Why Do Owls Hoot At Night? | Owl Sounds And Their Meanings

Owls are beautiful birds synonymous with wisdom, mystery, and symbolism. They are generally quiet, and they tend to keep to themselves. But on rare occasions, most often at night, you may hear an owl’s classic hoot.

OverviewWhy Owls Hoot At Night

There are two main reasons why you will hear owls hooting at night:

  • To protect their territory – Owls will announce their dominance over their territory when threatened or need to protect their domain.
  • They are attracting a mate – Males will serenade potential mates, making them aware an eligible owl is available.

Also, most owls are nocturnal and are simply much more active during the nighttime hours.

These beloved raptors are known for their impressive hoots; it is their calling card. But did you know that their language consists of a multitude of yelps, whistles, barks, and beak snaps?

We will detail specific owl noises, discover their mating seasons, and cover some of the superstitions behind their hoots.

Owls Are Territorial – Claiming Their Territory

Territorial calls are the most common reasons behind owls hooting at night. The most recognized territorial call belongs to the Great Horned Owl. It is a traditional owl call within the United States and is a staple of movie and television soundtracks.

Most owl vocalizations are strong and low in pitch, helping the sounds to travel. Owl calls can be heard miles away if the conditions are right. This works well for owls because they have large territories and communication is often long-distance.

Hooting is a message to birds in the area; it announces that the domain has been claimed and trespassers may be attacked. These calls will vary between the species, and when heard at night, they are often territorial.

Announcing that an area has been claimed is also important because of an owl’s nesting habits. Owls do not make their nests and instead take advantage of the hard work performed by other animals. For example, the Great Horned Owl will inhabit vacant nests built by hawks, magpies, crows, and other birds.

Other owls will nest inside the hollow of a tree. These hollows or “cavities” are holes occurring naturally in trees or created by animals such as woodpeckers. Alternative homes include the rafters of barns, inside empty buildings, or even nesting in underground tunnels dug by prairie dogs, ground squirrels, badgers, or other burrowing animals.

@ Chris Combe | FlickrLittle Owl nesting in a tree cavity

Owl SoundsHissing, Barking, and Screeches

Owls are birds of prey and are widely recognized as stealthy, fierce hunters. And although they are seen at the top of the food chain, there are rare occasions when owls are threatened or faced with a formidable predator. They are not confrontational and will avoid fighting when possible. When an owl feels frightened, it will try to scare off the intruder with a variety of warning sounds.

Burrowing Owls have an interesting ability; these owls are able to mimic the infamous hiss given by a cornered rattlesnake. This defense mechanism is enough to warn away most unwanted visitors.

In one experiment using ground squirrels, the squirrels were just as alarmed by the Burrowing Owl’s hissing as they were by the recording of a real rattlesnake.

Barking is another peculiar sound of a surprised owl. Australia’s Barking Owls have a range of vocalizations that include a “woof-woof” sound similar to a dog’s bark.

Animals such as foxes and large cats like the bobcat have been known to take advantage of unguarded nests and prey upon unsuspecting owlets.

Finding a Mate – Hooting and Courtship

3 Types Of Owls Do All Owls Hoot At Night

Cultural Meaning – Does An Owl Symbolize Death

These sounds don’t carry well and can only be heard in close range. Other close-range sounds are growling and beak snaps.

There is a lot of symbolism and mythology surrounding owls, making them mysterious and fascinating creatures.