Tips For Finding Owls

Does anyone have tips for spotting owls in the wild? I’ve visited Frick Park in Pittsburgh since it looks to be a hotspot even in broad daylight but I haven’t had any luck so far.


Look in places where prey is abundant. Many owl species prefer to hunt in open areas and bring back prey to a perch or nest, so wooded areas adjacent to open clearings or fields are good spots. Look for signs: a mess of feathers on the ground may indicate a spot where a smaller bird was preyed upon. Bones and owl pellets at the base of a tree would probably indicate you’re very close. Keep your ears perked, too. You may hear them calling, or you may hear a commotion when their prey scatters. Hopefully some of that helps. You do still need a little bit of luck, too. If they’re not out and about, it’s going to be hard to find them without knowing where the nest is.


Listen to the other birds. Where I live robins are often the first to let me know where the owls are. Nuthatches, chickadees, and ravens are also very good at snitching on the owls. Listen for alarm/territory-type calls that are repeated rapidly and persistently. Often you will hear a half dozen or so birds yelling from trees that surround the tree the owl is perched in.


I’ve had the most luck with barred owls here in CT (which are also residents in PA). They frequent swampy forests and will often use eastern hemlock but I’ve seen them perched in many different types of trees. But if you’re in or near a forest it’s always worth looking up into white pines and hemlocks. Listening to what other birds are doing is a good tip since smaller birds will mob owls (and hawks). Go out at dusk in a good habitat and just listen…you won’t always hear them but you just never know! I also look for feathers, I know this can be more difficult since IDing feathers can be tricky but there’s a project on iNat called Found Feathers that’s been awesome for IDing the owl feathers I’ve found. They are creatures of habit, once I found a good spot I see or hear barred owls quite often now when I visit my favorite trails.

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Have you considered using ebird for specific hotspot bird data?

Eastern screech reported yesterday morning at Frick. Here was the observer’s comment: “Falls Ravine to Riverview extension to upper Riverview to Trough to lower Riverview and back via path along houses to beechwood meadow entrance”

Barred Owl earlier this month with comment: “Falls Ravine on Riverview slope”

There’s your spot at Frick

Some tips I give people.

  1. They are easiest to find as we get towards Halloween after the leaves come down. Longer nights mean it’s easier to look for them, and the empty trees give better sight lines.
  2. Pick a night with a good moon (better visibility) and no wind (noise). Preferably before dawn when there will be less traffic noise.
  3. I’ve never birded a golf course that didn’t have Great Horned Owls. Golf courses have scattered trees, and are usually surrounded by a hedgerow. If you can get permission to go on one at night I’d try to. Or find places that look like that.
  4. If you can find a good pine grove after October, you might have luck with Saw-whets.
  5. Be careful using calls. Fall/winter is when some of these are staking out their nesting sites. When they are calling they are claiming territory, when you use calls you could potentially be counter-claiming. If you get a response, stop calling. It’s not going to attack, but it might leave.
  6. Angry crows or jays could mean they found an owl and are trying to convince him to leave.

Yes, especially this… for any birds, I’ve read that using bird sounds can be unduly disruptive.

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Calls for any bird can be over-used, especially in the name of getting a “perfect picture”.

However, calls sparingly can be a useful tool, and I do recommend it for owls.

Seen a couple (and me without a camera), in the evening, down by the river, in Locust trees. I wish I could have watched all night, but, down by the river after dark in East Hartford, is a Wildlife zone of a very different nature.

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