The boreal owl is 22?27 cm (8.7?10.6 in) long with a 50?62 cm (20?24 in) wingspan. It is brown above, with white flecking on the shoulders. Underparts whitish streaked with rust. The head is large, with yellow eyes and a white facial disc, and a `surprised` appearance. The beak is light yellow colored rather than dark like its relative the northern saw-whet owl. The flight is strong and direct. Young birds are chocolate brown. Due to its shyness and evasive reaction to human activities, nocturnal habits and preferred inaccessible taiga forest habitat, it ranks as one of the, if not the, least known owls in both North America and Europe.

Habitat and Distribution

The boreal owl breeds in dense coniferous forests across northern North America and Eurasia, and in mountain ranges such as the Alps and the Rockies.


This small owl eats mainly voles and other mammals but also birds as well as insects and other invertebrates. It is largely nocturnal, though in the northern most parts of its range, it is forced to hunt during daylight because of the very short nights in summer.


It lays 3?6 eggs in a tree hole. Across much of Europe, and to a lesser extent in Asia and North America, naturalists and biologists put up nest boxes for these and other small owls.

Calls and Songs

Its call is similar in sound to the `winnowing` of the North American Wilson's snipe.