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How and Why to Attract Owls to Your Backyard


Why Attract Owls?

Probably your first question after reading the title would be: Why? Why would I want to attract owls to my backyard? In addition to being awesomely beautiful birds, owls are extremely efficient at eradicating rodents. Gardeners and orchard owners should appreciate the free help from owls in controlling gnawing pests like mice, rats and voles.

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Owl populations have plummeted in recent years due to several factors: loss of habitat in which to hunt; lack of tall trees for nesting; and the use of toxic rodent baits. After ingesting rats and mice and other rodents that have eaten lethal baits, owls become victims of the toxins, too. Because owls swoop low to hunt for and grab prey, they are often struck by vehicles as well.

Amazingly, it isn’t hard to entice owls to your property.

In fact, you probably have owls in your neighborhood without even realizing it because they hunt almost exclusively at night. Being absolutely silent hunters, the only way you can tell they are near is if they ‘hoot’! Although there was one time soon after we moved to this wooded area that I was surprised by an owl that didn’t ‘hoot’.

It was one of those nights when the stars are just like diamonds in the sky; millions of shiny points of light. The warm evening lured me into a section of my backyard unlit by anything. Suddenly I heard what sounded like a loud crazy whinnying wail right behind me. Well if you don’t think I beat my shadow to the front door, you’re mistaken!

After collecting myself, it occurred to me that it must have been a screech owl playing tricks on me! Perhaps I had unknowingly ventured too close to its nest? Anyway, sure enough, the next day right out front perched in the crotch of a small tree was a grey screech owl. Perhaps it was declaring it's territory; or maybe it was sorry it had startled me!

Video from Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Screech Owls Are Small

They are small as owls go—only 10” or so. And screech owls are perfectly camouflaged, either grey or brown mottled like the trees in which they perch. I watched it for several minutes, but it was asleep; probably tired itself out waiting to scare me the night before! The next time I looked out the window it had flown away.

Barred Owls and Barn Owls

So screech owls are an exception to the ‘hoot’ rule. If you listen closely at night from February on, you will probably hear an owl calling. That’s when my Barred Owls, Great Horned Owls and Barn Owls start calling for mates. I have heard them during the daytime as well, especially in the summer. Across the road from our woods there are more woods, plus a stream. Since these owls love to hunt for rodents, this is ideal country for them.

Looking from the edge of our woods across an open wildflower field to the woods beyond.  That field is full of rodents!  Ideal hunting grounds for predatory birds like hawks and owls.

Looking from the edge of our woods across an open wildflower field to the woods beyond. That field is full of rodents! Ideal hunting grounds for predatory birds like hawks and owls.

Barred Owl from Cornell Lab of Ornithology

I often hear the comforting Barred Owls’ call: ‘who cooks for you, who cooks for you awwwwl’; once in a while I hear them’ bark’ as well. Now the heart-shaped-faced Barn Owls like to growl and utter banshee-like screams. They make snapping noises, click with their beaks and hiss! If you have a Great Horned Owl nearby, you will know it from the deep and low 'hoo, hoo, hoo, HOO, HOO’ that carries far distances on the night air. Owls are fascinating, beautiful and helpful creatures. Why wouldn’t you want them around!

How to Attract Owls to Your Yard

Okay, now we know why. The question then is how do we go about making our backyard an owl-friendly place? The best and most logical way is to mimic their preferred habitat to the best of our ability.

No Toxic Chemicals, Please!

First and foremost: Do Not Use Toxic Chemicals on your lawn, gardens, trees, shrubs, or orchard! Let the predators take care of the prey for you. And that includes insects and rodents. Birds are nature’s aerial pest patrol. That’s what they were designed to do, and they do it very well if we let them. Owls rely on their keen nighttime vision, but also use their highly-developed sense of hearing to locate prey. It is well documented that owls can reduce rodent populations by 75% or more!

Owls will readily use nesting boxes.

Owls will readily use nesting boxes.

Owls are Cavity and Platform Nesters

Owls like to use cavities in large trees; and will use old hawk’s nests, abandoned buildings with open access and lofts in farm buildings in which to nest. If you own a tall outbuilding like a storage shed with an open loft area, leaving the upper door open might entice an owl to nest in it. Owls breed from mid-March right through mid-May.

