Can You Recognize the Call of a Great Horned Owl?

It's as distinctive as those big ear tufts.

This story is brought to you by BirdNote, a show that airs daily on public radio stations nationwide.


After dark, it’s our ears that connect us to the lives of birds. And one of our most familiar connections is with the lovely and mysterious hooting of Great Horned Owls. 

When a pair of Great Horned Owls calls in a duet, the female usually hoots first, and the male replies at a lower pitch. Even though females average a third larger than males, the smaller male has a bigger voice box, or syrinx.

Here’s the female again. 

Now the male.

Great Horned Owls may also pierce the darkness with an eerie shriek, which may signal a hungry owlet begging for food or a female defending its nest. Adult owls also bark in response to threats. 

In fact, Great Horned Owls have a lot to say. Female owls sometimes call out with high-pitched trills or hearty squawks, and Great Horned Owls hiss, pop, meow, coo, and snap their bills.

So have a listen after dark. There may be a Great Horned Owl in your neighborhood. 



Download this podcast at birdnote.org.

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Crickets [uned.] recorded by N. Tucker.

Hoots of female and male Great Horned Owls [22874] recorded by W.R.Fish; shriek of young Great Horned Owl [47685] recorded by D.S.Herr; bark” of an adult Great Horned Owl [no #] recordist unknown from “All About Birds”; “chitter” of female Great Horned Owl [94364] and hearty squawk [94364] recorded by W.L. Hershberger; bill snapping of adult Great Horned Owl [59821] by W.W.H.Gunn.

BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

Written by Bob Sundstorm

© 2013 Tune In to Nature.org    June 2013   Narrator: Michael Stein


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