If you’ve ever been near an owl at dusk, you’ve probably heard the creature’s haunting, melodic hoots filling the air. Owls can produce a variety of sounds when they hoot, and every species hoots slightly differently from all the others. So, what does it mean when an owl hoots? Are there any other animals that produce similar sounds? Keep reading for answers to these questions and more!
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What Does it Mean if You Hear an Owl Hoot?
These classic owl call patterns are widely familiar. But what do they mean?
Hearing an owl call used to be considered bad luck, as there was a lot of superstition surrounding owls and their haunting melodies. These days, hearing owls hooting is sometimes considered good luck, but in reality, an owl’s hoot has little to do with any humans who may hear the sound.
Scientists have discovered that an owl’s hoot can mean many different things. Some of the most common reasons owls hoot include:
- They are calling a mate: owls hoot to potential mates as well as current mates. Part of their courtship ritual involves the male and female hooting gentle duets with each other.
- They are communicating with other owls: Owls frequently hoot to communicate messages to other owls, not just their mates. Different hoots can be used to “chat” with neighboring owls, convey information about predators in the area, and warn rivals encroaching on an owl’s territory to back off.
- They are claiming territory: Owls are territorial birds, and they may hoot when they are claiming new territory. They do this as an announcement to anyone in the area that they have claimed a particular spot.
- They hoot to greet each other: when a new owl arrives in an area, it may be greeted by other eagles with a short “inspection call,” which is a form of a greeting.
Owls use different sound patterns in different scenarios. For example, an owl hooting to protect territory will sound much different than the same owl hooting a duet with a mate.
Why Do Owls Hoot in Winter?
Owls do the most hooting during breeding season when they are looking for new mates and interacting with existing mates. They communicate with mates and potential mates more than they do other owls.
Late winter is the beginning of the breeding season for owls. If you hear them hooting during the winter, it is likely because they are looking for a mate, communicating with their mate, or talking to other owls.
Regardless of the time of year, owls usually hoot at night because most of them are nocturnal. They can typically be heard at dusk and just after sunset, as well as right before sunrise.
Sometimes owls hoot more or less based on moon phases. They usually hoot the most when there is a new moon and the night is darkest, but some species are most active when there is a full moon instead.
What Owl Makes a Single Hoot?
Every species of owl produces a slightly different hoot from all the others; some are so vastly different that you wouldn’t even recognize them as sounds made by an owl. Most hoots involve multiple hooting sounds, or syllables, issued in short succession; with that in mind, perhaps you’re wondering if there are any owls that let out one single hoot each time they call?
The eastern screech owl has a distinctive hoot that could be heard as one syllable. The hoot is long, lasting for several seconds, high-pitched, and warbly.
According to Audubon, the eastern screech owl’s hoot gives the impression of “a horse on helium.”
Check out the following video to hear what an eastern screech owl sounds like.
What Other Animals Sound Like an Owl?
You would think an owl’s hoot is pretty recognizable and hard to confuse with other animal sounds; but did you know there are several animals that make similar noises?
An owl’s hoot can easily be confused with the songs of other birds such as doves, pigeons, and cuckoos. Sometimes it may even be confused with a coyote’s cry.
Mourning doves tend to sound the most similar to owls, though experienced listeners will hear a definite difference. The mourning dove’s coo is generally soft and lilting, and it usually has between 3 and 5 syllables.
Cuckoos also sound similar to owls, but rather than the owl’s typical “hoo-hoo,” the cuckoo’s call is a definitive and accented COO-coo.
Some people also mistake the calls of coyotes with that of owls. The timbre of their calls are similar, and they can both make a variety of sounds that are not highly distinctive and, thus, can be easily confused.
When you hear an owl hooting, there’s a good chance it is communicating with its mate. Owls may also hoot to communicate with other owls and claim territory. Looking for more owl info? Here is our guide to making an owl nesting box.