best time to look for owls

Best Time to Look for Owls: The Ultimate Guide

Owls are formidable hunters that should be on the list of every avid bird watcher. But the same characteristics that make them formidable hunters also make them a challenge to spot. Owls are unique birds that call for special bird-watching skills. In this article, we discuss various tips for spotting these elusive and seemingly magical birds of prey. So when is the best time to look for owls?

The best time to look for owls is when there is a full moon. This allows you to see the greatest distance at night and spot a nearby owl. Dawn and dusk are also good times to look for owls as it’s still partially light out.

When considering the best time to go owling, it is essential that you understand these birds’ basics and how to predict and understand their behavior. 

Photo by pixabay

When to Go Owling

Everyone knows that owls are nocturnal creatures. But does that mean owls are only seen at night? Certainly not. This is probably the first big mistake when learning about the best time to look for owls.

Some owl species are active during the day as well. Among these are the Snowy Owl, Short-eared Owl, and the Barn Owl. These owls are the most active during the day. Are you keen to see owls during the day? Your best bet is to seek them out in the early hours of the day and at dusk. 

Photo by Imogen Warren

Do Owls Migrate?

Owls are not a migratory species, and birdwatchers can stake out the same territory year-round to see owls. But, that does not mean that all times of the year are excellent owl-watching seasons. There are some times of the year that are more conducive for owl watching than others. 

Late Winter

Late winter is one of the best seasons for bird watching, especially among birders who bird by ear. This is because the owls call is much more frequent than other times of the year. Males seek out new mates in the late winter, which is why there are more male owls actively seeking out mates. What’s more, owls will call out in the late winter so they can defend their territories. 

Early Summer

It is more of a challenge to find owls in the early summer as they will typically be nesting. Nesting owls will be less active and be protecting their nests instead. 

Photo by Jean van der Meulen

Mid Summer to Early Autumn

After the nesting season in the early summer, young owls will be learning to fly and stretching their new wings. These young owls are easier to spot. The young birds will naturally be less secretive. They will be more open about their movements as they are still learning to be as eloquent as their parents. 

Preparing for Your Owl Viewing Expedition

If you want to have a successful owl hike and enjoy the process, here are a few things you should prepare. 

Here is a list of both physical and mental preparations to get ready before your owl hike:

Use a Field Guide

A field guide could be your best friend. A field guide will help you to see which owls you can expect to see in your area. Knowing which owls you are targeting will help you to understand their behavior and predict where you could encounter them. You can view their habitats, what size the owls may be, field markings, and any other clues that could help you discover where they are. 

Research their Calls

Once you know what calls an owl will make, you can use your other senses to help you. If you can use your ears and your eyes, you already have an extra tool in your toolbox. By hearing the owls’ calls, it will be easier for you to identify the birds and know where to look. 


Boreal owl in autumn leaves

Speaking about tools in your toolbox, optics is another that will help you a great deal. Most birds of prey are elusive, but the owl takes with mystery and elusiveness to higher heights. Use an effective pair of birding binoculars to help you spot owls. The best pair of binoculars to use will have wide lenses.

These lenses allow more light and help a bird watcher identify owls in even the lowest light. Your optics should also have a spotting scope. Binoculars with a spotting scope are essential for bird watching. These tools allow bird watchers to watch quiet owls perched in the treetops without disturbing the peace or disrupt your viewing. 

Dress Appropriately

It would be best to prepare for whatever weather you will face, especially when you are bird-watching in the late winter when the weather is still cold. Although most birders will be accustomed to camouflage, it is an excellent reminder to opt for the correct clothing.

Your attire should be comfortable yet practical. Opt for clothing that is free from metal fasteners, is non-reflective, and avoids noisy materials. When considering what to wear owling at night, your best attire is dark camouflage clothing. 

Consider Your Supplies

Author Note: Pack a field bag with insect repellant and a flask of something warm to keep you comfortable. A good torch with extra batteries is also advised when owling at night. 

