Nature Canada Nature Canada
Who’s there? Identifying owl calls 

Who’s there? Identifying owl calls 

Is there an owl in your neighbourhood? Probably. Some can be found almost anywhere with trees, even in the city! Even so, owls are famously mysterious. Many people have never seen one in the wild. Winter is a great time to look because the bare branches help reveal roosts. Some owls such as the Great Horned and Northern Saw-Whet also become more vocal in late winter as breeding season approaches.

Guide to common Canadian owls and their sounds

Barred Owl

  Image of a Barred Owl
Habitat: Mature forests across southern Canada. Most active during: Night. Sounds: Its most famous call sounds like a raspy: “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all?”

Great Horned Owl

  Image of a Great Horned Owl
Habitat: Diverse treed landscapes across North America, including urban parks. Most active during: Dusk and night. Sounds: The classic owl sound effect used in TV and film, which sounds like: “Who’s awake? Me too.”

Eastern and Western Screech Owl

[caption id="attachment_24284" align="alignleft" width="269"]Eastern Screech Owl by Mike Norkum. CC BY ND 2.0 Eastern Screech Owl by Mike Norkum. CC BY ND 2.0[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_24285" align="alignleft" width="236"]Image of a Western Screech Owl Western Screech Owl by Jon Nelson. CC BY 2.0[/caption]
Habitat: Both species use a wide range of habitats, including urban parks. The eastern species occurs in Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec; the western screech is found in BC. Most active during: Night. Sounds: While these two species look alike, they sound different. The eastern screech produces a high-pitched whinny whereas the western screech trills a series of nasal hoots that gets faster at the end.

Snowy Owl

Image of a Snowy Owl
Habitat: Open spaces including shorelines, airfields and farms. Although they breed in the tundra, some winters they migrate to southern Canada and the US. Most active during: Daytime. Sounds: Harsh squawks.

Short-Eared Owl

Image of a Short Eared Owl
Habitat: Open areas like farmland and marshes. This species breeds across Canada, but is usually only found in BC and Ontario during winter. Most active during: Dawn and dusk. Sounds: Raspy yips or quiet hoots.

Long-Eared Owl

Image of a Long-Eared Owl
Habitat: Woodlands across southern Canada. Most active during: Night. Sounds: Evenly spaced hoots, like the sound made by blowing across the top of a bottle.

Northern Saw-Whet Owl

Image of a Northern Saw Whet Owl
Habitat: Mature forests across southern Canada. Most active during: Night. Sounds: Shrill, monotonous toots. Also high-pitched whines, for which the species might be named; apparently someone thought it sounded like the whetting of a saw.

Finding owls

Here are a few other clues you can look for:
  • Other birds making noise and mobbing the owl;
  • Pellets (regurgitated clumps of indigestible food) and white poop stains around the bases of tree trunks;
  • A habitat that matches your target species’ requirements. Does it need a perch with a view? Open space for hunting? Dense forest for shelter?

Respecting owls

Visiting owls is exciting, but it’s important to be a polite guest. To protect the owls’ well being, please do not:
  1. Get too close. If an owl is staring at you, elongating its body or flying away, it needs more space.
  2. Lure owls closer with food. This can encourage dangerous habits.
  3. Be noisy. Staying quiet will also increase your chances of seeing an owl.
  4. Play owl recordings. It is stressful for an owl to respond to ‘false alarms,’ thinking another bird is nearby.
  5. Tell all your friends. Too much human traffic would be disturbing.

And just ‘who’ is this?

And just ‘who’ is this?

[caption id="attachment_23299" align="alignleft" width="150"]Valerie Assinewe, Guest Blogger Valerie Assinewe,
Guest Blogger[/caption] The Long-Eared Owl is this month's calendar photo! This owl is generally a medium-sized bird, who is approximately 38 cm in length with a 91 cm wingspread. Many people do not know that much about this bird, so outlined below is all the basics about the bird, plus some cool facts so check them out!

Distinguishing Features

    • Ear-tufts are prominent at the centre of its head and mainly blackish-brown with tawny edges.
Photo of a Long eared Owl
  • Tawny-orange facial disk with blackish rim.
  • Yellow-orange eyes.
  • A white “X” across the face.
  • The cere is brown.
  • They have a grey-black beak.
  • Plumage is brown and buff with heavy mottling and barring over most of the body.

Where do they live?

The Long-Eared Owl is found throughout temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. In Canada, you are likely to see this owl living in open woodland in the more southern regions. This bird prefers to nest and roost in dense coniferous thickets or trees with nearby open areas that they would use for hunting.

What does it eat?

These owls primarily eat small rodents, with voles being a favourite. As well, they eat small birds, lizards, frogs, snakes and bats!

Hunting Adaptation

Long-Eared Owls are stealth nocturnal hunters made possible by the following adaptations:
    • Silent hunting made possible by flight feathers with fringed edges and downy surfaces that mute the sound of its passage through air.
    • Large, rounded wings allow buoyant and effortless flying without too much flapping and loss of energy. This means they glide easily and fly slowly for long periods while hunting ground-dwelling prey.
    • A highly developed auditory system, asymmetrically placed ear openings (ears are on the side, behind the eyes), and large, sound-catching facial disk make for precision night hunting.
    • The position of the eyes gives the owl its “wise” appearance but more importantly for its hunting lifestyle binocular vision.
Image view of a Long eared Owl
  • In order to improve efficiency in low light the owl’s eye tubes, not balls, have large cornea, pupil and retina. The retina has more of the light-sensitive (rod) than the colour-sensitive (cone) cells.

What you may not have known. . .

  • Females Long-Eared Owls are actually larger than the males.
  • Plumage colouration provides excellent camouflage when roosting in dense foliage.
  • They swallow their prey whole and then regurgitate the indigestible parts in pellets, and this usually happens once per day.
  • They do not build their own nests but appropriate stick nests built in trees by crows and magpies.
Email Signup

Want to Help?

Canada’s wilderness is the world’s envy. It’s our duty to keep our true north strong and green.