Have you ever heard a deep, unmistakable hooting sound coming from dusk? Chances are it was an owl, communicating its presence with a distinct call that entices and intrigues bird watchers. But why do owls hoot?
There are four main reasons why owls hoot. These hoots can be for territorial declarations, communications with a mate, predator warnings, or part of mating rituals.
Anyone who enjoys spending time outdoors in nature will be interested in birdlife at some point. As a nature enthusiast, I naturally gravitated towards birdwatching and photography during the Pandemic lockdowns, which has enhanced my understanding of these fantastic creatures.
Owls are particularly fascinating for most people, including birders, because seeing them is a rare treat. Spotting an owl is sufficiently rare even to make non-birders stop and look.
Owls are more commonly heard than seen, making hearing and understanding owl hoots part of the intrigue of these birds.
Whether you are an avid birder, have a passing interest in owls, or are interested in why they hoot because you have heard or seen an owl in your neighborhood, we have some information you may find helpful to understanding why owls hoot.
As part of our investigation into why owls hoot, we will talk about what their hoots mean, when you are most likely to hear owls hooting, some interesting facts about owls, and how humans have perceived these creatures!
Why Do Owls Hoot?
Most birds, including owls, have vocalizations as part of their social structure, communication, and territorial marking.
In other birds, these are called bird calls, while in owls, it is called hooting. This naming of owl calls is due to some calls from owl species sounding like a hoot.
As you learn to identify owl vocalizations and different owl hoots, many of the calls they make will not sound like hoots at all but rather like a screech from a banshee in the night!
4 Reasons why Owls hoot
1. Owls Hooting For Territorial Declarations
Many owl species are territorial. They often send out territorial calls, which helps to keep competition for food in an area to a minimum. The size of an owl’s territory will depend on the availability of resources in the area.
Owls will patrol their boundaries, perch in strategic locations in their territory, and hoot or vocalize to declare their ownership of the area.
Other owls passing through looking for hunting grounds will hear the territorial hoots and move on to another territory that may be unoccupied.
2. Owls Hoot To Communicate With A Mate
Most owls live in territories as male and female pairs and will guard their territories together. The male and female owls will not always be in the same part of the territory together, but they will hoot to communicate with each other.
These hoots allow the owls to locate each other while hunting at night and communicate if a particular hunting spot is proving fruitful.
3. Owls Hoot For Courtship
During mating season, some owls have courtship rituals that involve vocalizations as part of the wooing of a partner. Certain owl species will sing duets as part of the courtship and breeding process.
A breeding pair of owls may repeat their duets during each breeding season to affirm their bond as a breeding pair. Mated pairs usually stay together for many years.
Many other birds have similar courtship rituals, but we seldom consider that owls also display this behavior since it is not frequently witnessed or heard.
Male owls that have claimed a new territory will also send mating hoot calls to attract a female to their territory as a mate. These calls, along with warnings against predators, are usually the loudest of the owl’s calls to cover as much distance as possible.
4. Owls Hoot To Warn Against Predators
Most birds have warning calls to warn each other about potential threats from a predator in the area.
Owls will also send out warning hoot calls to their mate to warn against anything they spot in their territory that could threaten their spouse or chicks in the nest.
The Different Noises Owls Make And Why
Most people are unaware that owls make noises other than the familiar hooting noise commonly attributed to these birds. There are many different noises that owls make, and each one serves a specific purpose.
Owls have different calls for different purposes, such as mating, aggression, and warning. Each type of owl has its unique sound that is used to communicate with other owls.
Owls have various vocalizations that will be used in different circumstances. The hooting that most people associate with owls is usually the communication hoots between the male and female while they are hunting or patrolling their area.
Other calls that owls make can include the following.
- Chirps and twitters
Each call is used in different circumstances to communicate additional messages or intentions.
The Northern Saw Whet Owl, Eastern screech owl, and Western Screech Owl are smaller owls that make a higher-pitched hoot. Their hoots can be heard as clear whistles or quavering toot-like hoots.
Eastern Screech Owls have more of a whistled cry, often called a bounce song.
