On The Wild Side: Enjoy observing owls but do not interfere with them

Ann Brokelman captured this photo of a barred owl during a recent excursion in the Greater Toronto Area. Photo by Ann Brokelman.


While over the years I have seen many owls, if all you ever saw were my posted photos or heard were my favourite stories, you might assume it is easy to find them.

Unfortunately, when friends assume this and then come to visit and ask me to take them to see one, it’s actually really difficult to say ‘no problem’.

Owls, like most birds, move around to wherever the food is, and relocate regularly.

While they may stay in one spot for weeks or months, they can also leave without warning.

Luckily, when my friend Holly was recently visiting from Florida, not only did she get to see a variety of birds, but we got to witness an owl successfully hunt a vole.

Our adventure began with us slowly driving down a quiet ‘drive at your own risk’, road outside the GTA. It didn’t take me long to spot a barred owl a little off into the woods.

We parked, got out with our cameras, and enjoyed a quick show of him flying from tree to tree and even down to the ground a few times. At one point he disappeared into a pine tree and we assumed our sighting was over.
Amazingly, a few moments later he not only reappeared in flight, but he did so clutching the biggest meadow vole I think I’ve ever seen.

He landed on a tree in plain sight and we got to watch him transfer the vole from talon to beak and then swallow his vole in one large gulp.

Holly, to say the least, was ecstatic.

On our return to my home we saw the two eastern screech owls in my backyard nesting box.

Check out one of my previous articles on the owl babies born in my back yard a few years ago.


What to do once you find an owl? If you should happen upon an owl, be very still and quiet.

Try to imagine that everything you’re doing is in slow motion.

Also, thinking that if you’ve been watching the owl for two minutes, he’s been watching you for 20, might already feel threatened, and is probably considering flying away.

Don’t be disappointed if he does, any owl sighting, no matter how brief, is worth getting excited over.

If the owl manages to relax, you might get an extensive viewing opportunity. If the owl looks alarmed, (elongating its body or moving its head back and forth), back off very slowly and quietly, and try to keep your profile low.

Please do not ever use call tapes, imitations of owl calls, or spotlights.

Also, never disturb an owl nest or roost site.

The biggest threats are flash photography or shining light directly on owls when they are roosting, flying or capturing prey. You could become the reason a nest fails or a roost is abandoned.

Seeing or hearing an owl provides an exciting experience for both young and old, just please enjoy the animal without interfering with it.

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