Tag Archives: Snowy Owl

Game Calls: Owls Hoot for Their Teams

In the spirit of Sunday’s big game, we’re taking a wildlife approach to the sport. This post is all about the #SuperbOwls on our roster and the unique calls and hoots they make. Each owl species has its own voice.

Barred Owl

Barred owl at Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts. Photo by Gary Freedman.

Barred owl at Assabet River National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts. Photo by Gary Freedman.

You can recognize a barred owl by its unique series of hoots, or the call it makes. To the untrained ear it may seem like the owl is saying “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” This call is fairly easy to imitate. See if you can imitate the call of the barred owl next time you visit your local wildlife refuge. If you’re lucky, you may see one staring down at you from its perch in the trees.

Audio courtesy of Macaulay Library © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Eastern Screech Owl

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Eastern screech owl at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey. Photo by Jason Milligan.

Eastern screech-owls sing to each other to communicate. Or more accurately they screech to each other. Eastern screech-owls give off an even-pitched trill, called a “bounce song” or tremolo, followed by a shrill whinny sound. Eastern screech-owls use the “bounce song” to keep in touch with family and whinny to defend their territory.

Audio courtesy of Macaulay Library © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Great Horned Owl

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Great horned owl at Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge in New York. Photo by Anthony Graziano.

Great horned owls have a variety of calls including hoots, whistles, barks, shrieks, hisses, coos and cries. Great horned owls mark their territory with deep rhythmic hoots: hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo. Young owls, called fledglings, will scream to their parents to be fed. Sound like anyone you know during football season? It’s all about the snacks!

Audio courtesy of Macaulay Library © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Great Gray Owl

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Great gray owl at Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge in Maine. Photo by Woody Gillies.

Adult great gray owls make a soft double hoot when delivering food to their young. During breeding season (March-July), males and females give a series of low-pitched hoos to each other. Each hoo lasts about 6-8 seconds. The calls of adult males are lower pitched than their female counterparts.

Audio courtesy of Macaulay Library © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Short-Eared Owl

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Short – eared owl at Shawangunk Grasslands National Wildlife Refuge in New York. Photo by Amanda Chanowsky.

Unlike the other #SuperbOwls on this list, short-eared owls are not very vocal. However, they can make a sound or two when they need to. There is a call for courtship and for defense. Male short-eared owls will give off a series of a dozen or so hoots during a courtship flight. Male and female owls may also scream, whine, or bark as a way to defend their nest and young.

Audio courtesy of Macaulay Library © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Snowy Owl

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Snowy owl at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey. Photo by Chris Hendrickson.

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Snowy owl at Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey. Photo by Chris Hendrickson.

Snowy owls are one of the most iconic and recognizable owl species in the Northeast, mainly due to their all-white appearance, which is only seen in the males. This winter, there has been an irruption of snowy owls, with the birds migrating in greater abundance and further south than during a typical migration. Snowy owls make low and slightly rasping hoots, hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo. These powerful hoots can often be heard up to seven miles across the tundra, which is pretty incredible. When in defense mode, snowy owls will often hiss, hoot, whistle or snap their beaks shut to make a clacking sound to scare off predators or to protect their nests.

Audio courtesy of Macaulay Library © Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Now seeing our owl roster do you think it’s safe to say that these owls deserve the title of #SuperbOwl? We sure think they do. Remember that these owls are cheering for their own teams and screaming at their opponents’ right along with you during the game.

Whoooo are you looking at?


Brunswick the snowy owl. Credit: David Tibbetts

Meet Brunswick, the snowy owl! This lovely lady was caught by a group of researchers at the Brunswick Executive Airport in Brunswick, Maine earlier this month. After being fitted with a GPS transmitter, she was released at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge on January 13th. Since that time, she has been happily flying around the town of Wells, Maine.


The release of Brunswick at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: David Tibbetts

Brunswick is a new member of a group of snowy owls that are being tracked by researchers with Project SNOWstorm, a study that is using solar-powered GPS transmitters to record the location and altitude of tagged snowy owls at 30 second intervals, 24 hours a day. This detailed look at the migratory path of individual birds is giving researchers the clearest view of snowy owl behavior to date.


Another snowy owl hanging out at Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Tom Koerner

This project was fueled by the historic snowy owl irruption of 2013-2014. Although snowy owls are generally cold weather birds, occasionally “irruptions” occur, where unusual numbers of snowy owls move south. About once every 40 years or so, an unusually large irruption occurs, where snowy owls come flooding south in large numbers. One of these mega irruptions occurred in 2013-2014, with snowy owls being spotted as far south as Florida and Bermuda!

Researchers with Project SNOWstorm want to know more about snowy owls. They hope that the information they gain through this study will help conservationists to make more informed choices, allowing snowy owls like Brunswick to live long and healthy lives.

If you would like to follow Brunswick’s escapades, check out her interactive migration map!

To learn more about Project SNOWstorm, please visit the Project SNOWstorm website.

To learn more about the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, follow them on Facebook or visit their website.

Friday Flick: An “Irruption” of Snowy Owls

Look out, Northeast — already there have been many more sightings of snowy owls this season, and much further south than expected.

An irruption, in birding, is when a species of bird moves into an area where it doesn’t normally winter. Snowies have been spotted as far south as North Carolina this year, in what’s being considered one of the most dramatic snowy irruptions witnessed in recent years. This wintering season, one was even spotted in Bermuda — certainly a warm weather destination far from the upper latitudes where they typically make their home.

While some species of birds winter in unorthodox areas because of a lack of food in their normal wintering grounds, many believe these snowies are moving south this winter for another reason. It might suggest that prey was abundant this summer in the eastern Arctic, leading to excellent breeding conditions. Some biologists believe that after an initial boom in the lemming population ended, high numbers of these young owls took flight to find resources elsewhere.

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There have been numerous snowy owl sightings at national wildlife refuges. This photo was taken at Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge by Don Freiday.

Snowies like open areas, like shorelines and open fields, and unlike most owls, are diurnal — that is, they’re active both in the day and night. That said, these owls still hunt at night and remain relatively sedentary during daylight. But as awesome (in the original sense of the word) as seeing one of these birds is, take care not to disturb or get to close to them! As a migratory bird, snowies are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. The recent interest in snowy owls is perhaps thanks to the popular “Harry Potter” franchise of books and movies. In the films, the protagonist’s pet owl is played by the male snowy owl Gizmo.

These Arctic nomads are capable of crisscrossing continents in search of abundant prey, sometimes flying more than 600 miles each summer. They can cross oceans or even hunt on of ice flows. So, I hope you have the good fortune to spot a snowy owl this winter. I hope that I will have the good fortune of crossing paths with one in the fields of Massachusetts this holiday season.


Another snowy owl perched in Edwin B. Forysthe National Wildlife Refuge. Photo via Stan Lupo.