How to Build a Screech Owl Box

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If you don’t have any of these nearby, consider installing owl nesting boxes. They are easy to construct, and can be mounted from 8’ and higher. That height will discourage any starlings from using the box. Add dry leaves, dried pine needles, wood shavings or clean rabbit bedding from the pet store to the bottom of the nesting box to a depth of 3”.

This makes the box much easier to clean, while cushioning owl eggs and owlets.

Owls perch on high during the day to sleep, and then descend on open grassy or wooded areas at night to hunt. If you have gardens, then you have rodents. If you have rodents, you will attract owls!

A word of warning though, if you have small outdoor cats, don’t let them out at night! And watch out for those playful screech owls!

Is Your Backyard Owl Friendly?

Melody on May 08, 2019:

2 years ago I had a, what I have called him is a Baby Owl come into my home. Only b'cuz it was so small. He flew into my home. And no, no one passed away. I felt quite honored with it's visit. He is my Spirit Animal.

Lately I've heard a bird wailing at night. Like something is being attacked. Every night. But after reading this article, I know now it's an owl. I've lived here for over 20 years now and this is the first time I've heard anything like that. Thanks for the article!

Bonnie on January 12, 2019:

We have a few white owls in our trees in Southern California. Is that unusual? My neighbor doesn’t like them. She says white owls

Nancy on August 08, 2018:

I also live in the Southern Tier of NYS and I think I finally learned what the noise is I hear every night. A Screech owl! I’m so glad I found this post. I recorded the sound last night and feel so much better knowing it’s an adorable and beautiful owl. Now if I can only see the little bugger! I need an owl box. Thank you!

carlene garwacki on January 24, 2018:

a few years ago i worked nights my husband was always telling me about the owls and their babies he'd see on the neighbors fence. he told me how the young would play on the fence. i wouldn't see them cause i would nap before i went to work. finally i got to see them barely since it was getting late. we live by a lake and a park. now when it isn't too hot i always love having my windows open and will listen to them calling in the night. only wish i knew what kind. and my cats don't go out after dark so i have no problem with that.

Ken Baldowski on January 12, 2018:

I live at the lake and believe that I hear owls quite often in the evening. I do wish to attract more and am making plans to build several owl nesting boxes. My question is simple; once you have built a nesting box, how do you suggest attaching it without damaging the tree. I would hate to harm a tree. Also can you place two nesting boxes in the same tree, and is the color of the nesting box (very dull colors, presumably) attract or repel any species of owl?

Thanks, I look forward to forming a relationship with these great birds. on May 15, 2017:

I would love having them around but I have feral kittens now n then. Would owls get them?

Jim van Dyke on March 01, 2015:

Hi, there is an owl that occasionally roosts in our tall eucalyptus tree in our Sam Francisco Bay Area tree, and we'd like to see (and especially hear) more of it. Some of the very lowest branches of this tree look very messy and I'd like to clean up the debris, but do you think this could cause the owl to stay away? Also, do you recommend we put an owl box up for it to nest in? Thank you.

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on September 03, 2013:

Ruby H, There's something about the sounds of the owls that is soothing, especially at night. Although, one night recently I had to make a pit stop in the middle of the night. Apparently an owl had settled in a tree very close to the house. Well, it hooted very loudly when everything else was dead silent. I must have jumped a foot--I've never heard one quite that close before!

I'm so glad you stopped by for a visit; and thank you for your wonderful comments. I enjoyed them, and appreciate the support. Have a wonderful day ;) Pearl

Maree Michael Martin from Northwest Washington on an Island on September 01, 2013:

I find owls quite fascinating and love hearing them. Great information on getting them closer to my actual yard instead of just the trees across the street! I am in awe every time I am still long enough to see them fly silently away to their next prey.

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on May 17, 2013:

Thanks Joe, I'm pleased to learn their Hawaiian name (and how to pronounce it!). They are indeed awesome; silent, elegant and efficient. Owls are another example of why humans need to learn more about all animals and birds so they can come to appreciate them, as you obviously do!

