In February, people will be flocking to Arizona for Super Bowl LVII, scheduled for February 12 in Glendale, but we all know there is a lot more flying through Arizona skies than footballs.
As is true for all things birds and wildlife, Arizona is a special place for owls. Over 200 species of owls can be found worldwide and, of the 18 that can be found regularly in North America, 13 call our state home. With their captivating eyes capable of binocular vision, offset ears perfect for pinpointing scuttling prey, incredibly strong feet tipped with sharp talons, and specialized feathers suited for silent flight, it's nearly impossible not to be mesmerized by these incredible birds.
That's why we're partnering with Arizona Wilderness Brewing Company to celebrate Arizona's owls with our latest Western Rivers Brewers' Council collaboration: Superb Owl. Starting on January 24th, head to Arizona Wilderness' Instagram to vote on head-to-head matchups between Arizona's outstanding owl species. Over several weeks, your votes will narrow the field from 12, to six, to three, and finally to one: the Superb owl.
The winner will be announced during a Birds & Beer party at 5:30pm on Thursday, February 9th at the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center. The event will feature a presentation from Spotted Owl biologist Amanda Moors, representatives from Audubon Southwest and Arizona Wilderness, and live owls courtesy Liberty Wildlife. The event is free and open to the public. RSVP here.
To accompany the contest, Arizona Wilderness is brewing a special beer (also called Superb Owl) that will be released during the February 9 event. A lime-infused amber lager, it will be available in cans and on draft at Wilderness' taprooms in Gilbert at Downtown Phoenix. Cans and draft pours will also be available for purchase during the Birds & Beer event.
Where to see owls
From the ubiquitous Great Horned Owl, to the diminutive and cactus-dwelling Elf Owl, to the gregarious and day-active Burrowing Owl, we know that Superb Owl is going to inspire you to set your eyes on all of Arizona's owl species. But, where can you go to see them?
Our Closest Neighbors
Not looking to travel far in your quest for Arizona's owls? Well, lucky for you, several of Arizona's owls are common in suburban settings. Look for Great Horned Owls, especially at dusk and dawn, just about anywhere, but especially near areas with plentiful roost sites like large trees, bridges, or overpasses. At night, listen carefully for the banshee-like scream of the Barn Owl near open fields such as parks, sports fields, or agricultural areas. If you find yourself amongst desert landscaping, particularly with saguaro cactus, be sure to check the cavities for Western Screech-Owls!
Some of our owls prefer a natural setting to our human-modified landscape, but you can still find them close to home. Take a short drive north of Phoenix to the Cave Creek Ecoysystem Important Bird Area for views of Western Screech Owls or head south to the Tucson Mountains Important Bird Area to catch a glimps of a Cactus-Ferruginous Pygmy Owl. Come spring and summer, you may even be treated with an Elf Owl - the smallest owl in the world!
Not all of Arizona is dominated by deserts, and owls take full advantage of the fact. Head north to the Brashshaw Mountains south of Prescott and peruse the riparian and mixed-conifer forests lining the creeks. Here, you'll have a chance to see (or more likely hear) a Northern Saw-Whet Owl. Or, keep going north toward the Mogollon Rim to seek the ponderosa pine-specializing Flammulated Owl or the much larger (and Federally Threatened) Spotted Owl (you can also find Spotted Owls to the southeast in our world-famous Sky Islands).
When looking for owls, you may be tempted to look up, but that strategy will lead you to miss out on one of our most charismatic species - the Burrowing Owl! To see these colonial and day-active birds, travel just south of Phoenix to the town of Maricopa and visit the University of Arizona's Maricopa Agricultural Center. Adjacent the university's experiemental farm fields, we and our partners at Wild at Heart have constructed artificial burrows and released many, many owls - some of which are still hanging out. Keep your eyes open for the black, corregated tubing of our artificial burrows and watch closely for golden eyes peering back at you!
Many of Arizona's resident owls have broad ranges that span across North America, but that's not true to all of them. Head to Portal, on the east side of the Chiricahua Mountains Important Bird Area, and travel the road toward Cave Creek Canyon. Hop out and take a hike (especially just after dusk), or survey the roadsides and you might luck out with a Whiskered Screech-Owl. Similar to the Western Screech-Owl but a unique species all its own, the North American range of this specialty bird is limited to the southeastern corner of our great state.
Don't Forget About eBird
Looking to narrow down your search? Check out the Species Maps function on eBird.org. Simply type the name of the owl you're after in the search bar and then zoom into the resulting map. By exploring sightings made by other birders, you can pinpoint exactly where to go.
Word to the Wise
Tempted to “call an owl in” using your phone or other device? Please don’t. When an owl flies to your call, it leaves its territory (and possibly its mate and young) undefended. Additionally, studies show that responding birds have elevated stress hormones leading to health issues. Lastly, it’s cheating! For more information about being good to birds and other birders, check out the American Birding Association's Code of Birding Ethics.
Good luck, and happy birding!
Arizona is a great place to be (or to see) an owl, and we want to keep it that way. Before you head out to spot the state's 13 species, check out the opportunities below to be an active participant in our efforts to protect owls, other birds, and the places they live. Who knows, maybe it'll inspire one of Arizona's more elusive species to pop into view!
- Sign up to be added to the mailing list for future Burrowing Owl habitat construction and bird relocation workdays.
- Make your outdoor spaces owl-friendly by providing habitat and eliminating hazards like pesticides and unsafe windows.
- Make a donation to Audubon Southwest and support our efforts to protect birds and the places they live across Arizona and New Mexico.
- Take Action along alongside other Western Rivers Brewers' Council members by joining the Western Rivers Action Network today.