Why Do Owls Hoot At Night? [What Are They Communicating?]

why do owls hoot at night

If you’ve ever camped in the woods or in national parks, you’ve probably been awakened by an owl hooting somewhere nearby. Or, you may hear several owls hooting in the distance as you’re sitting by the fire toasting marshmallows. Have you ever wondered why owls hoot at night?

Owls use their calls to claim their territory, to signal that there’s a predator nearby or to communicate with their partner. You often only hear this at night because most owls are nocturnal and at night is when they’re most active and usually hunting for food.

Interestingly, there can a variation in the hoots of different owls. Even more interesting is the fact that owls can easily identify the hoot of their mate and distinguish it from the hoot of other owls.

Owls also make different sounds that can mean different things. Here’s an overview of the different hoots and what they mean.

The Different Hoots That Owls Make

If you’re out in the forest at night, listen closely to the owl hoots and see if you can identify the different sounds that they make.

Territorial Hoots

Did you know that owls don’t build their own nests? Instead, they’ll find a nest that’s been built by another bird and claim it as their own. Once they’ve found a suitable territory with a nest and good food supply, it’s usually the male owl that will give out the territorial call.

These hoots are usually continuous and loud and will go on for a period of time. This hooting is designed to let other owls know that this territory is taken and that they should stay away.

At the beginning of the breeding season, these hoots are also designed to attract available females that the male owl can mate with.

Defensive Hoots

Defensive hoots are very different to territorial hoots. These calls are made when an owl has seen a predator nearby. When this happens, the owl will make a loud shrieking or screeching noise in an effort to scare the predator away.

Sometimes, the owl will attack the predator all the while screeching and shrieking.

At other times, if the owl just feels a little threatened by the possibility of a predator, it will let out a barking noise that has a much lower pitch. Owls can even make a growling noise just like a dog. This noise comes from deep inside their throat and is often short and low-pitched.

Nesting owls can also make a snarling noise to scare predators away from their nests. They’ll keep snarling until the predator has left and is no more a threat. In addition to the snarling noise, the owl may also snap its beak to make a loud clicking noise.

Mating Hoots

Both male and female owls also have their own mating hoots. Usually, the male will start with a deep hoot to see if there are any females nearby. The female will then respond with a slightly higher pitched hoot to let the male know that she’s interested.

This back and forth hooting can last for some time before the two owls actually get together. More often than not, the male owl will come to the female and she must then decide whether he’s the perfect mate for her. After all, most owls do mate for life, so it’s an important decision.

Some species of owls, like the Eastern Screech owl, will make screeching or screaming noises when they want to attract a mate. This can almost sounds like a woman screaming and could be quite unnerving if you’re out camping in the wild.

Greeting Hoots

Sometimes, an owl will make a short hoot when it approaches another owl or finds a new hunting ground. This is generally only a friendly greeting to test the waters. In general, owls don’t like confrontation and will prefer to hunt on their own and not invade another owl’s territory.

Mated Owls Have Their Own Language

It’s an interesting fact that mated owls will often have their own “language” that they use to communicate with each other. This comprises of a special sound that they will only make when they’re communicating with their mate.

Even when they’re not physically together, mated pairs will still communicate with each other. The female owl may be sitting on the nest and will communicate with her partner while he’s out hunting for food.

At other times, a mated pair may have become separated during migration. When this happens, they’ll return to their previous nesting area and will hoot until they both find each other. It’s extremely interesting to note that each owl can distinguish the call of its mate from all the other owls in the same area.

Baby Owls Shriek At Night

If you’re out in the forest at night or you have a pair of owls nesting in your yard, you might hear a number of loud shrieks. This is coming from the baby owls that are in the nest. Like other bird babies, they’re shrieking to let their parents know that they’re hungry. Or, they may just be lonely and eager for their parents to return to the nest.

Owl Hoots Are As Varied As The Species

An owl’s vocal range can include around 13 different sounds depending on the species. Some owls don’t even hoot but rather, screech or scream. Then, consider the saw-whet owl that many people think sounds like a saw being sharpened on a whetstone.

If you listen to the different owl hoots, you might notice that some are just one phrase and some have two or three phrases. Some hoots even sound like complete sentences.

ALSO: Why are Owls legs so long? Click here to learn more.

Are There Owls That Hoot During The Day?

You might not know this, but there are some species of owls that can be active during the day. The western screech owl can be active during the day when it’s overcast and cloudy.

The barn owl, although primarily nocturnal, is likely to be active both during sunrise and sunset. The great horned owl will sometimes hunt for food during the daytime in winter. And, you’ll find that the barred owl can be active during the day as well as during the night.

In addition to that, there are some owl species that are actually diurnal and are mostly active during the day. These include the burrowing owl and the snowy owl. In fact, burrowing owls are considered crespuscular which means that they mostly hunt during the twilight hours and mainly at dusk.

For this reason, you might sometimes also hear owls hooting during the day.

When Is The Most Common Time To Hear Owls Hooting

As you know by now, you can hear owls hooting both at night and sometimes, during the day. However, the most common time to hear an owl hooting is just after the sun sets. This is usually when the owl starts to become active and is ready to go on the hunt.

You might also notice more hooting during the period of the new moon. This is because it’s far darker at night and nocturnal owls will be extremely active. In saying that, there are certain species of owls that will hoot more when the moon is full.

Frequently Asked Questions

What owl hoots 3 times?

The great horned owl has this habit of hooting 3 times. Both male and female owls use this chant with the second and third hoots being shorter than the first.

Where do owls go during the day?

Owls roost during the day in dense evergreen trees.

Do owls hoot during the day?

Occasionally, you might hear an owl hooting during the day. This is primarily to mark their territory and to keep others away from their habitat. Owls may also hoot during the day if they feel threatened by a possible predator. Plus, there are a number of diurnal owl species that are mainly active during the day.

Final Thoughts

Owls hoot at night because that is when most owl species are most active. Primarily, they hoot to protect their territory, to ward off predators and to attract or reunite with their mate.

Owl hoots are different depending on the reason for the call. Territorial hoots are usually louder and more continuous. On the other hand, owls will often screech or shriek when they want to ward off predators.

Mating hoots are usually heard in duets between the male and the female birds as they answer each other’s call. In addition, mated pairs will have their own “language” that is easily distinguishable just to the male and female of the pair and different to other owls in the area.

Sometimes, you might even hear hooting during the day. This is because some species of owls are both nocturnal and diurnal and will sometimes hunt during the day. There are even some diurnal species of owls that are mainly active during the day and will rest at night.

If you spend enough time listening to owls, you’ll soon be able to distinguish the different sounds that they make and may even be able to identify different species by their calls.

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