Five tips for finding owls

Five tips for finding owls

October 29, 2018

The most common question I'm asked is: “How do you find all those owls?” 

Owls are difficult to find—they’re typically nocturnal, have near-silent flight, and are masters at camouflage. Most people only have fleeting experiences with owls, if any at all. Follow my tips below, however, and you’ll be able to regularly locate these beautiful birds of prey. 

1. Know your owl habitats

Habitats vary drastically from species to species. For example, barred owls prefer dense forests near water sources. Short-eared owls, on the other hand, prefer open grasslands. Research the habitats in your area and find out what owl species are most likely to call them home.

A barred owl hunts crayfish along the Millstone River.

A barred owl hunts crayfish along the Millstone River.

2. Know your owl calls 

Around 90 percent of the time, I hear an owl before I see it. Each owl species has a distinct call, and it’s worth downloading a birding app like Merlin Bird ID to become familiar with the wide variety of vocalizations.

3. Listen and watch other birds 

When small birds discover an owl, a potential predator, they defend their territory by harassing it. Listen for frequent, aggressive chirping and watch for dive-bombing behavior.

4. Use eBird

eBird is a popular online database where users record the species of birds they see and hear, along with their locations. I frequently check eBird to learn where people are finding owls in my area.

A screenshot from eBird.

A screenshot from eBird.

5. Talk to local birders and photographers 

Finding owls is often a social undertaking. There are several owl species I would have never found if I didn’t talk to local birders and bird photographers. In my experience, striking up a conversation with a birder behind a spotting scope or a photographer behind a large lens usually leads to useful owl location tips.