We live in a world of dizzying change in how we live, drive, and communicate. Like many people, we struggle to keep up with change and stay modern, so it’s comforting to know that some things simply don’t change. Fortunately, winter owls don’t change.

In March 1982 the Cedar Rapids GAZETTE printed Marion’s column on Iowa owls.  It’s as relevant today as it was 42 years ago.

Audible In Winter

Now is the season of Winter Owls. The time of year when they are especially audible and often visible. Owls have a large vocabulary from courting to warning. YouTube is a great source to learn about and hear the sounds.

Barred and Great Horned Owls

We love hearing the clear and somewhat chilling calls of Barred and Great Horned Owls that reach our house over the snow and through the woods on clear, frosty winter nights. These two species live near our home year-round, with Barred Owls the most common. You can tell the Great Horned call that is low and throaty. The Barred calls out the familiar, “Who cooks for you?” refrain.

Screech Owls

A few times a year we drive to New Jersey to visit relatives and often are delighted to hear the two calls of a local Screech Owl serenade the evening. Its soft, haunting trill, called a tremolo, wafts over the lake. The “whinny”, think of a horse whinny, is territorial.

Northern Owls

Several of our friends trekked north this winter to see Great Grey and Northern Hawk-Owls. The Great Grey’s sound varies from a low-pitched “whoof” to an abrupt “meeh” to short screeches similar to a blue jay. The Northern Hawk Owl’s vocabulary ranges from high-pitched warbling sounds that carry across frozen landscapes to “chit-chit-chits” to a wimpy, scratchy screech. Think of a person with laryngitis trying to sing. All owls’ calls are amazing delights for those who wander outside and listen carefully on winter evenings.

Snowy Owls

Many owl species don’t migrate much but these two sometimes dip southward from their usual winter range. So do magnificent Snowy Owls. In some especially frigid winters, they drift way south in what’s called an “irruption”. Birders flock to see them in open fields and even on the edge of airports! One of our favorite owls is the tiny Northern Saw-Whet Owl. They regularly come south in winter. Years ago, the Indian Creek Nature Center had a thick grove of young pines, a winter habitat the bird loves. Often, we could approach them closely on cold days. We even heard them once in the tiny ‘pine grove’ at our former residence.

How Do I Love Thee?

A fascinating aspect of owls is that they court and nest when it’s still winter! Although people rarely see courtship or mating, it is fascinating. Texas Backyard Wildlife captured video and the offering to the bigger female as a token of Love.

What prompts these impressive raptors to court, breed, and endure the hardships of incubating eggs in nature’s most desolate time of year? Necessity! Baby owls are a lot like human babies. They take a lot of care. For months owlets cry, eat, sleep, and poop. All the while growing. Just like humans. Young hatch late March into April when small rodents, the mainstay of owls, become more plentiful. Then, the adults really get busy foraging to feed the young tucked into nests of sticks.


Unlike some birds, Great Horned owl nests are not works of art. Adults return to the same wood tracts year after year and add only a few extra twigs. Young, like many teenagers, can make a shambles of the nest. The more practical Screech Owls prefer tree cavities and can be convinced to nest in wooden boxes adapted for them.


During winter owls can be noisy and obvious as they wing across snowy fields at dusk. But after courtship and nesting, they quiet down. Like human adults, they are busy raising the young. By mid-summer people sometimes find “teenaged” owls flopping around on the ground or perched precariously on low branches. Like all fledglings, they are learning to fly.  It’s best to leave them alone.  The parent is nearby and the “kids” will make it without our help.

Tuck In and Read!

Winter is more than a time to hear and see owls. It’s a season to read about them. Our two favorite bird magazines featured owls in their winter 2024 editions. BIRD WATCHER’S DIGEST, features a species profile on Barn Owls. LIVING BIRD includes a fascinating article called HUNTING BY HEARING. The magazines are available online to subscribers. We enjoy both while curled up with the paper copy by the wood stove, and occasionally reading online articles. We also browse reliable internet sources and YouTube videos on owls.

Be Intrepid!

For intrepid winter visitors a trip to the International Owl Center in Houston, MN, is a delight. Their signature event, the International Festival of Owls is scheduled for March 1-3 this year.

Enjoy Winter

It’s winter. A season to enjoy the cold, snow, and OWLS.