;) Pearl

Hawaiian Odysseus from Southeast Washington state on May 16, 2013:

Back in the islands, we called them PUEO (accent on the middle syllable---thus, pooh AY oh). These are such unique and quietly majestic birds, aesthetically appealing in a way that makes them almost half avian, half mammal. They surely aid man in keeping the rodent population down and, left alone, cohabit quite nicely with the human population. Thanks for sharing, my friend. Aloha!


Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on May 09, 2013:

Mr Archer, you and I must be kindred spirits! The sounds of owls night or day just make me stop and think about the world around me. I can't explain what those sounds mean to me. That barred owl has become an old friend. I listen for him/her nightly.

You have whippoorwills; I remember hearing them at home when I was a child. Their populations have sadly declined, but there is a nightjar here in the woods that I hear in the summertime. In fact, I wrote a hub about them (When is a Hawk Not a Hawk). Mine startled me when I turned the porch light on one night and opened the door quickly. It flew off from a decoration I have on the porch side wall, and disappeared out into the night. From that time on, if I have to turn on the light and open the front door, I do it very slowly and quietly. Maybe one day I'll catch another glimpse of a wonderful nighthawk (whippoorwill) again.

I'm so glad you enjoyed this article. Thank you for sharing your experiences with wonderful birds of the night; and for your support;) Pearl

Mr Archer from Missouri on May 08, 2013:

Along with a whippoorwill, an owl at night is one of my favorite sounds. I will sit on my front deck in the evening hours, attempting to make a call to them and occasionally having them answer back. It never fails to send shivers up my spine!

I sat here at my desk, listening to your clip on Barred Owls and smiling. What a great way to take a break at work!

Awesome hub!

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 18, 2013:

vibesites, I'm so glad you stopped by! We share a love and respect for these awesome birds, don't we?! I am indeed lucky to have these wonderfully helpful birds patrolling my area. I wish I could see that well at night! Thanks so much for visiting and commenting--very much appreciated ;) Pearl

vibesites from United States on April 17, 2013:

Beautiful birds; having ability to catch prey and to see at night. as well as the ability to fly quietly (that the rodents won't detect the imminent danger) that make the owl one fab bird, frightening at times but nevertheless magnificent. Thanks for your post, you're lucky you've got owls in your place. :)

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 17, 2013:

LongTimeMother, I can definitely imagine it, too! Actually, barn owls growl and hiss at you if they feel so inclined; and barred owls bark like dogs sometimes--and they are larger. However, I've yet to be surprised by a bird that size, luckily!

;) Pearl

LongTimeMother from Australia on April 17, 2013:

lol. I can imagine the shock for Nell Rose. Lucky the screech owl is so darned cute ... and little. It would be much more difficult to put up with a big, ugly owl that makes that noise.

I'd still like to see one in real life. :)

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 17, 2013:

Thanks Nell! I'm glad to see you, and to read your experience with a screech. I think because they are smaller, they like to use their vocals to scare people! When you see them, you say "oh, how cute", but you and I know they have a 'bit of the devil' in them, LOL!

Always happy to see your smiling face ;) Pearl

Nell Rose from England on April 16, 2013:

This was so lovely and made me smile, because I was frightened out of my wits one night when a screech owl came calling! lol! I think it lives in the tree on the allotments, I opened my window to get some air at about 3 in the morning and next second screech! I then saw it fly near the window, like a silver shadow, it was gorgeous, so yes attracting owls is a wonderful thing to have in the garden, nell

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 15, 2013:

onegreenparacute, so nice to see you! It sounds to me as if you might have owls nearby. You certainly have the habitat they prefer. It's easy to call them to you if you want to find out. Just head on outside in the evening and begin doing the 'who cooks for you, who cooks for you aaawwwl' call, and see if you get a response. You can also just do the 'hoo, hoo, hoo, HOOOOO'. I'd love to know if this works for you!

Thanks so much for visiting; and for the vote and share. They are so very much appreciated!

