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Boreal Owl


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A small owl of boreal and montane forests, the Boreal Owl is found throughout Alaska and Canada, and across northern Eurasia, as well. It is found in the lower 48 states only in the mountains of the West, in extreme northern Minnesota, and as an occasional winter visitor to the northern states.

At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
8.3–11 in
21–28 cm
21.7–24.4 in
55–62 cm
3.3–7.6 oz
93–215 g
Other Names
  • Tengmalm's Owl, Richardson's Owl
  • Nyctale boréale (French)
  • Lechuza de Tengmalm (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The female Boreal Owl is much larger than the male. The species shows the most extreme reversed sexual dimorphism of any American owl.
  • The Boreal Owl finds its prey by sound. It can locate mice even through vegetation and under snow.
  • The ear openings on a Boreal Owl's skull are asymmetrical, with one opening high up on the skull and the other much lower. The different positions of the holes help the owl find exactly where a sound comes from, helping gauge height as well as distance.
  • Boreal Owls usually are considered monogamous, with one male mating with one female. Several studies in Europe found that one male may mate with up to three females, and a female occasionally mates with two different males. They found that such multiple mating occurs most frequently when mice numbers are at their highest. (Finding easy prey to feed the young means that less help is needed in raising young owls.) When mice numbers were low, all the owls were monogamous.
  • The oldest recorded Boreal Owl was a male, and at least 8 years old when it was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Idaho.



Lives in boreal forests with spruce, aspen, poplar, birch, and balsam fir. In mountains of West, found in subalpine forests of fir and spruce.



Small mammals, birds, and insects.


Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–19 eggs
Egg Description
Condition at Hatching
Helpless, eyes closed, covered in white down.
Nest Description

Nests in tree cavity, usually old woodpecker hole. Adds no nesting material. Also uses nest boxes.

Nest Placement



Aerial Dive

Hunts at night from perches.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

Boreal Owls are widespread and common in boreal forest, but reliable population estimates not available. They are considered a "sensitive" species in the United States outside of Alaska. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 1.7 million, with 24% living in Canada, and 6% living in the U.S., They rate a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Boreal Owls rely on mature and dead trees for nesting sites, and the species is sensitive to clear cutting.


  • Hayward, G. D. and P. H. Hayward. 1993. Boreal Owl (Aegolius funereus). In The Birds of North America, No. 63 (A. Poole, and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
  • North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee. 2014. State of the Birds 2014 Report. U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, DC.
  • Partners in Flight. 2012. Species assessment database.
  • USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2015. Longevity records of North American Birds.

Range Map Help

Boreal Owl Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Backyard Tips

Consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. You'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

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Boreal Owl Hunting in Daylight [video]

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