Owls are fascinating nocturnal birds known for their mysterious hoots and calls that echo through the night. As a seasoned birder with years of experience studying owl vocalizations, I understand the importance of being able to identify different owl calls. The unique vocalizations of owls can provide valuable insight into their behavior, communication, and territorial habits.

Did you know that each species of owl has its own distinct call? Being able to recognize these calls can enhance your birdwatching experience and allow you to gain a deeper understanding of these elusive creatures. So buckle up as we dive into the world of owl sounds and learn how to identify the various calls made by these captivating birds.

Key Takeaways

  • Owls use different calls, like hoots, screeches, and whistles to talk to each other and mark their space.
  • Each owl has its own kind of call. For example, Great Horned Owls say “who’s awake? me too”, while Barn Owls scream like in scary movies.
  • Male and female owls have different sounds. Males might sing lower to find a mate, females can be higher when they are nesting.
  • It’s good to know these calls if you want to find owls at night or learn what they are doing without seeing them.
  • You can get better at this by listening carefully, using apps with owl sounds, and going out with others who know about birds.

Importance of understanding owl calls

I love stepping into the quiet night and listening for the distinct sounds of nocturnal birds. It’s thrilling to hear an owl’s call cutting through the darkness. Knowing what these sounds mean helps me connect with nature on a deeper level.

For us birders, it’s like learning another language—the language of owls! By tuning in to their hoots, screeches, and shrieks, we can tell which species are nearby. This makes birdwatching at night so much more exciting.

Recognizing owl calls is not just about enjoyment; it’s also quite important for studying them. Different calls can signal everything from a male defending his territory to a female calling out to her mate.

If I can identify these vocalizations, I get clues about owl behavior without even seeing them in the dark! Plus, it’s handy for keeping track of different owl species in their natural habitats and contributes to our knowledge about wildlife noises and bird communication.

Common Owl Calls to Listen For

When listening for owl calls, it’s important to keep an ear out for different types of hooting, screeching, screaming, whistling, and barking. Each species has its own unique vocalizations that can help birders identify them in the wild.

Hooting of various species

Understanding owl hoots is like learning a new language. Each species speaks its own version, and I can tell them apart by their unique sounds.

  • The Great Horned Owl’s hoot is classic and deep. It goes “who’s awake? me too” in a rhythmic pattern that carries far in the night.
  • Barred Owls ask “who cooks for you?” Their calls are rich and full, sounding almost like a song.
  • Eastern Screech – Owls have a haunting trill. It’s like a horse’s whinny echoing through the woods.
  • Western Screech – Owls sound different. They make noises like a bouncing ball as they talk to each other.
  • Northern Saw-whet Owls repeat a high-pitched “toot-toot-toot.” It’s steady, like the beep of a truck backing up.
  • Barn Owls don’t really hoot; they shriek. Their scream can chill your spine and reminds you of scary movies.

Screeching and screaming

I’ve heard screeching and screaming from owls several times out in the wild. It can be quite unsettling, especially at night.

  1. Barn Owls emit a bloodcurdling shriek that sounds like a classic horror movie scream, often heard on quiet nights deep in the countryside.
  2. The Eastern Screech – Owl produces an eerie, trembling trill that can be mistaken for a horse’s whinny or a ghostly moan echoing through the woods.
  3. The Barred Owl’s distinctive call is a series of eight accented hoots with some variation, sounding like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”
  4. The Great Horned Owl’s hooting is deep and soft, almost like they’re asking “Who’s awake? Me too.”
  5. The Western Screech – Owl emits a series of short whistles and bounces, sounding exactly like an errant bouncy ball hitting different surfaces.


Owls can also produce whistling sounds that are distinct and unique to their species. Here are some examples of owl whistling calls:

  1. The Eastern Screech Owl emits a series of soft, melodious whistles that can be easily mistaken for the wind blowing through the trees.
  2. The Western Screech Owl’s call is described as a descending whinny, resembling the sound made by a horse.
  3. The Barred Owl produces a characteristic “who cooks for you” call that includes a melodious, two-note hooting pattern with a descending whistle at the end.
  4. The Northern Saw-whet Owl’s high-pitched tooting resembles the sound of a saw being sharpened, hence its name.
  5. The Boreal Owl’s call is a rapid series of hollow, musical toots that have been likened to the sound of echoing taps on wood.


Now, let’s talk about another interesting owl sound: barking.

  1. Some owl species, such as the Northern Saw-whet Owl, produce a bark-like call that resembles a small dog yapping in the distance.
  2. The barking call of owls is often used for territorial purposes, signaling their presence and warning off potential intruders in the area.
  3. Unlike other owl calls, the barking sound is short and repetitive, creating a unique auditory signature for these species.
  4. In some cases, the barking call of owls can be mistaken for distant canine noises, adding to the mystery of nocturnal wildlife sounds.
  5. Female owls may also use barking calls to communicate with their partners during courtship rituals or to signal their readiness to mate.

Understanding Owl Sounds

Owl sounds are used for communication and territorial purposes. They vary between male and female calls, making it important to learn the differences. Understanding owl sounds can provide valuable insight into the behavior and ecology of these fascinating birds.

