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Mysterious and ghostly, owls are synonymous with darkness. Rarely seen by day, we so strongly associate them with the evening that the term “night owl” exists to describe people who keep late hours. Seeing this iconic creature is always exciting; sighting them by day is rarer still. When you pair their nocturnal activity and their solitary behavior, it’s easy to understand why owls are seldom observed by birdwatchers. Learn everything you wish to know about this wise old bird, and how it spends its daytime hours, below.
Most owls do lead a fully nocturnal lifestyle. Being able to fly swiftly and silently at night gives them an edge over their prey—mice and other small mammals who are fully alert to the slightest sounds even over great distances.
However, not all species of owl can only be seen in darkness. Certain owls are generally more strictly night owls, such as the Great Horned Owl and the Barn Owl. And several owl species are diurnal, meaning they spend most of their time active during the day and sleeping at night. There are crepuscular owls, which means they come out to hunt at dawn and dusk. When prey is abundant during the daytime or if nighttime prey is scarce, all owls can vary their sleep and waking hours to feed at any hour of the day.
Some owls hunt during the daytime. Owls that are active during daylight hours are called diurnal owls. For example, two owl species that are more active during the daytime are the Northern Hawk Owl and the Northern Pygmy Owl. However, they are not the only owls that you can find out in the open when the sun is up.
As we have seen, owls are typically nocturnal, actively hunting prey during the evening hours. There are a few owl species, however, that are crepuscular. This means that they are at their most active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk. The Pygmy Owl and the Barred Owl are both crepuscular in nature. Many animals prefer to be active during dawn and dusk to avoid competing with similar species. Because of this, the Barred Owl hunts in the hours around sunrise and sunset rather than at night as many other owl species do.
Unlike some other animals, owls don’t always clearly fall into the nocturnal and diurnal categories. Depending on the circumstances, they can be active both during the day and at night. Snowy Owls and Burrowing Owls can often be seen during the day, depending on the season and food supply. This variation in sleep schedule has a lot to do with prey availability. Northern Pygmy Owls, for instance, have a fondness for songbirds that are active during the day.
Owls rest at a place called a roost after spending the day or night hunting. Most owls roost alone. In the breeding season, a mated pair will stay close to each other and to their nest. There are a few species of owl that roost communally, sharing a roosting area with other members of the same species.
Sharing a roost may provide benefits to owls in one or more ways, although their exact benefits are unclear. For example, the owls might take turns watching for predators. They might also huddle together for warmth. In the breeding season, shared roosts might make it easier for owls to find mates. They may even share information about good hunting spots. Typically, owl roosts are located near good hunting grounds, so that when the owls leave or return to the roost, they’re able to search for prey.
Owls are most likely to be seen at dawn or dusk when they are most active and easier to see. You can also spot owls more easily during the full moon, since the moonlight is brighter. Being in the right place at the right time is key to your success. However, patience, persistence, and commitment will also pay off.
The first thing you should do if you discover an owl is to remain calm and move slowly. Slowly sink into the ground so that you appear to be less threatening. Once the owl has no longer felt threatened, you may have the opportunity to watch it relax. You’ll know if you are too close to the owl. It will begin to fidget and elongate its body—which is a sign of alarm. If this happens, back away quietly and slowly, keeping yourself low to the ground.
Featured Image Credit By LoneWombatMedia, Pixabay
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Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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