It’s possible to see up to 10 species of owls in the Twin Cities area and southern Minnesota. They are all quite elusive, and even after many years in the field, I have only seen seven of them.

One species I do see and hear often is the great horned owl. They are Minnesota’s earliest nesting bird. Some already are incubating eggs.

A few years ago our family stayed in the Tofte/Lutsen area for a few days, and we all had the chance to see a great gray owl. The great gray is Minnesota’s largest owl. It stands about 2 feet high and has a wing spread of 5 feet. The boreal coniferous forest is its home. In this state, great gray owls are most often seen within a hundred miles of the Canadian border. However, during some winters, a few will visit the southern part of the state. Like other owls of the far north, this species hunts during the day, often watching for prey from a low perch. In winter it will plunge into snow to catch rodents, which they detect by sound.

The owl is usually overlooked because it spends much of its time in dense conifers. One of the most elusive of American birds, it was discovered in America by Europeans before they realized the species also dwells in Europe.


Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio at 7:15 a.m. Sundays. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.