How to Find Owls

Myths, legends and modern literature feature owls, a notable example being Hedwig the snowy owl, loyal companion of Harry Potter.

February 2, 2018 | | Notes from the Wild

Barred owl on branch.

Barred owl on branch.

People find the big eyes and expressive faces of owls irresistible. Those faces, along with the air of mystery that swirls around these elusive, nocturnal flyers, place owls near the top of the avian popularity list. Myths, legends and modern literature feature owls, a notable example being Hedwig the snowy owl, loyal companion of Harry Potter.

Where do owls hide?

At least six species of owls spend the winter in our hills, but they aren’t easy to find. Hedwig’s snowy owl kin are an exception when they appear in force, as they have again this winter. These Arctic visitors can be found by driving slowly on rural roads during the day and looking for white “blobs” in corn fields. Most owls though, hide until dusk, usually in evergreens like pine and spruce.

What species of owls are in Headwaters?

Barred owls and long-eared owls are two of the species that can be found by searching evergreen trees. Barred owls are quite large and can be distinguished from their even larger cousins, the great-horned owls, by the lack of ear-tufts. They have a wonderful “who, who, who, cooks for you!” call. Long-eared owls are a little smaller than crows. When discovered, they often elongate their bodies and impersonate tree branches.

A concerted effort is necessary to find these owls, which means methodically searching evergreens for their poop, euphemistically called “whitewash.” This white excrement, splashed on trunks and limbs, indicates recent owl presence. If the owl is still at home, a glance above the highest splotch of whitewash may reveal it.

snowy owl on hydro line, credit Ian Jarvie snowy owl credit Ian Jarvie barred owl in spruce long-eared owl in white pine, credit Ian Jarvie great horned owl pair
Long-eared owl in white pine. Photo by Ian Jarvie.

Searching the ground under evergreens for “owl pellets” can also be productive. Owls cough up these oblong-shaped packages of fur and bones after digesting their food. Owl pellets are generally grey in colour and, depending on the type of owl, can range from jellybean-sized to the dimensions of a Mars Bar.

So there you have it. To find owls seek poop and pellets!

About the Author More by Don Scallen

Don Scallen enjoys sharing his love of nature through his writing and presentations. Check out his blog "Notes from the Wild".

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1 Comment

  1. I apologize in advance if I have mistaken you for someone else, but if you are the Don Scallen that taught at Sir John A. Macdonald Middle school, then I would like to thank you for everything you have done for me as well as many students over many years. You are the teacher I hold in highest regards, and respect most out of everyone that has every taught me. Your lessons where always hands on, fun, and interactive, and it was clear you had a passion for teaching. Thank you, and great work on this blog, I am glad to see you are still as passionate as I remember.

    P.S I still have the ‘Don Scallen Humanitarion Award’ you presented to me when I graduated from SJAM, it is on my wall right above my desk.

    Rasikh on Feb 2, 2018 at 10:45 pm | Reply

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