all about boreal owls

A male boreal owl at its northern Minnesota roost site.

Female boreal owl sitting tight as I pay her a visit.

Young of the year.  A three week old boreal owl.  The epitome of cuteness in the boreal forest.

A 4 wk old Tengmalm's owl, gracing the face of a pocket calendar sent to me by a Russian owl researcher.

Boreal Owl Facts


The boreal owl (Aegolius funereus) is a common, yet elusive nocturnal resident of the boreal forest zone throughout the world. In North America, it is found throughout Canada, Alaska, the Rocky Mountains, and northeast Minnesota. In Europe and Asia, the owl is known as Tengmalm's owl. Like most raptor species, boreal owls exhibit pronounced sexual size dimorphism, with the females being considerably larger than the males.  For example, in Minnesota male boreal owls weigh approximately 110 grams, but the females are considerably larger, averaging 160 grams in weight. Common food items for boreal owls are the red-backed vole, white-footed deer mouse, and the meadow vole. The male advertises for females with a hauntingly beautiful song called the staccato song. Once he attracts a mate, he will spend the next few nights "showering" her with voles and mice in an attempt to show his value as a food provider and potential mate. If successful, the owls will begin nesting in Minnesota in early March, and after an incubation period of approximately 30 days, 1 to 8 youngsters are hatched in the warm confines of the nest cavity (when food is abundant the owls raise more young). When the young reach 30 days of age, they take their first flight and are off on their great adventure into the boreal forest of Minnesota's night.

Click on the map to see if the boreal owl can be found in a boreal forest near you.

Habitat Requirements


The boreal owl is an obligate secondary cavity nester and as such, must use the abandoned excavations of primary cavity nesters (flickers or pileated woodpeckers), or naturally occurring cavities.  Accordingly, a major resource that defines the breeding distribution of boreal owls is old forest and old growth stands.  Roosting sites are typically found in thick, homogeneous stands of lowland conifers including black spruce and balsam fir. 


Songs in the Night

Listen to the Staccato Song of the Male Boreal Owl


Listen to the Prolonged Staccato Song of the Male Boreal Owl


About the sounds you hear


The male boreal owl is a tireless singer, whose primary song (staccato song) is used to attract female owls onto his territory. Although males average only 110 grams in weight, their staccato song can easily be heard from a distance of one mile, and occasionally from over two miles away. The song is described as "similar to the winnowing of the common snipe," but there are notable differences. The biggest difference is the pure harmonic quality of the boreal owl's song. It is a beautiful, pure song, much like the sound of a flute.


As loud as the staccato song is, the prolonged staccato song is very soft. The male boreal owl uses it to introduce female owls to his future nesting cavity, often in older aspen trees. The unique feature of the prolonged staccato song, besides its softness, is its length. This spring, I timed a prolonged staccato song bout, and it lasted over 3 minutes….without a pause!


Has this ever happened to you? 


In 1990, I observed a male boreal and saw-whet owl physically interact at a cavity site previously "claimed" by the boreal owl.  They clashed and then tumbled to the ground where I was able to pick both owls up, without the aid of nets. Take that Crocodile Hunter!!!!  Fortunately, I had a witness (things like that do not happen very often)!