Recharge Your Own Batteries

Ensure you don’t run out of steam when owling at night by taking a nap during the day. Owling is typically done throughout the night, and it’s best to recharge your batteries before you head out.

Remember that your senses dull down when you’re tired, so don’t ruin your expedition by stumbling through brain fog. 

Where to Go Owling

Even if you have the best backpack to take along, it won’t help if you don’t know where to go.

Owls are territorial birds of prey. And although they may have large territories, they will always protect their territories where they hunt. So, if you know where people have seen owls, you should hone in on these areas. 

This doesn’t mean that you have to ask other birders in your area. In the modern-day, online forums can offer you the best information. There are online sighting reports, forums, and online message lists that all offer information on owl sightings. If you have no luck with these, you can contact a birding organization in your area. These organizations should offer you tips and tricks for locating these raptors in your area. 

Photo by Imogen Warren

Areas That Owls Love

Owls will prefer the following areas:

If agricultural areas sound strange, consider that there are plenty of prey for owls to hunt. Agricultural areas are ripe with prey such as voles and mice foraging for food. This makes for prime hunting grounds for owls.

But remember, some agricultural areas are private property, so ensure that you always get permission. Many parks and preserves will also have guidelines and possible restrictions. It is vital that you respect these boundaries and laws. 

Owling Tips

Photo by Sumeet-Moghe

Owls are among the most elusive birds for bird watchers. Here are a few tips to help you out when looking for owls:

Aim for Silence

Owls have exceptionally sharp senses. Not only is their eyesight good, but their hearing is too. There is no doubt that an owl will hear you, but that doesn’t mean you should aim to make as much noise as possible. Instead, it would be best if you aimed to respect the silence of nature and stay as quiet as possible. This is probably the most important factor outside of learning when the best time to look for owls is.

If you do make too much noise, you could risk scaring them off. But the quieter you are, the more likely it is that they will not view you as a threat. It goes without saying that you should place all your devices on mute. Forgetting to turn your device on silent (and no vibrate, either) is a rookie error. 

Respect Their Space

Author Note: Owls are fierce predators and will aggressively protect their nesting area. When you identify an owl, ensure that you respect the distance and do not get too close. 


When you’re quiet, you can hear. So, make sure that you can hear the owls’ call by keeping silent and use your hands to cup your ears. Make slow, careful movements so you can triangulate the Wiley owl’s position. You should also listen carefully so that you can identify what owls you are hearing by merely listening to their calls. Each species will have its own distinctive calls. 

Keen Eyesight

You shouldn’t leave the keen eyesight to owls alone. While your eyesight may never be as keen as an owl’s, you can still use it to your best ability. Owls are keen hunters, so it comes as no surprise that they have excellent camouflage too.

While their camouflage is essential for an owl’s survival, it makes them difficult to spot. To outwit their exemplary camouflage, a birdwatcher can lookout for the following:

  • Lumps that seem out of place
  • Bumps on branches that seem out of place
  • Sudden head movements
  • Stretched wings


Owls are excellent at remaining still, but even owls need to stretch their wings and turn their heads. These movements are keen signals that can indicate an owl is close by. 

And remember, when you head out owling, be mindful of minimizing lights and respecting their natural habitat. Do not stray from trails. Ensure you are always acting respectfully to other wildlife. Sure, you will need your flashlight but keep it pointed down and avoid swinging the light around you.

If you do need to use your flashlight, then you should use a dim, diffused, unobtrusive setting or globe. A handy trick is to strap a thin piece of cloth over the flashlight. This helps to dim the light and avoids disturbing the natural environment. 

We hope you enjoyed this article on the best time to look for owls.

Fly high friends!


What time is best to see an owl?

The absolute best time to look for and see owls is at dawn and dusk. They are active at this time and here is some light and you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night.

Where do owls go in the day?

Owls will be in their roosting cavities or sleeping on branches. I always look up in any big trees and have been lucky on a number of occasions.

Can owls turn their head all the way round?

Not quite. They can turn the neck up to 270 degrees, which is 3/4 of the way.

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