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How to find owls - What is owling?

Owls are a charismatic group of bird species that are appreciated by birdwatchers and wildlife lovers around the world. However, their secretive nature can make them difficult to find!

An Eastern Screech-Owl sits in the brush
Owling trips can produce great, natural views of owls like this Eastern Screech-Owl.

Finding and watching owls can be a rewarding experience. Watching owls with a group of fellow owl enthusiasts can be even more enjoyable. Learn more about going owling and finding owls!


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What is owling?

Owling is typically a gathering of birders in pursuit of a particular species of owl or owls. Owling is a favorite activity amongst groups of birdwatchers like Audubon chapters or ornithological societies, though they may refer to it also as an "owl prowl." For this adventure, the group of owlers usually gathers before dusk and departs for proper habitat(s) with a plan to find the target owls. Some owling groups will attempt to listen for owls during the peaks of the breeding season, while other birdwatching groups may use playback to elicit the songs of the owls.


Be careful not to disturb or harm owls when attempting to view or lure them using audio. Owling ethics can be seen below.

 

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View owls and their nests from a safe distance for you AND the owls!

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How to find owls

In order to find a target species of owl, the searcher must become familiar with its range, habitat, and annual cycle. For example, when looking for a Flammulated Owl, a searcher should focus their efforts in western North America, in mature montane habitat, especially mature ponderosa or aspen stands. However, Flammulated Owls are only likely to be found during the summer throughout the Mountain West.


The behavior of a species will also be a key to finding the target owl. Returning to the example of the Flammulated Owl, the behavior of nesting and roosting in cavities created by flickers and sapsuckers is evident. Additionally, this species is highly nocturnal, meaning it is unlikely to be seen during the day. However, when searching for a species like the Short-eared Owl, an owling crew would be better served searching grasslands and shrublands at dawn or dusk.


Knowing the ins and outs of a target species is critical to finding owls. Without knowledge of the natural history of a species, an owling excursion is much less likely to be successful.


 

A great way to learn more about owls is a proper field guide! The best owl field guide available is the