With autumn here at last, the weather is growing colder, and the days shorter. Fall isn’t just the season of pumpkin spice-flavored everything, however. It’s also one of the best times to look and listen for nocturnal wildlife. Falling leaves make it easier to spot roosting birds, especially when the now-bare branches are backlit by the setting sun.
Owls in particular are more easily observed at this time of year. This is quite true for Ohio’s largest resident owl, the great horned owl (Bubo virginianus), as this raptor prefers a mixed habitat of forest land and open fields. This time of year also heralds changes in the social dynamics of adult owls and the offspring they have raised over the spring and summer.
Young great horned owls are now self-reliant enough to leave their parents’ territory and strike out on their own. As freshmen in the ‘university of the wild,’ they will continue to sharpen their hunting skills as they range further afield.
Listen for the typical ‘hoo, hoo, hoo, hoooo … hoooo,’ call of the great horned owl. If you’re fortunate to hear two calling to one another, the deeper-pitched hoot will belong to the larger, female owl. At this time of year, young owls may even join their parents in the serenade. Next time you’re on a walk at dusk, take a moment to stop and listen for their hoots.
A good way to observe owls emerging for an evening hunt is to look and listen for songbirds just before sunset. Upon discovering an owl waiting for dusk to fall, blue jays, chickadees and other daytime birds will sometimes gang up on the larger bird. Congregating in the same tree where the owl has roosted during the day, the songbirds will vocalize loudly. This mobbing behavior acts as an alert system to other wildlife in the area, warning of a predator in their midst.
By listening for these alarm calls, it is possible to pinpoint the source of the disturbance, and perhaps catch a glimpse the owl itself.
To learn more about Ohio wildlife, visit the Ohio Department of Natural Resources wildlife page and have fun owl-spotting!
Share your owl-spotting photos with Great Parks on social media with the hashtag #greatparks.
Nature Interpreter, East Region