Sounds Of 11 OWLS In Wisconsin (Guide With Photos & Calls)
Did you recently hear an owl sound in Wisconsin, and want to know what species it was?
Identifying owl calls in the Badger State is not as easy as it might seem, since there are many owls that regularly occur in Wisconsin.
To help you identify the owl you heard, we’ll cover the most common owl sounds of Wisconsin in this article.
What sounds do Wisconsin owls make?
Below we’ve uploaded the sounds of the 11 types of owls found in Wisconsin:
- Great Horned Owl
- Barn Owl
- Long-eared Owl
- Short-eared Owl
- Barred Owl
- Great Gray Owl
- Snowy Owl
- Eastern Screech-Owl
- Northern Saw-whet Owl
- Northern Hawk Owl
- Boreal Owl (rare)
By learning to recognize their call, you can identify these owls even if it’s hard to see them in the dark of night. This is extremely helpful if you want to identify Wisconsin owls.
And while most of these owls are regular birds in Wisconsin, the last two species on the list are vagrants that only rarely occur in the state.
Now let’s dive in and listen to the calls and sounds of these owls:
Great Horned Owl
Scientific name: Bubo virginianus
Great Horned Owl call:
(Recording source: Christopher McPherson, XC691461, www.xeno-canto.org/691461)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Great Horned Owl, which can be heard from both males and females.
With a wingspan up to 4 feet, the Great Horned Owl is the largest owl species breeding in Wisconsin.
It is a large brown-colored bird with two ear tufts (also called horns) and big yellow eyes.
In Wisconsin, this owl starts its nesting very early in the year, laying its eggs in January or February.
It is almost entirely nocturnal, and can hunt in complete darkness by relying on its keen sense of hearing.
The Great Horned Owl doesn’t build its own nest, but instead occupies the nests of other large birds, such as herons or other raptors.
It can be heard in Wisconsin year-round, and is found in a wide variety of habitats, from woodlands to urban areas.
These big Wisconsin birds are fierce hunters, catching birds up to the size of ducks, and mammals up to the size of squirrels, rabbits, and even young foxes.
Scientific name: Tyto alba
Barn Owl sound:
(Recording source: Jayrson De Oliveira, XC619814, www.xeno-canto.org/619814)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of an American Barn Owl. It is a screeching sound that is hard to miss.
Somewhat softer and less intense-looking than the Great Horned Owl, Barn Owls are characterized by their white coat of feathers, and their “friendlier” appearance.
Armed with exceptional night vision, Barn Owls are strictly nocturnal raptors and therefore hard to spot. However, they can be readily identified by their characteristic screeching calls.
And if you do spot one flying overhead by the light of the moon, you may be able to see the glow of their white underside.
These owls are present in southern Wisconsin all year round, and favor open areas and farmland as their hunting grounds.
Scientific name: Asio otus
Long-eared Owl call:
(Recording source: Baltasar Pinheiro, XC737794, www.xeno-canto.org/737794)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Long-eared Owl.
These well-camouflaged, elusive owls are smaller than the aforementioned species.
They use their favored habitat of dense wooded areas to prey on the small rodents, small birds and animals that call the nearby grasslands their home.
Similar to other owl species, Long-eared Owls can fly completely silently due to fringes on their flight feathers.
Together with their keen sense of hearing, this enables them to catch prey by surprising it in the dark of the night.
But despite their best efforts to remain hidden, these commonly found Wisconsin owls can be identified by their long, low hoots.
Another great characteristic for identifying these owls is by their elongated tufts of feathers on the ears, and their droppings found underneath conifer trees close to grassy areas.
Scientific name: Asio flammeus
Short-eared Owl sound:
(Recording source: Lars Edenius, XC718743, www.xeno-canto.org/718743)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Short-eared Owl.
The Short-eared Owl is a rare breeding bird in Wisconsin. It is a highly migratory owl species that leaves its northern territories in fall and flies south to winter in southern US states.
Short-eared Owls are more often observed hunting in daylight than other owls species.
Together with their hunting tactic of flying low over the ground in open areas, this makes them relatively easy to spot.
You can encounter these owls in Wisconsin in any kind of open landscapes, including farmland, airports, and fallow land.
Scientific name: Strix varia
Barred Owl call:
(Recording source: Jim Berry, XC713081, www.xeno-canto.org/713081)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Barred Owl.
The Barred Owl was originally a bird of eastern North America, but it steadily expanded its range westwards over the past century.
This owl now has breeding populations in the Pacific Northwest. In Wisconsin, it can be encountered throughout the state where there are suitable habitats.
