It’s 11 pm, and you’re all snuggled in bed ready to fall asleep.
For a while, all you hear is silence. Until… “Hoot hoot.” This noisy call might be coming from one likely source: an owl.
But Why do owls hoot at night? They hoot at night because they are:
- Protecting their territory from other Owls. Screeching or low barking because they feel threatened or need to protect their territory
- Hooting to attract a mate and begin setting up their territory
They choose nighttime as their designated hoot time because most owls, not all, are nocturnal animals.
Most of them hunt and set up territory in the nighttime. This is because their senses are strong enough to live at night. It’s also easier for them to hunt nocturnal prey and avoid most of their predators.
Let’s learn more about the specific noises owls make and what else they’re up to while awake and active at night.
The Different Noises Owls Make
Even though owls make a lot of random noises, the reasons they’re being emitted aren’t random.
Owls are always hooting for a specific intention. So, if you listen closely, you’ll hear the variations and differences in each hoot.
Here are a few different sounds an owl makes and what they’re trying to communicate with each noise.
Territorial behavior is one of the most common reasons owls hoot.
Here’s an example of a great horned owl giving a classic territorial call.
A lot of owls hoot like this to send a message to other owls letting them know the territory they’ve just found is officially claimed.
There’s a lot of variation in the specific calls between species, but often when you hear owls hooting at night this is what they’re doing.
Owls don’t make their own nests, so they instead find nests that have already been made, normally by birds, and make it their new home.
Once they’ve done that, they’ll start hooting to make everyone aware of this new home and that others, especially males, need to stay away.
These calls also help to attract females at the start of their courtship season.
Attacking a Predator (Defence Calls)
Although it’s somewhat rare in certain places, owls will sometimes hoot when faced with a predator.
The owl might begin to attack or let out a loud screeching or shrieking sound until the attacker has either given up and left the owl nest or has been defeated in the fight with the owl.
This would be more common in places where you have overlapping raptor habitats, like a small Owl nesting close to a large owl.
Feeling Surprised or Threatened
If an owl spots something, or someone, out of the ordinary and thinks it may possibly be threatening them or their claimed territory, some owls will start to let out a lower pitched barking noise.
Is that a dog outside? It could be… or it might be an owl!
If an owl is surprised or feeling threatened, it will sometimes make less intense types of calls in order to scare off any threatening being that may be lurking nearby.
It’s a less intense situation than an actual predator attack, but this could definitely provoke an owl to vocalize at night.
Barking isn’t the only similarity owls share with dogs, they’ve also been known to growl at predators when feeling threatened.
When this noise comes deep out of their throat it might sound short and lower-pitched than a lot of other sounds they make.
Sometimes when they see a threat while protecting their nest, you can hear a snarl come out that doesn’t stop until the predator finally goes away.
This might also be accompanied by beak snapping to make a loud clicking sound.
Owl noises are of course made to keep things out of their home territory, but they’re also made to attract others into their territory as well.
Male owls will make sure to keep other males out of their nest and away from them entirely so they don’t have any competition standing in the way.
Some owls start to give off a deep hoot around dusk and wait for a female to return a similar but somewhat higher pitched hoot back at him.
Here’s a couple of Barred owls hooting back and forth. The female has a slightly higher voice and an audible tremolo sound, while the male is a bit lower and smoother.
Screaming & Screeching
Similar to the hoots exchanged back and forth, some owls will communicate with a potential mate by screeching or screaming at them.
Ever heard a noise coming from outside at nighttime that sounds like a woman screaming? It could be an owl calling out!
Here’s an example of an Eastern Screech Owl calling up a storm.
Different Mating and Territorial Seasons
As we’ve just discussed, a big reason why owls like to hoot at each other is to find a mate and eventually begin breeding and starting a family.
Some owls, especially Great Horned Owls, believe in staying with one partner for life and have a set schedule for when they decide to find their mate and begin laying their eggs.
Each season, a new process begins in the territorial and mating cycle.
This is where scoping out for a mate begins. The male owl has claimed its territory in a new home and has begun letting out hoots to attract a female to its nest.
