Why Do Owls Hoot? (Everything You Need to Know)

Tori Rhodes
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What does it mean when you hear an owl hoot?

The best ways to learn about owl species and their habitats, behavior, and vocalizations is to listen to them.

Owls are the nocturnal birds from the order Strigiformes and they are famous for their forward facing eyes, wide-set on each side of their head. With their large eyes, owls are very good at nocturnal hunting, and can locate prey in the complete darkness of night.

They live on all continents except Antarctica, and, as one might expect, they are very well adapted for the dark. Most owls have calls or songs that includes hooting.

Owls are remarkable for their keen eyesight, even in low light. Not only is their vision a hundred times more sensitive to light than ours, a human owl can pick up the tiny heat signature of a mouse's body from a block away!

Some owls have ear tufts that help them detect the location of their prey in their surroundings. Ear tufts are prominent feathers on the top of the head of some owl species.

One well-known owl with ear tufts is the barred owl. Ear tufts do not point up or down, but rather they are symmetrically positioned on the sides of the head. This helps them pinpoint the source of the sounds they hear around them even when the light conditions are not ideal.

How to differentiate owl hoots?

Depending on the species of owls, the hoot sound can vary. The most popular species–the great horned owl–has a distinct call, especially when it sees a rival. The great horned owl hoots in series depending on whether they have seen a rival or are defending their territory.

Other examples of owl hoots include barred, saw-whet, pygmy, and Northern hawk-owls. The variety of owls that are in existence are the following:

  • Boreal
  • Eurasian eagle owl
  • Great horned
  • Burrowing
  • Spotted
  • Great grey
  • Eastern screech
  • Grey
  • Snowy
  • Burrowing
  • Spotted
  • Long-eared
  • Eurasian eagle
  • Northern hawk-Owl
  • Western screech-owl
  • Pygmy
  • Western Screech

Though most owl species have their own unique hooting call, there are owl species who look for the lack of hooting call to identify prey–the great grey owl.

When it’s most likely to hear owls hooting?

Most species of owls that we know today utter their calls at night. Their call is considered one of the most distinctive sounds of the night.

Depending on the species, an owl’s call can often be described as mournful, eerie, or ethereal. The most common calls are described as “who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all,” and “whoo‌ whoo, whoo-whoo-whoo-whoo.”

The actual reason why owls hoot is not fully understood until today. But there are plenty of theories that try to answer the “who-cooks-for-you,” and “whoo‌ whoo, whoo-whoo-whoo-whoo” questions.

The different types of hoots owls make

Owls hoot and make different types of hoots. First, let’s take a look at what happens when owls hoot.

When owls fly, they make sound and also use it for communication purposes. Owls are known for their ability to emit sounds that are louder than their body size.

What is interesting is that owls hoots also vary depending on the sex, the age of the birds, and the region they are found.

So, researchers studying the hoots of owls report that they have identified different hoots as well. The hoots are named according to the bird emitting it, such as a long-eared owls hoot or a barred owl hoot.

Most owls make soft hoots (or calls) when communicating with cloaking mates or when looking for food. As you can see, the sound type varies; you have the “hoo” and “who” sound.

When birds make this sound, they often flick their wings as well. So, you can identify the birds from the way they sound.

Make sure it wasn’t a dove!

Owls are well known for their hooting call. So much so that people sometimes think, mistakenly so, that they are seeing a ghost.

But owls are not the only ones who hoot. In fact, if you grow up in an area where you hear a lot of owls, you are likely to think that all owl sounds are hoots.

But it’s not always so.

There are a bunch of native birds that hoot just like the way an owl would and that’s what most people hear at night.

You can tell a dove’s call from an owl’s because doves make a softer, higher pitched sound than the more gravelly sound you hear from an owl.

Knowing the sound of a dove call will help you determine what sound you’re hearing at night.