- Owls are nocturnal creatures that use a variety of noises and calls to attract mates and to declare and defend territories.
- Loud calls that echo for miles usually indicate that an owl is staking a claim to a nesting site or territory.
- Courtship between owls involves the birds hooting back and forth to each other.
Given that so many birds are active during the day, you may be asking yourself the question: why do owls hoot at night? The simple answer is that a great number of owls are nocturnal and they are simply active at night. However, what specific reasons do they have to hoot late into the night?
Why do owls hoot at night? Owls hoot after dark because they defend their territories and declare new territories through these sounds. They also use a wide variety of noises and calls to mate and meet potential mates.
But how many different sounds do owls make, and what do certain owls sound like based on their specific breed? Let’s check out owl hoots in more detail so that you can learn what they sound like and why they might be making these sounds!
Different Noises Owls Make at Night
Owls make a wide variety of noises at night, for a variety of reasons. Whether they are fighting over territory or simply exclaiming their excitement, here are all of the different reasons owls hoot at night.
Owls often call out in the night over territorial disputes. While owls are capable nesters, they often claim the nests made by other birds. This is why they call so often in the night about it: they are staking a claim over a specific nest or location, and they don’t want any other bird to bother them.
These calls often echo for miles, depending on the owl breed who is doing the vocalizations. The point is that the owl wants all surrounding owls to hear that they have staked a claim. They don’t want any other raptor stealing their nest or tree as they begin to build their home!
This call is typically used by male owls, regardless of breed. Territorial disputes often happen between males, and these calls also work as a type of mating call. Female owls hear males during territorial disputes and can choose to pursue them if need be.
Speaking of, owls often hoot at night for courtship reasons. A male owl calls out into the night, waiting for a call in return. This is what makes courtship hooting special: there is a call and response to the process, making it entertaining to overhear. Female owls hoot back at males if they are interested in mating, and you can often hear the differences between a male and female owl call.
Attacking or Defending
Owls will also hoot at night if they are attacking another creature or defending themselves. However, given that owls are stealthy and capable predators, it is not often that you will hear them hooting while defending themselves or attacking another creature.
However, if owls are having territorial disputes, you may hear them making more noises than usual should a fight break out. You will recognize these calls based on their frantic nature; owls tend to hoot in patterns and set phrases, while an owl that is defending itself will sound very different.
It isn’t easy to surprise an owl, but they will have something to say about it. Like many other birds, owls are capable mimics, known to both bark and growl when threatened or surprised. Owls will also puff up in order to appear larger should they be surprised, so it is always best to use caution when approaching any owl that isn’t expecting you!
Types of Owls and How They Sound
Curious to learn more about what specific owl breeds sound like? You may want help identifying the owl currently hooting outside your home- let’s check out some common owls and what they typically sound like!
Great Horned Owl
One of the most common owls throughout the United States, great horned owls have a fantastic hoot. You can hear the pattern in this owl’s territorial call, as it sounds exactly like owl calls used in TV and movies. If you need a trademark owl sound, this is the one! You may have even heard this call in person, given how common great horned owls are.
While barn owls look shy, their calls are far from it. In fact, you may find that barn owls make the scariest hooting sound out of all owls! They sound as if they are screaming, which makes all of their territorial disputes even more dramatic. If you think you hear someone screaming in the middle of the night, it may just be a barn owl.
While it’s unlikely that you’re hearing a snowy owl in your suburban backyard, their call is very impressive. Snowy owls live in cold regions and tundras, so they use their booming and deep hoots to stretch for miles. They have no problems communicating their territorial disputes, should they have any!
Eastern screech owls can be found anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, and they have plenty of things to say! They communicate using a trill or a horse-like call that may startle you. Both of these noises are used for territorial disputes or communicating with their family.
Out of all of the owls on this list, barred owls can be heard both night and day. They also have a great number of hoots and calls, all in set repetitions and patterns. Barred owls are another classic owl hoot, but they are also very talkative birds. You may hear two barred owls communicate in a series of complicated patterns, making it difficult to determine what they may be talking about!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Imran Ashraf/Shutterstock.com
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