Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl

Tengmalm's owl, Richardson's owl

Aegolius funereus
Population size
Life Span
7-8 yrs
93-215 g
22-27 cm
50-62 cm

The Boreal owl is a small secretive bird of prey that lives in dense forests across northern North America and the northern regions of Eurasia. It is brown above, with white flecking on the shoulders. Its underparts are whitish streaked with rust. The head is large, with yellow eyes and a white facial disc, and a "surprised" appearance. Young birds are chocolate brown in color.


Boreal owls breed across northern North America and Eurasia. They are partly migratory especially northern populations that make local movements during the winter. Preferable habitats include dense coniferous forests, however, these owls may also be found in mixed-species and deciduous forests.

Boreal Owl habitat map

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

Boreal owls are generally solitary birds and can be seen with their mates only during the breeding season. They are largely nocturnal, though, in the northernmost parts of their range, Boreal owls are forced to hunt during daylight because of the very short nights in summer. They hunt from a perch waiting silently for prey to pass by. Once the prey is detected, they swoop down and catch it with the talons. Boreal owls fly with rapid wing beats but may also glide and even hover for a few seconds. Their flight is relatively noiseless and straight.

Group name
Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

Boreal owls are carnivores. They hunt mainly voles and other mammals but also birds as well as insects and other invertebrates.

Mating Habits

26-32 days
8-10 weeks
owlet, fledgling
3-6 eggs

Boreal owls are serially monogamous and form pair bonds that last for one breeding season. However, there were cases of polygynous (one male to several females) and polyandrous (one female to more than one male) behavior. The breeding season occurs in March-July. Boreal owls nest mainly in abandoned woodpecker cavities, but may also use natural tree holes or even nest boxes. The female lays 3-6 white eggs and incubates them alone for 26-32 days; during this time she is fed by the male. Owlets are born blind and helpless. They grow quickly and their eyes open 10 days after hatching. At the age of one month owlets leave the nest but their parents continue to feed them approximately 4-6 weeks more. Reproductive maturity is usually reached when the young are 9 months old.


Population threats

Boreal owls suffer from the loss of habitat particularly due to logging and agricultural expansion that destroy nest cavities and suitable habitats for foraging. Boreal owls also suffer from pesticides and predation by Tawny owls and martens which kill many nesting females.

Population number

According to the IUCN Red List the total Boreal owl population size is estimated to be around 700,000-2,400,000 mature individuals. The European population consists of 90,900-309,000 pairs, which equates to 182,000-619,000 mature individuals. Overall, currently this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.

Ecological niche

Boreal owls play an important role in their ecosystem. They control populations of small mammals, such as voles and mice, and also serve as a food item for local predators.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • In Europe, the Boreal owl is known as Tengmalm's owl after Swedish naturalist Peter Gustaf Tengmalm or, more rarely, Richardson's owl after Sir John Richardson.
  • Boreal owls belong to the grouping of owls known as typical owls, which contains most species of owl. The other grouping is the barn owls. Typical owls generally have round faces, while barn owls - heart-shaped faces.
  • The Boreal owl is so secretive and rarely seen by humans due to its shyness and evasive reaction to human activities, nocturnal habits, and preferred inaccessible taiga forest habitat.
  • Boreal owls find their prey by sound. They listen attentively to the movements and can locate mice even through vegetation and under the snow!
  • Boreal owls have an interesting courtship behavior. When the male finds a nesting cavity, he will then start to attract a female. He will leave food inside the potential nesting cavity and sing. If the female is attracted she will approach and inspect the cavity and if she likes it, she will stay.


1. Boreal Owl on Wikipedia -
2. Boreal Owl on The IUCN Red List site -

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