;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 15, 2013:

deedeelaw, I'm so glad you stopped by! If you are hearing owls at night, then they are silently hunting while you are asleep. To me that's a comforting thought--I can't imagine where we'd be if owls weren't keeping those little critters under control! Thank you so much for your visit and for your kind support. Have a wonderful day ;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 15, 2013:

LongTimeMother, I am so glad to meet a friend from Australia! How fortunate you are to have owls roosting close by. My woods are so dense that it is hard to see any owls, except the occasional barred owl that surveys the bird feeders from on high during the day. I can always tell when there is either a hawk or an owl nearby because the birds have disappeared from the feeding area! Since my first encounter, I have not seen another screech owl. Although it's possible I have passed by a sleeping screech without realizing it!

Thanks so much for your wonderful comments, and your support. You made my day!

;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 15, 2013:

LeTotten, you are very welcome! I love screech owls, even though that first one gave me quite a start! I just think they are cute as well as very good at rodent control. Plus, their wonderful camouflage blows me away. I have probably walked right by a sleeping screech without even knowing it!

Thank you so much for your supportive comments and your visit; both are most gratefully received.

;) Pearl

Carol from Greenwood, B.C., Canada on April 15, 2013:

We live right beside a creek, in among large trees. I have not noticed owls but I'll make a point of looking this year! I'd love to find a nesting pair. Thanks for this - I enjoyed it very much.

Voted up and shared

Deborah S. Lawrence from Deborah's Musings on April 15, 2013:

Very interesting. I do hear owls at night. I did not know how helpful they are though. Voted up!

LongTimeMother from Australia on April 15, 2013:

Your screech owls look so cute! I don't think we have any owls quite as cute as that here in Australia. We have owls, and one of them often sits on a wooden fence post along the drive into our home in the evenings ... but nothing as cute as your screech owl.

Loved this hub. Voted awesome!

LeAnna Totten on April 15, 2013:

Thank you for the directions to build a screech owl box! What a wonderful addition to your already great hub.

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 15, 2013:

Hi Dolores, so glad to see you again! It is very easy to attract owls by adding nest boxes. After you install an owl box, try calling to them at twilight. They like to investigate the area where other 'owls' might be. I'd love to know which ones you call in!

;) Pearl

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on April 15, 2013:

I've seen a lot more around here than I ever thought that I would so maybe I can entice an owl. I like the idea of the nesting box. I know there are a pair of barred owls just up the road - maybe we can invite their friends!

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 12, 2013:

pstraubie, I'm glad to see you this rainy spring morning! Owls are one of my very favorite birds; both because of their beauty and also because they are so good at rodent control. If there are owls in your area, it is quite easy to call them and have them answer you! Try the call of the barred owl after listening to the video in this hub; or the great horned owl. You also have barn owls and burrowing owls in Florida. Let me know if you are able to get an answer from your local owls.

By the way, owls live in urban as well as suburban areas, and very rural areas. They are literally everywhere because rodents are everywhere. The only reason you would not have owls around is if toxic rodent baits are being employed by uninformed people. I hope that is not the case in your 'neck of the woods'.

Good luck on your owl adventure! Thank you for the Blessings sent. And ask the angels to bring me some sunshine, okay?!

;) Pearl

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on April 11, 2013:

As amazing as I think owls are I know little about them. I feel more in the know after reading this.

Now I do not recall seeing many owls here in Florida but I am sure they must be here. Are they?? What areas would they most likely be in? I live in a rural town but still not too far off a main highway.

thanks for sharing this

Sending Blessings and Angels your way ...have a lovely day :) ps

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 08, 2013:

Hi suziecat! It's great to see you! I can see why a screech owl might cause a lot of trouble, but the critters they dispense with, along with being such a gorgeous bird, make you forgive them for their crazy calls! Thanks for stopping by and for the supportive comments; and the votes. All are very much appreciated.

;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 08, 2013:

Hey Deb! I have seen pictures of the red morph screeches. What a great little owl! I know that it is easy to call to an owl and have it answer back. I try not to do it very often as it does make them think there might be a rival nearby. My sister is a certified wild life rehabber; and she has several owls she takes care of on a regular basis. It's hard not to get attached, but they have to be returned to the wild as soon as they are well. I'm not sure I could get attached and then let go of such a magical bird!

