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Owls: Strigidae

Behavior And Reproduction

Most typical owls hunt by sitting on an elevated perch while watching and listening for prey. Exceptions to this hunting style include Northern hawk owls, which hunt like falcons, chasing other birds on the wing. Long-eared and short-eared owls patrol for prey by flying low and slowly over fields. In winter, great gray owls detect voles not by sight, but by the sounds they make under the snow, then plunge-dive. They can break through snow crusts thick enough to support a man.

Many typical owls make classic owl "hoo-hoo" vocalizations, but also use a variety of other vocalizations to communicate. Most typical owls are solitary night hunters. A few, such as long-eared owls, gather in groups in winter to roost. A few are active by day, including burrowing owls.

About 10 percent of all typical owls undergo true seasonal migration. The northern saw-whet owl is one example. Many species in northern regions move south in winters when their rodent prey are scarce.

Most strigids are monogamous (muh-NAH-guh-mus; having only one mate). In a few species (the boreal owl is one example), a male may take two mates simultaneously if food is plentiful. Most members of the group nest in tree cavities, shallow caves, or the abandoned nests of crows or hawks. A few species nest on the ground. Burrowing owls nest in the underground burrows of prairie dogs and other mammals.


Owls are not well studied because they fly at night, and many species live in remote places, far from human dwellings. Scientists have had some owl surprises in recent years. One species of barn owl, the Congo Bay owl, was thought to be extinct. Then it was rediscovered in 1996 in Rwanda. In 2001, researchers discovered an entirely new species, never before known to science, in Brazil. It is called the Pernambuco pygmy-owl. Yet another new species, the Sumba hawk owl, was also discovered in 2001, on the Indonesian island of Sumba. All three species live in areas where forest is being cut down, however. Conservationists hope the news of owl discoveries will not be followed by news of their extinction.

The average clutch size is two to four, though eagle owls typically lay a single egg and burrowing owls can have clutches of ten or more when food is plentiful. The female incubates the eggs and broods the chicks while the male feeds the family. The young often leave the nest before they can fly to clamber around in the nest tree. At this stage they are called branchers.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsOwls: Strigidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Owls And People, Eastern Screech-owl (otus Asio): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, CONSERVATION STATUS