Communication and territorial purposes

Owl sounds serve a big purpose. They use their calls to talk to each other and mark their territory. Different owls have different calls for this, which helps them avoid fighting over turf.

Each owl has its unique language to “talk” with other owls of the same species. These sounds are crucial for finding mates and making sure everyone knows who’s in charge.

Male and female owls also communicate differently. Males often hoot more than females, using it like a love song to attract a mate. Meanwhile, females may make higher-pitched noises during nesting season, helping establish boundaries and protect their nests from intruders.

Differences between male and female calls

Understanding owl sounds involves recognizing the differences between male and female calls. In many species, males typically produce lower-pitched hoots, while females have higher-pitched calls.

This distinction plays a vital role in communication and mating behaviors among these nocturnal birds. By paying attention to these variations, birders can gain insights into the social dynamics of owl communities during their nighttime observations.

Male and female owls often exhibit distinct vocalizations that serve specific purposes in their interactions with each other and within their habitats. The ability to identify and interpret these gender-specific calls enhances the overall appreciation for the fascinating world of owls, adding depth to the experience of observing them in their natural environment.

Importance of identifying different owl sounds

Identifying different owl sounds is crucial for understanding their behavior and recognizing the presence of various owl species in the wild. Each species has its own unique vocalizations, which can help birders locate and identify them based on their calls.

For instance, the distinctive hooting of a Great Horned Owl differs from the bloodcurdling shriek of a Barn Owl. By learning to distinguish these sounds, birdwatchers can enhance their ability to locate owls during nighttime wildlife excursions and gain a deeper appreciation for these nocturnal creatures’ communication methods.

Recognizing different owl calls also offers insights into their social interactions and territorial boundaries. It allows us to witness how they communicate with each other under cover of darkness without relying solely on visual observation.

Identifying Different Owl Calls

Listen out for nine distinct owl calls, each with their own unique meanings and purposes. With some tips for recognizing these calls in the wild, you’ll be able to identify different owl species by their vocalizations.

Nine distinct owl calls and their meanings

Owls have distinct calls that help identify their species, here are nine distinctive owl calls and their meanings.

  1. The classic “hoo – hoo” of the Great Horned Owl signifies its territory and attracts mates.
  2. Barn Owls emit a bloodcurdling shriek resembling a horror movie scream, used for territorial purposes.
  3. Eastern Screech – Owls produce a quavering whistle, signaling their presence in an area and courtship purposes.
  4. The Western Screech – Owl has a series of soft, monotone hoots often used to communicate with its mate.
  5. Barred Owls exhibit a familiar “who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all” call, mainly heard during courtship and territorial disputes.
  6. The Long – eared Owl’s resonant hooting is utilized mainly during mating season to attract potential partners.
  7. Short – eared Owls make a barking sound to mark their territories and attract mates during the breeding season.
  8. Northern Saw – whet Owls produce repetitive toots which serve as contact calls between mated pairs or family members.
  9. The Burrowing Owl emits a chuckling coo-coo-coo call when threatened or alarmed.

Tips for recognizing owl calls in the wild

When listening for owl calls, pay attention to the time of day as most owls are nocturnal and are more active at night.

  1. Familiarize yourself with the common owl calls such as hooting, screeching, and whistling. Each species has its own unique vocalization.
  2. Use a bird guidebook or smartphone app to listen to recordings of different owl calls before heading out for birdwatching.
  3. Pay attention to the habitat where you are birdwatching, as certain owl species prefer specific environments, such as forests, grasslands, or wetlands.
  4. Practice active listening by staying still and focusing on the sounds around you. Owls’ calls can be subtle and easily missed if you’re not paying attention.
  5. If you hear an unusual sound resembling an errant bouncy ball or a bloodcurdling scream, it might be a screech-owl or a barn owl based on their distinct vocalizations mentioned in the important facts.
  6. Join local birdwatching groups or guided tours led by experienced birders who can help you identify and interpret owl calls in the wild based on their expertise and knowledge.
  7. Learn about the territorial behavior and mating rituals of different owl species so that you can recognize specific calls associated with these activities.
  8. Consider using audio recording equipment during your outdoor adventures to capture owl calls for later analysis and identification with the help of experts or online resources.
  9. Keep in mind that identifying owl calls takes practice over time, so be patient and persistent in honing your skills through regular birdwatching outings.


As birders, understanding the different calls of owls adds an exciting layer to our birdwatching experiences. It allows us to appreciate the unique vocalizations of these nocturnal creatures and deepen our connection with nature.

So next time you hear an owl call in the wild, take a moment to listen and appreciate the fascinating sounds of these mysterious birds. Happy birdwatching!

Appreciating the unique vocalizations of owls.

Owls have a captivating way of communicating through a wide range of vocalizations, from hoots to screeches. Each owl species has its own distinct call, allowing us to identify them based on their unique sounds.

For instance, the Great Horned Owl’s deep hoot and the Barn Owl’s eerie scream are unmistakable. As birders, recognizing these calls not only enriches our birdwatching experience but also helps us gain insight into the nocturnal world of these enigmatic creatures.

Whether it’s in the dead of night or during daylight hours, appreciating and understanding these owl vocalizations adds depth to our encounters with these fascinating birds.

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