Finding Owls in the Dark

Most owls are nocturnal, actively hunting under the cover of darkness.  For a cool (in all sense of the word!) thing to do, take a trip outside at night to find owls.  Finding a silently moving bird in the dark can be a challenge, but it can be a lot of fun!  The best way to find an owl is to simply listen.  Owls call for a variety of reasons including

Great horned owl

establishing territories and finding a mate.  If you can learn the calls of three common owls like the Great  Horned, Eastern Screech and Barred owls, you are ready to start your owl search.  And, late fall through the winter is an excellent time to listen for owls in your own backyard trees or in a wooded area close to you.

Spread across most of the country, at least one of these three owls — the Great Horned owl, Eastern Screech owl and Barred owl — are likely your neighbors in a wooded area somewhere nearby.  The Great Horned owl uses a broad range of habitats that includes young woods with fields or other open spaces nearby.  One of the fiercest night predators, these owls have been known to take birds and mammals even larger than themselves, but will mostly eat small rodents, frogs and songbirds.  Males and females can be distinguished by their calls.  The male has a deeper voice and they will often call together when establishing a breeding territory.  Their call is a repetition of soft hoo-hOO-hoo-hoo.

Eastern screech owl

The Eastern screech owl is a woodland tree-dweller often found near bodies of water.  These are some of the most difficult owls to spot because they are so excellently camouflaged against trees.  Their call is a very distinct trill or whinny.

Barred owls have one of the most enjoyable and entertaining call of any owl species.  If you listen to a Barred owl calling, you will hear them say “Who cooks for you?”.  Barred owls prefer large forests where they roost during the day and hunt in the evening hours.  They are silent, graceful fliers

Barred owl

as they move through the woods hunting prey and establishing territories.  Barred owls do not migrate and it is thought that they mate for life.  When establishing a territory or protecting an existing one from a predator, Barred owls call loudly.

Take the time to learn the calls of owls near you and start listening at night. When you are still and listening, often you will hear the call so close, you’ll wonder how you ever missed knowing that owl was there!