FAMILY FUN: Owling Adventure
What kid (or adult for that matter), wouldn’t love to see an owl in the wild? Due to their nocturnal habits (most owls are only active at night), and well-camouflaged feathers, owls can be difficult to spot. During the day, owls roost in thick trees and shrubs, and often hold completely still to avoid detection from predators, and other birds that might mob them and disrupt their daytime nap. Owls are more common than many people realize, and are often found close by. If owls are around and you know what to look for, you might have a great surprise in the trees near your home. Several species of owls are habituated to urban areas, including Great Horned, Barred, and Eastern Screech Owls.
Fall and winter are the best times to go owling, as owls are actively looking for mates or nesting. So, be prepared for a chilly evening walk and bundle everyone up. If you are taking kids owling, they might be excited, so it’s important to make sure that they know the best way to find an owl is by being still and listening. This is essential, as owls are very wary and know how to make themselves invisible. Before taking a trip owling, you may want to scout out a location ahead of time where owls have been seen/heard before, as this increases your chances of detecting one. If you hear an owl, try returning at the same time the following night, and the chances are good that you’ll hear it again. You may even catch a glimpse!
Be sure to bring flashlights or headlamps, hats and gloves, and wear lots of layers as it often takes patience standing outside listening for owls! Once you hear an owl call, continue to be quiet as he may move closer to you. To stack the odds in your favor, learn the vocalizations of the owls found in your area, and practice imitating them. Often a good imitation of an owl call will elicit a response. Recorded owl calls can be used to trigger a response, but during the breeding season (in winter), owls become territorial, and will fly in towards the “intruder” which is actually your recording. This takes extra energy and time away from their normal habits, which can stress an owl if done repetitively. Be a good owler and don’t use repeated recordings or shine the light for more than a few seconds at the owl once found.
Keep an eye out for other night animals, tracks in the snow, and eyes reflected in the light of your flashlight. Being in the woods at night — owls or no owls — can be an exciting experience for a budding naturalist!
Check out the children’s book Owl Moon by Jane Yolen for an exciting indoor owling adventure! This story about winter owling perfectly prefaces your own foray into the woods!