Feb 242014

Owls have been in the spotlight recently, from the DC to the Colbert Report. They are incredible and elusive creatures. Here are some ways you can experience and learn about owls first-hand this winter.

photographed in Utah by Photo Contest entrant Jay Warburton.

Go on an owl walk, or “owling.”

Winter is actually a great time to search for owls (as long as it’s not too cold). Most trees are without leaves, which makes it easier to see an owl’s silhouette. Dawn and dusk are good times to go, since there is a bit of light and the owls are more active (depending on the species and location).

Elaine Turner, a National Wildlife Federation Photo Contest entrant, saw this at sunset in her front yard.

Learn common owl calls.

Even if you can’t see an owl, chances are you’ll hear them. Try to learn the different calls of North American owls and match them to the ones you hear.

Build an owl nesting box.

Welcome owls to your backyard with a nest box. Many owl species need to find a suitable nesting cavity in order to survive in an area. To make the nesting box safer and more suitable for owls, consider the following (adapted from our owl activity guide).

  • Wood is the best building material. Avoid using metal as it gets too hot when exposed to the sun.
  • Find out which owls live in your area and build the appropriate box.
  • Pay special attention to the size & height of the entrance hole, drainage for the bottom of the box, and ventilation.
  • Place the box where there is no danger of cats or other predators, and consider a tin guard for extra protection.
  • Don’t disturb the nest while the birds are in it.
  • Clean it out annually, when the birds are no longer occupying the box.
  • Provide a layer of nesting material (wood shavings, for example).
  • Make sure the box is at least 10 feet off the ground — 15-30 feet is ideal.
  • Attach the box to a tree, building or post.

National Wildlife Federation Photo Contest entrant, Paul Bennett, put up a screech owl nest box on a pine tree just outside his bathroom window. These are a few of the visitors.

National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant, Paul Bennett, put up a screech owl nest box on a pine tree just outside his bathroom window. These are a few of the visitors.

Visit a local nature or wildlife rehabilitation center.

Many wildlife rehabilitation centers have educational birds that were rescued, but wouldn’t survive in the wild. Resident educational birds are a fantastic way to experience owls up-close. I met Hazel at the Audubon Wildlife Care Center in Portland. I was also lucky enough to watch Julio (a female great horned owl) hoot! Nature centers often offer guided owl hikes or similar programs, browse some of your local nature sites to learn more.

Hazel was found on the ground, starving in Oregon in 2004. She never regained the ability to fly and now serves as an educational bird. (Photo by Dani Tinker)

Hazel is a that was found on the ground, starving in Oregon in 2004. She never regained the ability to fly and now serves as an educational bird. Photo by Dani Tinker.

Read a book or watch a movie.

The snowy owl buzz has thrown Hedwig into the spotlight for Harry Potter fans, but there are other owl characters to enjoy. Who could forget Owl from Winnie the Pooh? And the movie Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is a filled with owls. Check out this list of other fictional owl characters to enjoy when it’s cold and you’d rather curl up with a book or movie.

Snowy owl, like Hedwig, from National Wildlife Federation Photo Contest entrant Kim Leblanc.

Snowy owl, like Hedwig, from National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Kim Leblanc.

Watch a live owl cam.

I’ve been watching this live feed of burrowing owls in Florida. There are great horned owl cams from both the International Owl Center and Explore, as well as countless other live feeds. You can even set up a camera on your own owl box.

Burrowing owls by Milos Tomajko.

These young burrowing owls are very entertaining to watch, according to National Wildlife Photo Contest entrant Milos Tomajko. They come out of their nest and spend a lot of time stretching and yawning.

This article was written by Dani Tinker for NWF.org

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Noushka Wildlife

Great stuff, thanks for sharing this with us!

Karla Bloem

Another thing you can do is go to the International Festival of Owls in Minnesota March 7-9 to learn about owls from international experts, go on an owl prowl, make an owl nest box, dissect an owl pellet, and more.

Susan Lee

Thank you for this fine article! Owls hunting the destructive tree rats threatening Florida's citrus groves are one of the few but most needed predators of the tree rats.

Chepu-Adventures Chiloe

Wnderful tips, thank you very much !!

Terence Hale

How to Enjoy Owls in Winter (or Anytime). Being British the sound of an Owl was familiar to me. Now in Holland under confinement in different parts I have never heard an Owl.

Manaswinee Mohanty

Loved the article


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