, returning to their homeland in Northern Canada during the summers.

FUN FACT

Farmers consider barn owls to be an incredible asset as they can catch hundreds of rodents that otherwise are a nuisance for the farmers. But, unfortunately, farmers need to spend a lot of money and use a lot of chemicals to get rid of the rodents, while the owls present their services for free.

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Keep Reading!

Owls have developed numerous mutations with time, such that they’ve perfectly adapted to the environment they live in. In addition, the owls’ extraordinary hunting skills and characteristics features ensure that the owls don’t need to go anywhere.

It is only under certain circumstances when some species of owls move south during extreme winters. These species move to newer areas to take advantage of the abundant food. However, they are considered to engage in irruption rather than migration.

Owls are one magnificent creature that gives rise to considerable inquisitions. So if you’re wondering whether you could enjoy a poultry meal of owls, find out here!

Can You Eat Owls? This Is The Huge Fine You'll Be Facing!

Would you want to relish a meal cooked with the meat of a voracious raptor? Can you even eat owl meat? Is it legal? Find out here!

Iñigo Navarro Picture

By Iñigo Navarro

Bird Watching USA

My name is Inigo and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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Iñigo Navarro Picture

Iñigo Navarro

Bird Watching USA

My name is Inigo and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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