BIRD WATCH: Owls having a hoot


It isn’t only the attention they get from the Halloween fun.

This is a time of the year when owls are noticeably active.

They are establishing their winter territories.

That involves some interesting vocalizing on their part.

Everyone knows that owls “hoot.” They also “hiss,” “bark,” “screech,” “whistle,” “whinny,” and “scream.” Their calls include phrases like, “too-too-too-too-too-took-took-took,” or, “quick-quick-quick,”and, “ki-ki-ki!” There are more.

Owls are a perfect Halloween symbol.

Most are creatures of the night and naturally spooky. Imagine if one of their calls was heard in your yard in the dead of night.

This is when they are the most vocal. They are nocturnal by nature, but some are diurnal and active both night and day — when there is still some daylight left or shortly before daybreak.

The forests of fir, hemlock and spruce trees that make us the Evergreen State are home to several species of owls.

They also frequent neighborhoods bordering on green belts.

During migration, they show up in a variety of places. An example of this is the snowy owls that sometimes leave their northern homes and venture southward. Residents of the Arctic tundra, a drop in the food supply plus an increase in their population, can make them leave this habitat and head south in search of food. They are silent at this time and aren’t discovered by their calls. Active during the day, these large white owls don’t go unnoticed when they visit the Northwest.

Throughout the year, on the western side of the state, the owls most commonly seen are the great horned, saw-whet, screech, barred and barn.

They are not as common are the spotted and pygmy owls.

There are other reasons why these creatures of the night have a spooky aura about them. They aren’t afraid of humans; to the point where they can even be intimidating — especially the larger owls like the great horned or the barred.

Spot one in a tree and you can probably watch it for a long time. It isn’t wise to get to close to one of these raptors — especially if you are near a nest or even in a swatch of territory they have claimed.

Owls have been known to attack people.

Owl experts, especially those involved in approved banding operations, are very familiar with hard hats.

Owls don’t just bluff when they make a pass at an intruder. They will make contact with those large, sharp claws.

In more ancient times, getting dive-bombed by an owl was less likely because “getting closer” wasn’t appealing to the superstitious population. Seeing a pair of large, yellow eyes staring at you from a nearby tree, didn’t encourage you to linger around for a better look. Their tendency to sit and stare, as well as screech, hoot and bark could be intimidating.

The fact that most owl activity occurs when it is dark, only emphasized their spookiness.

If they were active and around when darkness shrouded the land, they must be up to no good.

So why not associate them with other creatures that made early populations uncomfortable? People believed in witches, evil spirits and unlucky black cats. Owls must be part of the bad deeds these other wicked creatures encouraged. That made them a natural candidate for Halloween symbols.

Just the same, owls are one of those most exciting and fascinating birds we can encounter.

Seeing one never gets old. Halloween would be a great time for an owl visit, but so is any other time of the year.


Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email:

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