Other owls, such as the Barred Owl, have a distinctive deep hoot. Their hooting call includes 8-9 notes which, if you listen closely, sounds like ‘who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?’. Barred owls are primarily active at night but will also hunt and call during the day.
Great horned owls tend to have deep, soft hoots. A female great horned owl often calls out with higher-pitched calls. A male great horned owl will respond to the female owl with a lower pitch creating a beautiful duet between the mating pair. The babies of great horned owls will give piercing screens when begging for food.
The Barn Owl makes a harsh, high-pitched scream that lasts a couple of seconds. These intense, high-pitched screams usually come from the male owl. The male owl often makes these high-pitched hoots while in the air.
Snowy owls have a low yet powerful raspy hoot. The male snowy owl has a lower pitch hoot than the female owl.
How To Differentiate Owl Hoots?
Territorial calls and predatory warning vocalizations are typically the loudest calls to travel the most extended distances and convey intent or a warning. Adult owls may scream when protecting their nest, which might sound like a woman screaming.
Growls are used when confronting a predator or a danger face to face, while chirps and twitters generally are used between mates or with the owl’s chicks.
When calling a mate, the owls will often use a call-and-response type call, where one mate will call, and the other will respond with a similar ring but slightly different.
Baby owls can be heard giving off piercing screams when begging for food.
When Are You Most Likely To Hear Owls Hooting?
Owls are primarily nocturnal birds, with a few exceptions, such as the barred owl, that are active during daylight hours. Nocturnal owls are active at night and begin their activity at dusk.
Once the sun has just set, it is the best time to hear an owl hooting as they begin its evening hunt or its territory patrols. The early part of the evening is when owls vocalize the most, but they will call periodically throughout the night. There are also many owls that hoot during twilight hours.
Some owl species are also more vocal shortly before sunrise when they find their daytime roosting spots or return to the nest.
What Do Owls Symbolize In Human Culture?
Humans were often intimidated by owls in bygone superstitious eras, and some of these superstitions and symbolism still carry through to modern culture.
The silent flight of the owls at night and their eerie calls in the dark of night have often led people to believe that owls are bad omens or harbingers of doom.
Some believe that when you hear two owls hoot, it signifies a significant change in your life.
Many cultures associate owls with the paranormal, witchcraft, and other nefarious nighttime activities. These superstitious beliefs often associated owls with death, mystical rituals, and clandestine gatherings.
Other cultures went the other way and associated owls with wisdom, intelligence, and good luck. Many Native American cultures viewed the owl as a sacred bird and a guardian of knowledge, especially regarding the elements, such as weather. They also believe that the owl holds secrets regarding the afterlife.
The Celts viewed the owl as a brave warrior and a symbol of truth and honor. These cultures also portrayed the owl as a fertility token, representing their fertility goddess.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Where Can I find owls?
Owls have become one of the most popular backyard animals in North America. They are fascinating to watch and can be a great addition to any garden, but there are some things you need to know before looking for owls.
Owls like dense areas with plenty of trees and cover. They typically avoid open spaces.
Owls are primarily nocturnal, which means they are mostly active at night.
If you want to attract an owl to your yard, you’ll need to provide a good source of food and water.
What does it mean to hear an owl hooting in the morning?
When most people hear the sound of an owl hooting, they think of it as a sign that the night is over and it’s time to start the day. For some people, however, hearing an owl hooting in the morning can be an ominous sign. Some believe someone will die when they hear an owl hooting in the morning.
so, why do owls hoot?
Owl hoots are part of their vocalizations to convey territorial boundaries, attract and communicate with a mate, and make warning calls against predators. Owls tend to hoot at night.
Owls not only hoot but also have a wide range of other vocalizations used in different circumstances and for various purposes.
If you spot an owl in your garden or while camping or hiking, sit quietly nearby to observe the owl, and you may be rewarded with hearing it call!
If you have heard any owls hooting, let us know! We would love to share your experiences with our readers. Learning is a sharing experience!
Remember to check out our other blog posts for more information about birds and birdwatching. Also, don’t forget to share this article with your friends, family, and fellow bird lovers!