As is the case with finding any wild animal, a few minutes of research can make all the difference in a very successful trip versus spending a lot of time learning as you go. Of course, the area where you live or are visiting and the time of year you are looking make a lot of difference but proper and prior research are key to your desired results and following the basic tips below will help get you started on identifying the owls in your area and how to look for signs pointing to them.
Identifying the types of owls in your area and the signs to look for
- Start by using Google to find information about owls in the area which will help determine the best time to go owling. Most owls stay in their geographical areas year around but they are more active during certain times of the year as well as certain times of day or night. Not all owls are easily found during the day but not all owls are strictly nocturnal either.
- Look for owl boxes which your neighbors, local farmers or ranchers may post on their property. These are great places to find owls but this is also their home so make sure to keep your distance and do not upset them.
- Watch the actions of other birds in the area. Cooper’s hawks, magpies, blackbirds, crows and other neighboring birds will make noise to alert others as well as harass the owls and try to make them leave the area. The good thing about roosting owls is that they will not move on easily which gives birders and photographers time to discover what the excitement is about.
- Look around on the ground for owl pellets – these are small tube shaped bundles containing fur, feathers, bones, beaks and other small animal parts which owls cannot digest. An owl will regurgitate at least one of these pellets a day and if an owl is roosting in the same area often then you have a good chance of finding fresh pellets which are a good sign that you are close to roosting owls.
Tips for successful Owling
As I mentioned earlier, not all owls are nocturnal, some owls can be spotted hunting during the day. Even the more common nocturnal species of owl can be found during the day if you know the right places to look.
- Evergreen trees, willows and dense vines are great places to search. Owls tend to stay closer to the truck of a tree and they search for areas they feel they are hidden from onlookers. Look for shapes that tend to break up the natural flow of the tree bush or willows.
- Looking on the ground and along the beams of a barn and on lower branches of trees will reveal “white-wash” from a roosted owl and other birds.
- Research pages that provide recordings of owl calls that you can listen to like this site. Being able to identify the calls of owls in your area is a great benefit to help you find them.
- Once you find the owl try not to make direct eye contact with it for extended periods of time. They don’t move on easily but humans are a threat to them so anything you can do to minimize that threat will help relax the owl and also extend your viewing time, hopefully to the point that you will eventually be able to exit the area without disturbing the owl from its roost or nest.
- Owls are early nesters, usually beginning in January which is much earlier than most other birds. They are known for moving in to abandoned nests, usually of hawks or squirrels so keep an eye on any you know of in your area.
- Here’s a great article from Audubon the with some tips for finding west coast owls and also some good general tips for finding urban owls.
- Owling at night can be a lot of fun and offer a different aspect of the area even if you are very familiar with it during daylight hours. Because of this it is important to research the area more closely to familiarize yourself with any possible dangers or obstacles that could delay or cancel your owling outing.