Hello! I have two owls in my backyard that I am having trouble identifying. I was wondering if you would be able to offer some insight! I have attached some photos (some are better than others, I apologize). We had first thought maybe a Screech Owl, then nixed that due to not seeing tufts and moved on to thinking Saw-Whet Owl, however not all that convinced! We have learned that Screech Owls do have tufts, but they are not always visible (don’t know if that’s true or not!). Any help would be appreciated thank you! (Did attach a nest photo (I think the owl is inside) incase that can help with identification. The two owls do not seem very skittish, we usually see them around 8:45-9:45pm, except one afternoon we did see one! I will note that I THINK the owl is more brown than the photos show, but there is a gray to it. Again, we appreciate the help and look forward to hearing from you!
Ingham County Michigan
Hello and thanks for your question and what cool neighbors you have! Your first guess of screech-owl (eastern screech-owl to be precise) was correct. These are fledglings so they are still transitioning into their adult plumage and can make them a little tricky to identify. You are correct that screech-owls have ear tufts, but don't always have them erected (they may also still be developing at this stage). Screech-owls have three color phases, gray/brown/red, so they can vary quite a bit in color even among siblings.
Ingham county is a little south of the breeding range for northern saw-whet owls and they are quite rare and probably wouldn't nest in an urban setting. Also, saw-whet owl fledglings are very distinctive looking, so we can definitely rule that species out.
I do want to make a quick point that since these are fledglings, they can't fly as well as adults and also don't have the experience yet to know what is safe and what is a threat. Since it looks like you might be in a neighborhood things like local dogs and cats can be a big threat to these little owls, so if it's possible to make sure the owls aren't on or near the ground before letting pets outside and maybe letting your neighbors know there are young owls around, it would greatly help their survival. It looks like their flight feathers are pretty well developed so hopefully they are at or nearing the point where they can fly away and escape these dangers.
I hope you enjoy these very cool birds, I'm jealous you have them in your backyard and thanks for sharing!