New Series – Urban Wilds

Photo by PoPville flickr user mosley.brian

Urban Wilds is written by Lela S. Lela lives in Petworth.

Great Horned Owls

Why now:

The biggest owls in DC are nesting right now, making it the perfect time to hear them. Great Horned Owls are at their noisiest in late winter, hooting back and forth to each other as they try to find a mate. Once they pair off, the owls will build nests inside hollow trees, or take over abandoned hawk nests. Over the next few months, they’ll raise two or three owlets, feeding them with selections from the city’s rat population and other choice edibles.

The Great Horned call is a classic “who who whooo, who, who,” though they can also bark and (unnervingly) shriek. Despite their size – with wingspans of up to four feet – you’re more likely to hear an owl than to see one. If you’re lucky, you could spot one at twilight, flying over fields close to the edge of the woods.

Where and how to find them:

Great Horned Owls are residents of Rock Creek and the National Arboretum, and have been seen in other parts of town. Listen for them calling between dusk and midnight, or just before dawn. During the daytime, sometimes crows will ‘mob’ an owl to drive it off. If you hear a group of crows making noise, chances are good that they’re heckling an owl, and you might catch a glimpse of it flying away.

(You’ll probably never come face to face with an owl. Just in case, keep in mind that owls and their nests are protected under federal law. Enjoy from a distance.)

8 Comment

  • Love the new series! Here’s a good (free) recording of a great horned owl.

    These guys are pretty common across North America. They’re also territorial and aggressive. I’ve experienced one swooping down while I ran through the woods to let me know I’m in THEIR house. They’re also skilled hunters, taking everything from tiny birds to other bad-asses in the avian world like peregrine falcons and even other owls. I’ve hear they also go for great Blue Herons. That would be a hell of a sight to see!

  • Excellent new series, PoP!

  • Love this! Thanks for sharing, now I know something to listen for when I’m walking around Mt P near dusk.

  • Very cool!

    One night at my farm out on the Eastern Shore, I could hear 6 or 8 owls communicating from our small forest out across the corn field to the hedgerow along the stream. Always wonder what type of owls they are out there. It was neat hearing so many at once….

    • My guess: Bard owls which are very vocal at certain times of the year. They’re even more common than great horned owls. Their call is “Who cooks for you?”

      • I don’t usually mention typos – but in case people actually want to look up this owl – it is either a Barred owl or a Barn Owl – unless there is a Shakespearean owl?

        And I’ve seen quite a few Great Horned owls along the C&O canal – especially at twilight. One swooped me so close I think I felt wing feathers!

        • Yep, Barred owls make that call. Barn owls are even better imho but I haven’t seen any in a long long time.

          Thanks for the C&O tip victoria – that is awesome!

  • I heard “the shriek” just after dark, after we were all in our tents on the Appalachian Trail. Scared the crap out of me for a second b/c I was chaperoning a bunch of kids. It is, to say the least, disconcerting.

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