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Why Do Owls Hoot? Top 5 Reasons For Their Vocals

Written by Garrett Hayes

Last updated on Apr 26th, 2024
three young owls during daytime

Birders having a mutual interest in nocturnal creatures would find the study of owls fascinating. An owl's behavior explains people's desire to study and know more about this bird.

Why do owls hoot?

This question often catches the curiosity of many, like how everyone wonders, what does owl hooting at night mean?

There has been an undeniable fascination with owls throughout history since not many species can be familiar and mysterious altogether.

Hence, we offer you an exhaustive overview of the owl hooting sound and its meaning. Let's find out how these will come in handy in studying this species.

Several Reasons For Owl Hooting

1. Territorial Calls

great horned owl standing in daylight

Each owl species has its unique call; some have more than just one type of call. You will hear them peep, trill, toot, bark, growl, squeal, shriek, chatter, rattle, whistle, whoop, chuckle, boom, and buzz. But as for hooting, only a few owls do.

An owl’s hoot could be for the same reason other birds are calling; to show ownership of breeding territories.

Songbirds use vocalization, and even wolves howl to mark their territory, so in the same way, you will hear owl hoots to intimidate and frighten rivals. The long-eared owl has diverse vocalizations; the males have a territorial call sounding like spaced notes of "hoo-hoo-hoo."

The nocturnal tawny owls are very vocal creatures. This owl lets out various calls, the "to-woo" hoot as its most exceptional sound. You will hear this owl hoot when it announces ownership of habitat, and when it does, it mostly is in the same position night after night.

An Eastern screech owl defends its breeding grounds with a descending, whinny call. It lets out a single-pitch call when enticing mates and communicating with family members.

One research shows that owls identify their neighbors' calls. Owls find that strangers could pose more threats to their territories. Hence, these owls hoot sound faster and more aggressive to stranger calls than sounds from local territory holders.

Male and female owl species often protect a territory from an intruder, not being afraid to stretch their long owl legs to get the job done. These birds announce to others of their kind to establish an occupied territory through their songs or calls.

2. Owl Mating Call

Owls are the most vocal among all birds of prey; therefore, you will hear a distinct sound when owls mate. It is hardly surprising that owl calls are essential to their courtship. In addition to defending territories, males also safeguard a reproductively valuable mate.

The short eared owl uses wing claps during courtship, while a barred owl hooting is its term of endearment to a mate.

Barred owls' hooting calls are like a series of rising "whoo-whoo-whoo" notes in a deep tone that gradually increases volume. Relatively, a barn owl attracts a mate with 500 calls per night while circling their nest.

An elf owl also sings within its nest box to lure potential mates as part of courtship. It sings so loud you will be surprised to see how small these owls are.

Female owls respond more to other females' calls in their territories. On the other hand, you will notice no distinction with male owls, except for reacting aggressively to a female's call after successfully breeding with its mate.

Birders will have no trouble recognizing a male's song as it is usually less complex and in long sequences. Its song can sound like usual hoots to harsh barking, whistles, and screeches.

3. Establishing A Pair Bond

You will find it a common occurrence to hear paired owls duetting, distinguishing a female's song by its slightly higher pitch than males. The male owl belches three deep calls, while the female responds with a sharper hoot during the pairing season.

Males that haven't found their pair yet hoot for hours to attract a mate and repel other males. Once paired, female owls use their songs to intimidate other females from invading their territory.

Although you can hear great horned owls throughout the year, they breed early; thus, you will likely hear the male's deep-sounding hoots around October.

You might sometimes hear the bouncing song of the secretive Western screech owl or the deep hoots of a great horned owl at certain times of the year.

Hearing these owls' songs sometime in late fall, winter, or spring indicates the presence of owls within the breeding ground or preparing to breed. Even though both sexes sing, males typically call first, and females join territories by responding appropriately to that call.

4. Announcing Food Sources

barred owl in south florida

Young owls compete with each other for food, crying out food begging calls to their parents.

Likewise, you will also hear non-stop hooting from some owls when they find a reliable food source. You will only hear such hoots from owls hunting a shared space and not from species wanting to go solo hunting for food.

In addition to barred owls' hooting sounds as alarm calls and to indicate courtship, these birds also snap their bills when clashing over food.

Some owls would rather keep to themselves than fight over food, which is one of the other reasons why they hoot loudly. It is their way of signaling other birds that they are hunting and would prefer to be undisturbed or go with a group and hunt together.

Males do food delivery calls when approaching the nest box to feed a baby owl. Relatively, these owlets also make a sound to stay in contact with their parents.

