Owls are one of the most fascinating creatures that exist on this planet. They do not fly like other birds; they have razor-sharp talons, and they can turn their heads 180 degrees in either direction.
What is even more interesting than all these facts about owls is how they communicate with each other.
Different owl species hoot for different reasons, but the most common one: an owl will hoot at another one to say hello or show affection. It’s a way to communicate with their surroundings. They might use them as a warning to other owls, or to chit-chat with a pal.
In this article, we’ll discuss the various reasons howls hoot. You’ll be surprised at the range of emotions they can express with a seemingly simple sound. For reference, humans need an entire dictionary to produce anything worthwhile.
What can Owls Express with Hoots?
We aren’t that good at understanding what animals are saying to each other. Think about dogs barking. They all sound the same to us (and especially annoying when we’re trying to chill). The same goes for owls.
Sure, we can detect a change in pitch, and we can assign a meaning to it, but we don’t know exactly what emotion is being expressed. We can just try to figure out why by looking at the situation.
That said, here are some common reasons owls hoots.
Hoot to Greet Another Owl (Similar to How Humans Do Handshakes)
Owls are polite creatures. They have territories and such, but as long as other owls don’t overstep the boundaries, they are ok with having other owls around. They are like us.
If another owl (especially of the opposite sex) tries to enter their territory, they will hoot and say “hey! I’m over here.” Depending on the owl’s sex, this could be a welcoming greeting, or a warning one.
They welcome owls of the opposite sex. They warn owls of the same sex. This is standard in the animal (and human) kingdom.
This informs the other owl that they’re late for the party. But see, at least the interaction doesn’t begin with violence.
The reason they do this greeting is that owls are nocturnal animals. They sleep during the day, and go out during the night to hunt or find a mate.
When another owl enters their territory during the day (which doesn’t happen often) then that’s an occasion to get together with other owls! It’s like if you have some people over at your house, and you decide to go out for dinner. Why not invite the friends of friends? Who knows what good times will be had by all!
This is how it goes…sort of.
Male to male: “I am strong” – simple warning. The owl is signaling that the newcomer is entering its territory. Usually, owls are pretty friendly, as long as you don’t try to steal their prey or mates. And with friendly, we mean they’ll ignore you for the most part.
Female to female: “Let’s be friends, nothing more.” – female owls are less aggressive than their male counterparts. And they are not as territorial. They’re fine with other females joining them. Maybe because they know they’ll be able to divert an unwanted male’s attention. That’s what friends are for, right?
Male to female: “Hey sexy, come here often?” – owls, much like men, are always looking to reproduce. It’s hardwired into their DNA. Therefore, they’re always looking for mates. That is, until they find one. Owls are monogamous.
Don’t be fooled, though. Owls look cute, but they are excellent hunters. They don’t take any offense lightly. If another owl treads on their territory and tries to be an asshat, they will be struck with might.
Hoot to Proclaim Dominance
Owls are hierarchical creatures. They need a social structure in order for them to function properly as a group. If an individual wants to take control of that hierarchy, it will hoot to show that everyone else is below them.
In an owl’s world, the alpha male and female are at the top of the food chain. They have a lot more privileges than those under them, who still have their own prerogatives too, though—it isn’t as if they’re being treated like slaves or something.
You’ll hear this a lot if you listen to owl sounds in the wild. It’s basically their way of saying “don’t mess with me, pal!” They can be pretty territorial as well, so it might very well mean they want you out of there…like now.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that owls want to eat humans. I’m just saying you should be careful about how close you get while trying to observe them…
Hoot When Chasing Another Owl or Prey
Similar action we do while playing a sport; it is about showing the other participants that we are committed and focused.
The hoot is like a “look at me, I’m about to kill you” kind of signal for owls. They want their prey to know they aren’t messing around; it’s all or nothing!
When the owl makes his catch, he’ll let out a few celebratory hoots. It’s his way of saying “I am the king of this jungle!”
For that moment in time, at least.
Hoot to Let Others Know You’re Hungry or Frustrated.
Owls are nocturnal creatures and they do most of their hunting at night. The problem with hunting at night is that it’s a lot harder to see prey during the darkness, which means there are more chances of missing out on their catch.
It will allow them to coordinate better than well; if someone was about to get eaten by a predator, they can use hoots and calls to warn everyone else before making the big escape.
Owls are very patient creatures, mostly. They will sit and wait until their prey comes to them, so they only hunt when it’s absolutely necessary (i.e., not just because they’re hungry). If an owl doesn’t receive the response that he was hoping for while hooting out, then chances are he will just give up and go to sleep.
That or become very frustrated…
Communicate with other Owls
This is probably the least surprising one. After all, every animal (including humans) communicates with their peers from time to time. This is a very important aspect of any social species, and owls are no different.
They are loners, but much like human introverts, they need social interaction now and then.
We can use hoots in order to communicate feelings like happiness or sadness with other members of their group; they might even serve as an invitation for the others to join them when it’s time for dinner (or breakfast).
Owls make distinct sounds and screams—the hoot is just one of their more popular ones.
Hoots can declare dominance (male to male), show commitment (to hunt or mating), communicate hunger, frustration…or even call for help sometimes! It’s a way for them to express themselves when they cannot do so with words.
Hoots and hoot-like sounds can be heard in a variety of owl species: barn owls, little owls, long-eared owls…the list goes on!
Owls can use hooting to express frustration, hunger, and dominance among the same species only.
But hoots aren’t the only thing owls used to communicate with each other. They also use hoots, Hoot-Like Sounds and Calls.
These are just a few ways that owls used to communicate with one another while in the wild. It’s important for them to express their feelings whenever they feel like it; otherwise they might end up going psycho! Well…not really, but you get what I mean.
Hoot to Locate a Mate
Both males and females do this. They won’t be able to breed if they don’t find a mate, so it’s important that they find someone compatible.
In order for them to know who their perfect match might be, the male will call out while he searches for food. He’ll keep doing this until he hears his potential mate hooting back to him. If she likes what she hears, then they will get down and dirty—which is good news for both of them!
Here’s a video of a Barred Owl calling a mate. Aren’t they lovely?
This is what owls do to mate. They call for a partner and wait for an answer back. If they don’t, they will look for someone else, somewhere else. If they do, then hooting ensues between the two of them and it’s game over.
Owl Types and their Hooting
We separate owls into 2 categories:
- Barn owls
- Typical owls
The differences between them are subtle, but they are still there. Barn owls live in open habitats, and they can thrive almost anywhere. They make a sound that sounds like it’s saying “who cooks for you” whereas we can hear typical owls going “whoo-hooo.”
Barn Owls don’t hoot as often since their call is more of a shriek. They usually do this when threatened or during courtship. It’s a loud and scary sound, so chances are you won’t be hearing them all that often.
Typical owls will hoot more than barn owl types since they get lonely from time to time. They’ll go “hoo-hooo” once in a while just for the sake of it.
Owls are a group of mostly nocturnal birds of prey. They come in four different types: barn owls, great horned owls, little owls and long-eared owls, which live all over the world.
Owls have a variety of vocalizations that they used to communicate with other owls–including hoots–but typically only within their species.
Owls are dangerous predators. While we mostly know them for their peculiarities, like being able to turn their head 180 degrees, they are hunters first and foremost.
They use their hoot to express a wide range of emotions, look for a mate, and even for celebration. If you’re interested in observing owls, prepare for sleepless nights staring at the pitch-dark forest. Owls are night creatures that sleep for most of the day.
One thing is certain: owls are big communicators.