Owling By Sound

Owl ID: Owling By Sound

Owls are primarily nocturnal creatures, so your best chance of seeing them is going to be at night when they are most active.  You may get quiet flyovers as they check you out, which are especially exciting when there is a bright moonlit sky, and you may sometimes find them perched and get a good look.  But the best way to identify owls is by their sound.  Owl calls are low frequency which allows them to travel over long distances without being absorbed by vegetation. This comes in very handy when you spend your life in a forest!


There are 20 species of owls in North America, and most have distinctive calls.  If you become familiar with the calls of several of the more commonly seen and heard owls, you should feel confident about correctly identifying the owls you hear.  Here are a few of the more common owl calls:


Barred Owls sound like they are asking “who cooks for you?”


Great Horned Owls make the iconic owl hoot


Eastern Screech Owls make a pretty trill-like sound


Northern Saw Whet Owls make a quick syncopated hoot


Check out the Owl Research Institute for more information on owls.