Why Do Owls Hoot At Night?


Owls are often thought of in high regard in literature throughout the years. They are seen as symbols of wisdom and being wise, while other people value them for their hunting prowess and ability to be silent in the darkness of the night.

Many people view owls as having a mystique surrounding them, and for good reason. These nocturnal birds are not often seen or heard, which is why it can be all the more surprising to hear the vocalizations of an owl in the middle of the night. If you find yourself curious about it, you will come to find that there are many reasons owls hoot and holler when the sun goes down.

Are Owls Vocal Birds?

You may not think of such a stealthy hunter as being a vocal animal, and by some regards, the owl is not as vocal as a songbird. However, birds by their nature have a lot to say to each other, and owls are no exception to this.

Owls will usually vocalize themselves to claim territory and warn intruding birds of their trespassing transgressions, and they may hoot in response to seeing a predator in the area. Like many birds, owls will put on a song and dance as a form of courtship and will engage in this when communicating with their partner birds, often turning it into a duet of hooting.

These are just a few common examples of how owls are not exactly quiet birds, even if they do not sing every morning. Of course, the exact number and purpose of vocalizations will depend on the species of owl, as some are more communicative than others, but these vocalizations are fairly standard amongst all birds.

What Kind of Vocalizations Will You Hear From an Owl?

Owls will vocalize themselves for a number of different reasons, and each vocalization will have a different meaning to it, and along with that, there will be a variety of sounds that you hear. With practice, you will be able to identify these common hoots and what they correspond to in an owl’s communication.

There are long, loud, and dramatic hoots that could be thought of as the stereotypical hoot you would hear as an example of an owl’s sound. There are some hoots that will come in a series of short sounds, often with one bird vocalizing and another complementing that vocalization. Some hoots sound much as if the bird is mumbling or gurgling, and these are made from one bird to another.

In some more specific species, hoots will come in set “phrases”. These will be one-phrase, two-phrase, two-note, and three-note vocalizations. Phrases will combine a variety of different hoots, while notes will be a few of the same type of hoot.

Why Do Owls Vocalize at Night?

Some people find themselves wondering why do owls hoot at night, and there is a good answer for this. It is because these birds are entirely nocturnal creatures. They sleep during daylight hours, so it makes sense that you would not hear them communicating with each other in daylight. Some species of owl that stay up toward dawn or rise at dusk may be heard when the sun is still up, but this is less common.

In a bird’s world, they prefer to vocalize shortly after they have gotten up and when they are not hunting. These times will almost always be in the middle of the night, sometimes starting shortly after dark and other times beginning well into the night. There is no reason other than the fact that owls are nocturnal for them to be vocalizing at night.

What Does Each Vocalization Mean?

Just as there are plenty of vocalizations that these birds will make, each one will have a different meaning. While there are some vocalizations that are species-specific, there are others that are more widely found in just about all owl species.

Owls, comparatively speaking, do not vocalize themselves as much as other birds. The most talkative owls have between 10 and 13 separate hoots, compared to the tens and hundreds of chirps that songbirds offer.

For example, the long, loud, and dramatic hoots that you will hear are often made as an act of aggression, telling an intruding creature to back off of the owl’s territory. Duets between two owls, often male and female, are courtship rituals and acts made when paired owls want to communicate with each other. Some hoots are made when a predator is spotted, often to warn a partner owl in the area.

Are There Any Sounds That You Should Be Worried About?

With all of the vocalizations that owls make, there may come a time when the owl is vocalizing directly to you. If you do not know what to listen for, you may find yourself subject to an angry owl attack, which is somewhat common in wooded areas where people intrude on an owl’s territory.

Owls have specific sounds they make when they are warning a creature to back away or are preparing for an attack. These sounds will be similar to a cat’s hiss or the sound of a clicking beak combined with this. These are often warning sounds that an owl will make, letting you know that if you don’t leave, it will be ready to attack you.

How Do You Handle an Angry Owl?

If you are walking in the woods and you begin hearing these sounds, there’s a good chance that you have angered an owl. Because this will likely be at night, you may not know where the owl is and where it may come from. The most important thing to note is that you have something with you to fend yourself from the owl.

The best way to face a situation with an angry, aggressive owl is to simply remove yourself from the situation. If you absolutely must pass through an area with a territorial owl, you will want to arm yourself with an umbrella. Birds, including owls, do not like umbrellas and they find them quite startling, helping to discourage an owl from attacking you.

You may also want to carry a stick with flags on it. Not only will this make you look larger and may dissuade the owl from attacking you, but most owls will attack the tallest part of your body.

When you carry a large stick and hold it above your head, if an owl is going to attack you, it is going to aim for the stick. This will help you get out of any serious injuries and distract the owl while you move to safety.

The Takeaway

Owls, who are often seen as majestic creatures of the night, have just as much to vocalize about as any other bird you would come across in the woods. It just so happens that these birds choose to vocalize at night, and rather than singing a song, choose to vocalize through hooting.

Different tones and types of hoots are common among owls, with some owls having up to 13 different hoots. Each hoot, of course, has its own meaning to it, meaning that while owls are somewhat quiet, they are by no means a silent bird.