They can be found on every continent except Antarctica and there is around 200 species found around the world. We mostly know owls as nocturnal creatures, often hunting and flying at dust or in the dead of night. So it usually feels strange hearing an owl hoot in the daytime.
As a general rule, Owls hoot as a method of communication with specific variations in their call, meaning different things. Their calls include advertising their territory, keeping in contact with one another, defining their territory and warning of nearby predators.
In this article I will share some interesting reasons that I have found for why owls sometimes hoot during the daytime and whether it should be cause for concern.
Not All Owls Are Nocturnal
It’s a rarely known fact, but not all owls are nocturnal. Some are diurnal while others are crepuscular.
Diurnal owls are most active during the day. That’s when they hunt, play, and mate. That’s also when you’re most likely to hear them hoot. Examples of diurnal owls are the Burrowing Owl, Snowy Owl, the Northern Hawk Owl, and the Short-Eared Owl.
Crepuscular owls are most active at dusk and dawn. You can mostly spot them just after the sun is up or just before it gets dark. Examples of a crepuscular owl are the Northern Pygmy Owl and the Eurasian Eagle Owl.
As a general rule, an owls eyes can provide a clue to the bird’s species and the bird’s activities. Crepuscular owls that are known to hunt at dawn or dusk when there are lower light levels, tend to have orange or almost red eyes. Nocturnal owls have either black or dark brown eyes, which is believed to be more of an evolutionary trait rather than providing any distinct advantages to their sight. Diurnal owl species typically have yellow eyes.
Some owl species have yellow eyes, and these tend to be active during the day and sleeping at night with a large reliance on their excellent hearing.
Fun Fact: Owls cannot move their eyes but instead have to move their entire head.
Owls typically start searching for mates in late winter, although this does vary depending on the continent. In the UK, the mating season starts around spring. The males will hoot through the afternoon and evening air, calling out to potential female mates.
The female listens and only responds to males that interest her and will only reply to males of the same species. Once the male hears a female response, he will put on a performance along with bringing food to his mate.
He might prance around and dance. He will likely fluff out his feathers to display their full glory. He might do a sky dance. The sky dance involves some ground stomping accompanied by hooting sounds. This is typically followed by a high-altitude flight with some dazzling, spiralling moves and more hoots to hold the female’s attention. The male will repeat this action until the female joins him or until it’s too dark or too light.
Once the male and female pair up, owls tend to be monogamous and remain together unless one of the pair passes away. During their intimate moments, the partners will preen at each other, which involves lots of cooing. Preening is when owls rub their bills across each other’s face and head. Cooing is the sound the lovers make and most humans will take that for hooting.
When owls spot a predator, they will hoot to scare away the predator and warn others of lurking danger. Some species of owls are known to eat other owl species. For example, Great Horned Owls will attack and feed on Barred Owls, while Barred Owls will attack and eat Western Screech Owls.
Owls are at the top of the food chain and rarely have any other predators except other owl species. However, injured owls, owl eggs, and baby owls (also known as owlets) can be susceptible to some predators.
The Owls natural predators include foxes and crows. So the next time you hear an owl hoot during the daytime, it probably spotted one of these predators approaching their nest.
When two mating partners find each other, it’s time to look for a home together. The male will usually find a territory and claim it. He will then coo and hoot to alert the female. The female will arrive, inspect the territory, and then pick the actual nesting area.
While owls are highly talented hunters, they are very poor nest builders. As a result, many owl species will take over a nest previously abandoned by birds and animals of other species.
Nesting locations can vary depending on their location in the world. For example, Great Horned Owls often live in cliff nests previously abandoned by hawks and magpies. Elf Owls will take over a nest in saguaro cacti, formerly housing woodpeckers. Burrowing Owls will live in ground holes dug by badgers or prairie dogs.
Once the owl pair take over the vacated nest, they will work together to defend it and hoot to alert each other when predators are prowling nearby.
When the mating partners have babies (owlets), the male will usually hunt while the female remains behind to guard the nest. While away hunting, the male will periodically call out to the female as if inquiring whether all is still well at home. The female responds with short hoots when safe and a loud screech if there is imminent danger.
Fun fact: The flight of Owls is almost silent, with their soft, almost velvet-like feathers having special edges, removing the sound associated with other birds in flight.
With extra mouths to feed, even nocturnal species will sometimes make extra hunting trips during the day. Thus, people may find it strange to see or hear Owls in the daytime when they’re used to only hearing night hoots the rest of the year.
When the male brings in food from his hunt, the female will take the prey and rip it into pieces before distributing the food among the owlets, feeding the oldest and strongest first. When food is scarce, the younger and weaker siblings may starve and are could even be killed by their stronger siblings. During one particular episode of Springwatch in 2015, I remember a mother, Tawny Owl, who had a very tough time finding food for her four chicks. After returning from yet another fruitless hunt, the mother Tawny Owl set about tearing apart the weakest chick and feeding it to the others. Horrific to watch, this apparent act of cruelty ultimately saved the other chicks as this was enough to sustain the other chicks until the mother was able to provide food. The chicks and mother went on to flourish.
Such stiff competition within the nest can result in many hoots or screeches from time to time at all hours of the day with owlets trying to vie for the mother’s attention to get fed first, fighting over food, and the power struggles to determine strength, you could hear some hoots during the day.
Other related question asked
What Owl makes the twit twoo call ? The distinctive twit twoo Owl call is made by the Tawny Owl during the night and early hours. The call is actually made by the male and female Tawny Owls calling to each other, with the female making the kee-wick sound and the male responsible for the twoo sound.
Where do Owls go during the day? During the day, many Owls will attempt to roost in a very well hidden spot that is well away from the sight of other birds. Other bird species are not big fans of Owls due to the predatory threat they present and will raise the alarm and mob them if they are found.