Photographer on Mission to Find All 9 Species of Owls in Iowa

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URBANDALE, Iowa -- A local photographer named Justin Rogers is on a mission to photograph all nine species of owls that can be found in Iowa.

So far, he’s found eight of the nine. Rogers chose owls because there weren’t as many to find but it was still challenging.

"That first time of zooming in and having that owl look right back at me, you know, looking it right in the eyes like that, it was kind of a moving experience. And I think ever since then I've been hooked on wanting to photograph owls," Rogers said.

All 9 species can be found in Iowa.

Right now, Rogers is searching for the burrowing owl and has had a hard time finding it.

He recently photographed the barn owl, which is endangered in Iowa.

"I followed up on a lead that I saw online. And the property owners were gracious enough to allow me to come and photograph that one. That one is actually considered endangered in the state of Iowa. It's estimated that maybe only 100 of them or so are actually in the state of Iowa. And I was fortunate enough to see four of them that day," Rogers said.

Rogers has created a "wanted poster" of all the ones he’s seen and the one he has left.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said there are many different factors used to identify owls.

Here’s a list from the DNR to help you if you want to find them too:

Barn Owl (state endangered)

  • Medium-sized (16 inches tall)
  • Pale tawny and white plumage with long legs; male typically whiter than female
  • Flight is moth-like
  • Heart-shaped face with brown eyes
  • Doesn’t hoot; call usually a long hissing shriek
  • Cavity nester – historically in hollow trees and now often found in vacant wooden barns
  • Dependent on grassland where it finds its primary food, meadow and prairie voles

Eastern Screech-owl

  • Small (8.5 inches tall) and broad-winged
  • Plumage color varies from gray to brown to red
  • Head has feathery “ear” tufts (plumicorns) and eyes are yellow
  • Main song is a descending whinny and also emits a long tremolo or monotone trill
  • Cavity nester – often found in towns with large hollow trees
  • Found year-round and especially eats small rodents and large insects

Great Horned Owl

  • Large (22 inches tall)
  • Permanent Iowa resident
  • Grayish tawny-brown body with dense barring on underparts and white throat
  • Large head with pair of feather tufts and yellow eyes
  • Song a deep muffled hooting in series – hoo hoodoo hoo
  • Nests in large tree cavities and often lays eggs atop unused red-tailed hawk nests; earliest nesting raptor, often laying eggs in January
  • Woodlot and open-country species that eats rabbits, skunks, squirrels, cats, as well as other owls and hawks

Barred Owl

  • Medium-large (21 inches tall) stocky gray owl
  • Year-round resident
  • Rounded head with large dark eyes
  • Strong resonant hoot that sounds like “who cooks for you, who cooks for you all”
  • Nests in hollow trees and prefers mature forests and wooded waterways for roosting and nesting
  • Mainly eats mice and small rodents; also birds (including smaller owls), snakes, frogs, and crayfish, and sometimes fish

Long-eared Owl (state threatened)

  • Medium (15 inches tall), long-winged and slender
  • Similar color to great horned owl
  • Named for long feathered “ear” tufts on head,
  • Has yellow eyes
  • Male gives a low hoot, and other calls include nasal barks and quiet moans
  • Preferred nesting habitat is dense conifer stands adjacent to open grasslands where this owl usually takes over old crow, hawk, or squirrel nests for its own
  • Main food is small mammals, especially voles

Short-eared Owl (state endangered)

  • Medium (15 inches tall), long-winged and slender
  • Tawny-brown colored plumage with males being lighter color on its underside than females
  • Rounded head with very short “ear” tufts
  • Has yellow eyes
  • Male gives muffled poo poo poo, and other sounds include nasal barks and wheezy notes
  • Nests on the ground in large open grasslands (250 acres or more)
  • Main food source is meadow and prairie voles

Northern Saw-whet Owl

  • Smallest (8 inches tall) Iowa owl with buffy brown plumage and
  • Common winter visitor
  • Rounded head with yellow eyes
  • Song is repeated low, whistled toots – poo poo poo, with regular rhythm
  • Cavity nester of northern forests, and often found in cedars and other conifers during Iowa winter months
  • Main food source is mice, especially those found at the woodland edge

Snowy Owl

  • Large (23 inches tall)
  • Heaviest North American owl
  • Mostly snow-white plumage
  • Sporadic winter visitor from the arctic tundra
  • Rounded head with yellow eyes
  • Song of male a deep muffle hoot
  • Main food source on breeding grounds is lemmings

Burrowing Owl

  • Small (9.5 inches tall), long-legged, and short-tailed
  • Grayish-brown plumage with white throat
  • Rounded head with yellow eyes
  • Male song is a high, nasal, trumpeting coo-coo, coo-coo
  • A grassland species and very rare nester in Iowa, where it nests primarily in ground burrows made by badgers
  • Eats beetles, other insects, and small mammals

They also say taking pictures of them and letting them know where you saw them can help them keep track and even check on them in a way.

On the DNR website they also tell a story about what to do if you find an injured animal, specifically an owl.

“When Pete Vande Poppe spotted a great horned owl along Highway 60 near Alton about a month ago, he knew something wasn’t right. He swung by home to tell his wife, Gretchen. She grabbed the camera and off they went, finding the owl in the grass alongside the road. Knowing that Saving Our Avian Resources (SOAR), a licensed wildlife rehabilitator in Iowa, was presenting at the O’Brien County Conservation’s Prairie Heritage Center later that day, Gretchen called ahead. SOAR gave instructions on how to safely transport the owl. Upon examining the owl, the rehabilitator said the owl had a concussion and cracked beak. SOAR took the owl to nurse it back to health – by the middle of the month, the owl was feeding itself again and is now in the flight pen, getting ready to be released back to the wild,” according to the DNR website.

The most important thing to do is call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, the DNR has a list.