Usually, the male stays in its one designated spot and lets the female come to him. This will begin in the fall, normally around October.
They will hoot at each other a few nights in a row and then will get ready for the upcoming nesting season.
By January, the hoots may still be continuing as owls try to find their mates. Then they will start to breed their babies and will hopefully begin incubating and laying their eggs in February or sometimes March.
Many people find nesting this early to be uncommon and out of the ordinary.
They would be right about this observation, as most birds try to nest when it’s warmer out so they’re eggs stay away from cool temperatures and are able to hatch fairly easily.
Since owls are a bit larger than most creatures though, they take longer to grow up and learn how to hunt and survive.
This is why owls need plenty of time to teach their young so the babies can be hatched in the spring and then have this time to train and prepare themselves for survival and hunting.
It also perfectly times the Owl juvenile phase with the spring flush of baby birds & spring vole populations so there’s plenty of easy food to catch & eat while the young are growing.
The eggs will begin hatching around this time. The mother will begin to get heftier and start growing into breeding condition.
She will stay at the nest while she rests and the male goes out at night to find food and bring it back to her in their home.
Most owls begin seeing the first egg hatch usually around the month of May. The will lay approximately four to six eggs.
Unfortunately, most owls will only see about four of their eggs actually hatch and the others don’t usually survive.
The mother lays on her eggs for around a month and the eggs will begin to hatch every two to three days.
It can sometimes take two to three weeks for all of the eggs to eventually hatch.
Once the baby owls are hatched, they will find themselves naked without fur.
The female will continue to brood and protect the babies until their feathers have grown a little thicker in a few weeks.
They will feed their babies the food the male has provided by tearing it up into little, chewable pieces for them to easily chew and digest.
By the time the babies are five weeks old, they’re ready to run around and pounce on different objects.
They’re also able to move their heads around more and more. They finally have grown more fur so the mother is able to join their father on nightly hunts instead of staying home to warm and protect the babies.
From weeks 8 to 10, the baby owls have learned how to fly and have become masters by the final week. After this tenth week, they begin learning how to hunt instinctively and start catching prey on their own.
On week 13 or 14 the owls have learned how to live on their own.
This is when they begin to fly from the nest to begin finding their own territory and starting their own new home, although many of them will still be easily identified as Juveniles long into summer.
This years juveniles may have dramatically different vocalizations than the adults even during late summer.
Are There Any Daytime Owls?
Most owls are known to be primarily nocturnal, but there are others that will hunt only at night and others that are active both during the day and night.
Some tend to crave prey that can only be found when the sun is up, so that’s when they decide to hold their hunting hours.
Below are a few types of popular nocturnal and diurnal (awake and active during the day) owls.
|Species||Location||Nocturnal or Diurnal|
|Eastern Screech Owl||Eastern to Midwestern U.S.||Nocturnal|
|Western Screech Owl||Southeast Alaska to Arizona Desert||Nocturnal, but sometimes active on cloudy days|
|Barn Owl||The U.S., Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa||Both nocturnal and active during sunrise and sunset|
|Great Horned Owl||From Alaska to Argentina||Nocturnal, but sometimes hunt during the day in winter|
|Burrowing Owl||Southern U.S. Border and Mexico||Diurnal|
|Snowy Owl||Alaska, Northern Canada, Eurasia||Diurnal|
|Barred Owl||North America||Active both at night and during the day|
Why Are Owls Hooting So Much at Night?
Lots of noise will be heard at night if your home is located close to any nocturnal owls.
We covered territory, courtship, predator defence, and even some variations between different types of Owls.
Sometimes, you’ll hear the sound of screeching or shrieking owls fighting to protect their home or territory from possible predators.
Other times, if you take a second to pause and lend your ear, you’ll most likely hear the sounds of owls hooting and mingling back and forth as they get to know each other to eventually begin their lives together as they mate and start their own family.
By taking the time to listen and get to know the different owl hoots, you can soon become an expert by knowing exactly what kind of noise is being made and “hoo” it belongs to.