In the same way, when owls find food sources or have predators attacking them, they will often make different noises to let their fellow owls know.

5. Defense Calls

Regardless of night or day, you will hear an owl call that sounds more like bark when it senses a nearby threat. It will let out an ear-splitting screech once the potential threat gets closer.

Hearing a barn owl hoot resembling a shriek is its way of warning other owls of conceivable dangers.

During winter, great horned owls' hooting is a familiar sound you can hear in North America. It's this owl's way of calling its mate or warning off visitors. A hollering "kvak, kvak" sound indicates that both male and female long-eared owls face an alarming situation.

This hooting sound that owls make is some bird language, alarm signals to warn other birds of danger.

There's the female Western screech owl's wailing sound when held captive and the horrific scream from the long-eared owl. Not to mention the barred owl's appalling shrieks when someone approaches. All these varying vocalizations are warning signals for fellow owls.

There are only a few instances of an injured owl being a creature at the top of the food chain. But sometimes, small birds attack them while roosting or when flying in open spaces. When that happens, you will hear these owls make loud vocal calls to alert fellow owls.

Why Do Owls Hoot At Night?

What does it mean when you hear an owl hoot at night? Most of us, especially owlers, would love to know. There is no single answer to address the question of why do owls hoot at night. Great horned owls' night hoot means the bird is hunting for small mammals or nesting.

Aside from giving their positions to other owls, the reason for hearing this species call at night could significantly vary depending on the culture.

There are different beliefs and superstitions that almost every culture associates with an owl hooting at night. Some believe it's bad luck, while others find owls excellent protectors against evil spirits.

You might even hear of the Native American legend that links a hooting owl with death. For Romans, an owl calling signifies illness or stormy weather. The Greeks find it a symbol of good luck, the Arabians think evil entities are present, and for the Chinese, it is a bad omen.

Why Do Owls Hoot During the Day?

Hearing an owl hoot in the morning may not be as common as hearing nocturnal owls hoot. However, it is still possible since not all owls are night creatures.

Aside from diurnal owls doing day hunting, some owls are usually visible in the daytime, especially in winter when food sources are scarce.

Most people mistake a burrowing owl for a nocturnal bird, but it is not. Burrowing owls are diurnal, actively hunting for prey of either a small bird or an insect during the daytime.

The snowy owl is among the diurnal owls active in the daytime, meaning that is when you will hear them hooting. This owl's loud "hoo, hoo" sound can be territorial or mating calls during the breeding season, while its guttural song is an alarm call.

Although sometimes, you might wake up hearing a hoot at your window or from bird feeders that you immediately think it's an owl. A mourning dove also hoots similar to owls. For this reason, many would confuse one from the other when merely listening to the sound.

Here's a video of a Barred owl hooting in woods during the day:

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it mean to hear an owl make a hooting sound?

Owls have been a powerful symbol for humans since the dawn of recorded history. It is not unusual for illusions and myths to thrive in the human imagination. After all, folklore could be humanity's desperate attempt to understand, explain, and control.

Therefore, it is no wonder that the owl symbolizes darkness and is a messenger of tragedy and doom for some people. According to legend, the hooting of an owl predicted the death of Julius Caesar.

So, what does it mean when you hear an owl hoot at night? Well, the answers can be as diverse as the owl species themselves. But the explanation can also be as simple as an owl finding a mate, protecting its habitat, or acts of defense when danger arises.

Why do owls hoot 3 times?

A Turkish legend says that if an owl hoots twice around a pregnant woman, that woman is expecting a boy. If the owl hoots three times, she is expecting a girl. There's a related article saying that it also means an impending disaster.

Ornithologists would describe a great horned's call as the typical long hooting pattern succeeded by two shorter hoot sounds. It is not surprising since owls have a wide range of vocalizations.

What time do owls come out?

You hear owls at different times of the day depending on the species and the time of the year. Some are more vocal during the new moon when it is dark; others like it on a bright, sunny day. Most owls are nocturnal, but that doesn't mean you won't encounter owls actively visiting bird feeders, tending to their young in the nest, or hunting for prey.

Read Also: What birds chirp at night?

Final Thoughts

There's a vast range of owls in all of the United States that many find them a diverse species. Given these birds' abundance, you will never run out of excellent owling opportunities.

You will find it helpful to identify varying owl sounds if night owling is your passion. Even with diurnal and crepuscular owls present, these creatures are still most active at night.

Owling by ear can be tricky due to the various sounds, but it's the best way to observe owls without agitating them. It would be best to learn to associate the owl song with the respective singer for a more gratifying owling experience.

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