Owls are seldom seen, but can be heard at night. These magnificent birds are wonderful to have around, and once in a while you can catch a glimpse of them as they sail silently through the night sky.

Owls are important to our gardens because they are great scavengers of mice and rats. Their hearing is so acute that they can detect the location and direction of a mouse under leaves and in total darkness. Their fluffy plumage makes their flight nearly soundless. Their large eyes and solemn look gives rise to the belief that they symbolize wisdom. Look into their large eyes and you can see where the term “wise old owl” comes from.

Because owls can see well in the dark, they were once believed to possess supernatural powers. That’s why its a common Halloween icon! The three owls featured below are the most common year round inhabitants in North America.


The Great Horned Owl is the largest and best known owl in North America. The great horned owl can be identified as 18-25 inches long, with widely spaced ear tufts, yellow eyes, white throat and finely barred underparts. The male and female look alike except the female will be larger. You will usually hear the great horned owl before you see it. The call is a distinct, deeply resonant 4-6 hoots: hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo.

The Great Horned Owl is mainly a nocturnal hunter and enjoys mammals (up to the size of porcupines), gophers, mice, weasels, snakes, squirrels, chipmunks, woodchucks,skunks, rabbits, birds, reptiles and frogs. Its preferred habitat is deep forests, open country, deserts, marshes and wilder city parks.

They are found everywhere shelter such as woods is available and cliffs are close. Since they are nocturnal creatures, during the day they will roost in the thick tops of evergreen trees, close to a trunk. They prefer to nest in trees, caves or on the ground.


At 9 inches, the screech owl is one of the smallest owls in North America. The eastern screech owl may be either red or gray, the western screech owl is usually gray with a darker bill. Both sexes look alike. Despite their name, screech owls do not screech. The eastern screech owl has a tremulous, eerie cry in the night. the western screech owl has a rhythmic series of whistles.

Screech owls enjoy eating some of our garden pests including mice, shrews, large insects, small reptiles, amphibians, songbirds, and small game birds. As with most owls, they begin hunting soon after dark. Screech owls prefer forests, farm woodlots, and shade trees in urban and suburban backyards and parks. Screech owls will readily roost and/or nest in large birdhouses such as our screech owl house, located 10 to 30 feet above ground on mature trees such as large oaks. Dead trees provide nest sites too. Screech owls will drink and bathe in garden ponds and birdbaths at night.


The barn owl is a pale owl with long legs and dark eyes on a heart shaped face. Rusty brown above, underparts range from white to cinnamon. Females are usually darker than the male. Their nocturnal hunting jaunts net them mice, moles, shrews, rats, gophers, ground squirrels, rabbits, and skunks. The barn owl roosts and nests in dark cavities in city and farm buildings, cliffs, and trees. Its call is a raspy, hissing screech.


You can tell if an owl is in your area not only by hearing its hooting at night, but look for owl pellets under potential roosting areas. Owl pellets are the regurgitated indigestible portions of their food such as bones, hair and feathers. These items are compressed and regurgitated as compact pellets. You can attract these beneficial owls to your backyard by:

  1. Creating a forest edge or open woodland with lots of trees and perching spaces. An evergreen tree is preferable. Owls will live in any backyard with mature habitat that supports a variety of other wildlife.
  2. Spare that old mature tree or dead tree! Screech owls can use them for nesting.
  3. Mount a screech owl house 10 to 30 feet above ground in a mature tree such as a large oak.
  4. Offer a source of water for drinking and bathing. Most owls will readily drink and bathe in garden ponds and birdbaths at night.
  5. Avoid using mouse and rat poison. If an owl eats a poisoned rodent, the owl will get poisoned as well.

Owl Puke: Book and Owl Pellet Boxed Kit

Kids love science–especially when it´s hands–on–and kids love yucky stuff. Owl Puke: Book and Owl Pellet brings the best of those two worlds together in a unique package. What is an owl pellet? It’s the football-shaped object regurgitated twice a day by owls, which contains the skeleton of at least one owl meal, be it a mouse, vole, shrew, or small bird.

A professionally collected, heat-sterilized owl pellet is now married to a lively, two-color illustrated book filled with facts and related activities about these most amazing birds. And what a story Owl Puke tells of the food chain, animal anatomy, life in the forest; of a bird that could read the bottom line of an eye chart from one mile away; and of a fierce hunter that swallows its prey headfirst and digests everything but the bones, which it spits back up in a pellet. As for the story the pellet tells, kids need only a toothpick to find out.

The package includes a plastic tray to hold the bones and a chart to help identify the pellet’s contents. It’s a hoot! Written by Jane Hammerslough, the book is 92 pages, measures 5″ x 7″ and includes full-color photographs and illustrations. Box is 6-3/4″ x 7″ x 1-3/4″. Includes a sterilized owl pellet & bone collector tray. For Ages 9–12. Published Workman Publishing Company April 2004.

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