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Why Do Owls Hoot? 4 Reasons for This Behavior

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Everyone knows that owls hoot. However, these birds actually don’t hoot that often. For the most part, these birds are quiet. You could live by a forest full of owls and hardly ever hear a single hoot.

However, there are a few reasons that owls will break their usual silence and hoot.

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The Top 4 Reasons Owls Hoot:

1. Claim Territory

Primarily, owls will hoot to claim their territory and scare off invaders. In a way, this is similar to how wolves mark their territory with howling. Most owls have some concept of territory. They will try to defend their hunting territory against invaders.

When an owl hoots, it lets others know where the owl is, which is typically within their territory. This announcement lets other owls avoid them easily, reducing the chance of a fight.

Image Credit: Lilly3012, Pixabay

2. Signal the Presence of Predators

Owls may also hoot at predators. We’re unsure why they do this. They may be warning other owls or simply surprised at the predator. Many owls will leave the area after hooting at a predator. However, others will hang around and continuously yell at them.

3. Mate

Most species of owls hoot when mating. Since owls mate for life in most cases, they will communicate with each other using hoots. Many will also “sing” together to reaffirm their bond and promote closeness.

Therefore, if you hear two owls singing together, they are likely mates.

two owls on a branch
Image Credit: Miroslav Hlavko, Shutterstock

4. Communicate With Other Owls

Typically, owls don’t directly communicate with others unless they are mates. However, owls can tell individuals apart based on their hoots. Stranger owls are met with aggression. If the owls know each other, though, they will be less aggressive.

Therefore, owls may hoot to let other owls know that they aren’t strangers, reducing aggression toward them.

Owls will remain consistent in their vocalizations over time, which allows other owls to recognize them for years. We don’t know how long owls remember others’ vocalizations, but it could theoretically be for their whole lives. Therefore, siblings and parents may recognize each other even after being separated.

Interpreting Owl Hoots

Since owls hoot for only a few reasons, it is often easy to tell their hoots apart. A territorial hoot sounds different from a mating sound, for instance.

That said, most owls have 13 or more sounds that they can make. These will consistently be used in different circumstances. Therefore, with a bit of background knowledge, you can easily tell what an owl is talking about.

For instance, aggressive hoots may be males challenging each other or one letting the other one know that they aren’t happy with their presence. They may also be territorial noises. Usually, these hoots are louder and longer.

Hoots done by mating pairs are much quieter. They usually comprise hooting sounds in a series and occur between two different owls. Females will often hoot first, with the male answering back to her. Usually, these vocalizations are heard more often at the end of the breeding season. In some cases, females may start the duet after the male brings her food, which is often a part of the mating sequence.

When meeting a new owl, an owl may make a crow-like noise. This is often a “greeting” and is used by the owl to figure out who the other owl is. Strangers will be met with more caution than friendly owls.

When Do Owls Hoot?

If you’re interested in hearing an owl hoot, you can significantly improve your chances of hearing their vocalizations.

Owls start hooting before they are even born. When in their egg, owls will hoot softly. After they hatch, the baby owls will make small chirps to call to their mother. These calls will increase when the mother is near with food. However, all these hoots are quite difficult to hear by the average person, as owls tend to nest far away from people.

In most cases, you can hear owls the most during mating season. Males will produce these hoots during their first mating season. However, it will take a bit before they do these hoots correctly. Therefore, they may sound a bit weird at first.

Owls usually hoot the most right after the sun sets. However, they will also hoot throughout the night as necessary. It is difficult to predict because it depends on the owl’s particular situation. Since these owls are nocturnal, you usually cannot hear them during the day. That said, they may be heard early in the morning on cloudy days.

Many species of owls will hoot the most during the new moon, when it is darker. However, other species hoot more when it is bright outside. It can vary from owl to owl and may change with the time of year too.

Watch for Mourning Doves

Mourning Doves sound similar to owls. However, they mostly call during the day. If you hear a hooting sound during the day, it is probably a mourning dove.

Furthermore, this species also has a set hooting sequence. It sounds a bit like, “Hooooo, hoo, hoo, hoo.” Owls will differ their call depending on the situation. Mourning doves also get quieter as the sequence continues, while this isn’t always the case with owls.

Listen to a few videos of doves hooting, and you’ll easily be able to tell them apart from owls.

In Conclusion

Hooting is an owl’s primary way of communicating. However, they are solitary animals, so they don’t hoot all that much.

To hear an owl hooting often means staying outside into the night. Owls are most active right after sunset and during mating season. Some may change their activity level depending on the time of the month.

Related Read: Why Do Birds Sing? Here Are the 7 Reasons

Featured Image Credit: Kevinsphotos, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

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.