Have you ever thought you heard an owl hooting during the daytime? Or perhaps you’ve heard high-pitched bird calls at night and simply assumed an owl was making them, even if the sounds didn’t have the classic “hoot-hoot” rhythm. In this article, we’re going to talk about some of the birds that sound like owls – turns out, there are more of them than you might expect.
What You'll Learn Today
1. Mourning Dove
Audubon has this helpful article containing sound clips of the mourning dove’s call along with that of several owls. As you can tell, different owls have different sounds they make, but all are relatively high-pitched and have multiple syllables.
This is probably why the mourning dove is so frequently mistaken for an owl, even though it is most active during the day and owls are more active at night.
Though mourning doves aren’t nocturnal, they do occasionally sing after dark or before sunrise, leading to even more confusion.
The mourning dove makes a haunting, melodic “hooooo-hoo-hoo-hoo” sound. This call is highly distinctive once you learn to recognize it and tell it apart from the calls of owls, which tend to be more of an abrupt “hoot-hoot-hoot” sound.
2. Other Doves
Many types of doves produce a lilting, cooing sort of sound that people often confuse with the hooting of an owl.
Again, most doves are more active in the day, while owls are more likely to be heard at night. That said, it isn’t uncommon to hear doves singing after dark, so it’s not always possible to tell dove and owl calls apart simply by the time of day.
Doves are generally more common in populated areas; owls often live further away from humans, so they are not as commonly heard as doves.
If you hear a bird call that sounds similar to that of an owl, see if you can identify the bird making the sound. Depending on where you live, you’ll find that the sound is most often produced by a much smaller songbird and not necessarily an owl.
Whip-poor-wills are very commonly confused for owls because of the high-pitched trilling sound they make. Have a listen in the video below:
Whip-poor-wills are nocturnal birds so, like owls, they are almost exclusively heard at night. They don’t often live very close to human populations, but you might hear them if you are out for a night hike or camping in the woods.
The main difference between the whip-poor-will’s song and the owl’s is that a whip-poor-will makes a more high-pitched, warbly type of sound that is usually sustained for two seconds or more. An owl’s call is more punchy, consisting of several short bursts of sound.
4. Western Nightjar
The western nightjar is another bird that can be heard at night. It makes a high croaking sort of noise that is more likely to be confused with that of a frog, as you can hear in the video below:
Nightjars are sometimes confused with owls simply because they can be heard calling to each other at night; the sounds they make are generally quite different. Still, to the untrained ear, it is possible that the high-pitched croaking noise could be mistaken for the calls of certain types of owls.
5. Steller’s Jay
Steller’s jays are smart birds. They can produce a number of different sounds because they can mimic a variety of birds, including owls.
Check out this video of a single steller’s jay producing several different sounds within a short period of time:
Steller’s jays can be heard both night and day. They frequently mimic owls, especially barn owls, at night for their own protection.
By mimicking an owl’s call, they can prompt owls to respond to them, alerting the jays to the owl’s location. Owls frequently hunt jays, so knowing where the owls are is the first step to avoiding them.
Certain types of pigeons sound similar to owls. This is especially true of the rock pigeon and banded-tail pigeons.
Both of these pigeons will make gentle “hoo-hoo” type sounds in the late evening or early morning, as they are nesting down for the night or first waking up in the morning. They will also make other sounds, such as clicking and cooing, that can be mistaken for owl sounds.
Check out this video to hear what a rock pigeon sounds like:
7. Common Nighthawk
Nighthawks can be heard especially at dusk and dawn, and because of this, they are often confused for owls.
Check out this video to hear what a common nighthawk sounds like:
As you can tell from the video, nighthawks don’t sound a whole lot like most owls; they produce a more high-pitched, screeching sort of sound.
8. Wilson’s Snipe
The Wilson’s snipe is a long-billed bird that tends to live in coastal areas and near bodies of water. It produces a high-pitched chirping noise that is sometimes confused with the sound some owls, such as the screech owl, make.
Have a listen below:
Again, the sound is quite distinctive from that produced by owls once you know what to listen for. Still, when you hear this bird calling out near dusk or dawn, it isn’t hard to imagine why you might confuse it with an owl’s call.
The chuck-will’s-widow is another type of bird commonly heard at night. Its mating call, in particular, is often mistaken for an owl’s call.
Have a listen below:
The call is more high-pitched than that of most owls, but it follows a distinctive rhythm that makes it easy to confuse.
10. Tawny Frogmouth
The tawny frogmouth is an Australian bird that is most active at night. It can produce a variety of sounds, but the call it is most known for sounds strikingly similar to that of an owl, as you can hear in the below video:
The sound is a low-pitched “hoot-hoot-hoot” noise that has a steady, consistent beat. It is easy to see why this last bird on this list is commonly confused for an owl in the land down under.
As you can see from this article, there are many types of birds that sound very much like owls, or at least similar to them. Some of these birds actually produce sounds similar to the calls of owls, while others are most active at night, which can lead to confusion even if they don’t sound a whole lot like owls.