Thanks for the great visit, and the informative comments. Connie

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 08, 2013:

bravewarrior, I'm so glad you have Great Horned Owls around you! They will definitely keep any rodent population under control. Aren't they amazing?! We don't often think about how special these birds are. Probably because of their habit of hunting mostly at night. "Out of sight, out of mind". Thanks so much for stopping by and for commenting. I'm always glad to see you ;) Pearl

Deb Hirt from Stillwater, OK on April 07, 2013:

Great job, Connie. Screeches also come in a red morph variety, too. If you call owls(you really can!), don't mess with their minds. They expect something to eat. If you give them treats, they will protect your homes better than a dog.

suziecat7 from Asheville, NC on April 07, 2013:

I love owls and we have quite a few here in the mountains. One summer a few years back, a screech owl annoyingly made its presence known in the neighborhood night after night. I finally spotted it in the vee of a tree. It was so cute that I forgave its piercing cry. Great Hub - voted up!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 07, 2013:

We have Great Horned Owls in our neighborhood. I saw one one evening sitting in an oak tree that impinges upon my property. He was 2-3 feet tall and absolutely gorgeous!

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 07, 2013:

Scribenet, it's so nice to see you again! Yes, you probably do have owls. They are so well camouflaged and usually sleep during the day, so it is highly likely they are snoozing in a nearby tree right now! If you decide to add a nest box, let me know if an owl family takes up residence. And thank you for your visit and supportive comments--they are very much appreciated.

;) Pearl

Maggie Griess from Ontario, Canada on April 07, 2013:

I have never seen an owl live , but from your description, I must have one around somewhere and I should since my area is suitable for them. I have heard the hooting noise. It is probably well disguised during the day and roosts in the tall trees which are everywhere. I can always hope!

Great info on owls... maybe I will have to make a nest or two... Thank you!

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 07, 2013:

Billy, I'm so glad to see you this morning! Owls are one of Mother Nature's loveliest creations I think. I'm pleased you are able to actually see them when you are out walking in the evenings. I know I am surrounded by them, but the trees here are so dense it's hard to actually spot one at night. Although, several times during the day I have caught sight of juveniles floating between the trees over our road as I drove back home. It's usually so fleeting, but I'm always grateful when that happens.

;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 07, 2013:

Hi Karen Ray! I'm so glad you liked this article about owls. They are one of my favorite birds because of their beauty and abilities, and the sounds they make! Thank you for your supportive comments; they are very much appreciated.

;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 07, 2013:

Vickiw, thank you for your supportive comments. I agree, owls are amazing; but then I often say that about all birds! I have always heard the owls. When I was a child they were frequently calling across the field and woods at night. Also, there was a marsh near our rural home that provided tons of food opportunities for them! I have been fortunate indeed to have known so many of these intelligent creatures. I'm so glad you stopped by!

;) Pearl

Connie Smith (author) from Southern Tier New York State on April 07, 2013:

Thank you Carol! They are beautifully magical creatures that I think are highly underrated by a lot of people. I'm glad you enjoyed this article, and it is always lovely to have you stop by. Your comments are very much appreciated, as well as the votes and pin. Have a happy day!

;) Pearl

carol stanley from Arizona on April 07, 2013:

I love learning about owls. I just knew I liked them. Thanks for sharing all this fun and valuable information. I will be looking for them. Voting up+++ and pinning.

Vickiw on April 07, 2013:

I think owls are really magnificent birds! There is something absolutely wonderful bout their appearance, their strength, their ability to catch their prey, and also the fact that they can see so well at night. This is very well written, and I think you are so fortunate to have so many in your area, and know so much about them. Great Hub!

Karen Ray from Oklahoma on April 06, 2013:

Enjoyed your hub. Good information on habits of owls and their usefulness.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 06, 2013:

We have quite a few owls in this area. During the late evening they can be seen flying overhead, and when we are out on walks we'll spot them in the trees on the edge of a field. I never thought of building a nesting box but I just might have to try it.

Great information, Pearl. You just might have talked me into a little project. :)

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