How to Speak With an Owl

Eastern Screech Owl

Owls hoot to attract mates, establish their home territory and scare off other owls. Although most owls are nocturnal, some are active at dawn and dusk, and a few species are even awake during the day. You can encourage owls to hoot to you, and even learn to hold a "conversation" with these birds.

Research the kinds of owls that live in your area. Stand outside and listen carefully for the sounds of their calls. Though many owls "hoot," others make hissing sounds and may sound like dogs barking, cats meowing or horses neighing (see Resources below).

When you hear the sound of an owl, wait a moment, then call back. Imitate the sound, tone, pitch and volume of the bird's call as closely as you can.

Wait to see if the owl will respond; it may take a moment. When the bird hoots back to you, return its call. Take your time before responding, because that is what owls do.

Continue the "conversation" with the bird. Be sure to match the sound of its call as closely as you can. To investigate who is calling back to it, the owl may come closer and its call may become louder.

Listen to see if any other birds join in. Sometimes another owl will begin to call when it hears others hooting. If you hear a new call, begin another owl "conversation."

  • Avoid "hooting" before you hear an owl call. Imitate the call as closely as you can, or you might scare away the bird.
  • Speak to owls during the fall or spring when they are establishing territory and looking for mates and are more active in hooting. If you follow the sound of the bird's call with your eyes, sometimes you can spot the owl.

A former newspaper columnist and college writing instructor, Cameron Banks is the award-winning author of numerous non-fiction books for adults and young people, web and print feature articles, and essays. Banks attended Northwestern University and lives with her family in southern California.