Monday, January 30, 2012

Who Hoots for You?

A barred owl in winter
What's that sound coming from your moonlit backyard on these winter nights? This time of year, normally-elusive owls are making themselves known as they try to attract a mate in time for their winter nesting season. Unlike many birds, who breed in the spring and summer, owls (along with animals like wolves, beavers, lynx and squirrels) are looking for love during these long, cold nights - accompanied by hoots and howls galore. Many owls begin their courtships in late January, and if you listen carefully after sundown, you might hear their mating calls from a nearby tree or telephone pole.

Five owl species regularly breed in Wisconsin, and a few others have been spotted around the state, yet their nocturnal habits, sparse distributions, and early (and chilly!) nesting periods combine to make sightings awfully scanty. From screech owls to the great horned owl, now is the time to hear or spot these cloaked crooners.

One common owl that has been making quite a racket around town is the barred owl. Learn about these raucous raptors and their jumble of cackles, hoots, caws, and gurgles - especially their distinctive "who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all" hooting. See one in action and listen to their calls. Sound familiar?
This snowy owl was spotted in Racine, WI on Dec 22, 2011.
Gregory Shaver  /  The Racine Journal Times via AP

Snowy owls, which are rarely seen south of Canada, have been reported across the northern U.S. this winter, likely being driven further south due to food scarcity in their native Arctic tundra habitat. Keep your eyes and ears out - several have been reported around the area, and a snowy owl with an injured wing was rescued from a barn near Monroe and is being nursed back to health at the Dane County Human Society. [Update: Check out this cool interactive map showing snowy owl sitings around Wisconsin!]

Pass the time until nightfall with these fun links, events and activities:

Have a hoot out there, and let us know if you hear or spot anything!


    1. I love winter for this reason! My wife and I are avid Birders. I've spotted multiple Barred owl couples with my Bresser range finders during the day and my Thermal Imaging Camera at night. They are such amazing birds. The raw power and hunting prowess they posses is just an awesome thing to witness firsthand.

    2. How cool! Sounds like fun, thanks for sharing :)