Similar to other owls, the Barred Owl is easiest to find by listening for its characteristic hooting call.
Their preferred habitat is mature forest and forests bordering swamps. They readily accept nest boxes that are set up in old trees.
Great Gray Owl
Scientific name: Strix nebulosa
Great Gray Owl sound:
(Recording source: Bruce Lagerquist, XC715843, www.xeno-canto.org/715843)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Great Gray Owl.
The Great Gray Owl is predominantly a northern species with most of its range located in Canada and Alaska.
It is a regular winter visitor to Wisconsin, where it occurs from October through April.
Similar to many other northern raptors, Great Gray Owls sometimes show up in large numbers far south of their breeding range during winter.
These are called irruptive years, and occur when the owls are forced to move south due to insufficient food in their breeding range.
Scientific name: Bubo scandiacus
Snowy Owl call:
(Recording source: Tero Linjama, XC343144, www.xeno-canto.org/343144)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Snowy Owl.
The Snowy Owl is the largest owl species in North America, and weighs more than the Great Horned Owl.
Snowy Owls are rare winter visitors in Wisconsin, and are most likely to occur during irruptive years, when large numbers of Snowy Owls migrate south due to a shortage of suitable prey in their regular wintering grounds.
These owls breed in the high arctic well north of the arctic circle, where they hunt ptarmigans and lemmings.
Snowy Owls are easily recognizable by their large size, rounded head white coloration with varying amounts of black markings.
These big birds favor open ground, such as shorelines and grassland, and can often be observed perching on the ground.
In cultivated landscapes they also perch on hay bales, fence posts and telephone poles.
Snowy Owls follow the population changes of small rodents, and are most common in winters with high rodent populations.
Scientific name: Megascops asio
Eastern Screech-Owl sound:
(Recording source: Wisconagus, XC690687, www.xeno-canto.org/690687)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of an Eastern Screech-Owl.
Originally birds of open woodlands, Eastern Screech-Owls have adapted very well to urban habitats, and are regularly found in parks, large gardens, and golf courses.
They breed in tree cavities, and are best identified by their characteristic series of accelerating hoots.
These owls are common in Wisconsin where they can be seen all year round in the southern half of the state.
They have a very varied diet, which includes any type of small animal ranging from worms to insects, rodents, and reptiles.
Eastern Screech-Owls readily accept artificial nesting cavities, which means you can attract them to your backyard by setting up nest boxes.
Northern Saw-whet Owl
Scientific name: Aegolius acadicus
Northern Saw-whet Owl call:
(Recording source: Lance A. M. Benner, XC546885, www.xeno-canto.org/546885)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Northern Saw-whet Owl.
This is another small owl species that’s hardly larger than a pint. The Northern Saw-whet Owl is one of the most common owls in Wisconsin.
These owls are hard to see, but they are easy to detect if you listen for their characteristic too-too-too call at night.
They nest in tree cavities, but also readily accept man made nest boxes. So if you have a large garden with mature trees, it’s worth putting up a nest box well before the nesting season.
Northern Hawk Owl
Scientific name: Surnia ulula
Northern Hawk Owl call:
(Recording source: Peter Ward and Ken Hall, XC612335, www.xeno-canto.org/612335)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Northern Hawk Owl.
This bird is aptly named, as it hunts by sight during daylight and behaves like a hawk. Most often, it likes to hunt from a perch on a tree and attacks its prey with a swift dash.
The Northern Hawk Owl is a bird of the boreal forests in Canada, and doesn’t occur in Wisconsin as a breeding bird.
However, during irruptive years, these owls stray south of the border during winter and show up in Wisconsin.
This usually happens when rodent populations in their home range reach a low point.
Scientific name: Aegolius funereus
Boreal Owl call:
(Recording source: Lars Edenius, XC756355, www.xeno-canto.org/756355)
The sound recording above is of the territorial song of a Boreal Owl.
The Boreal Owl is another northern species that only shows up in Wisconsin during the winter in irruptive years with prey scarcity in its regular range.
These owls frequent conifer forests and only sing early in spring from February through April.
And while they are hard to spot during daytime, sometimes mobbing songbirds will give their location away.
And there we have the most common owl sounds that can be heard in Wisconsin!
I think you’ll find that, with a little practice, identifying owls by their sounds is much easier than identifying them by sight.
Of course this doesn’t apply when owls are silent, which can be the case with winter visitors such as Snowy Owls or Northern Hawk Owls.
If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to the raptors of Wisconsin.