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Discover Nature: Courting Owls

A barred owl with mottled brown and white feathers, yellow beak, and round face with black eyes sits on a gray tree branch.
A barred owl can commonly be heard making it’s distinct ‘who-cooks-for-you’ courting call on crisp nights in Missouri’s woods. ";s:3:"u

On a crisp Missouri night, take a walk in the woods and listen for the sultry calls of courting owls. 

Long-entwined in human history and folklore, science has stripped away superstitions that once connected these birds to witchcraft and death.  Instead, we now recognize the unique role they play in controlling populations of mice, rats, and snakes. 

Armed with sharp talons and powerful beaks, these nocturnal predators have three-dimensional night-vision and a keen sense of hearing.  A barn owl can locate its prey with pinpoint accuracy, in total darkness, using its sense of sound alone. 

Serrated-edge feathers on the front of their wings make their flight stealthily silent.  However, in winter, you can often hear Missouri’s owls before you see them, as they call for mates from their treetop perches. 

Listen for the ‘who-cooks-for-you’ hooting of a barred owl; the rare and raspy call of a snowy owl; the deep, muffled stuttering of a great horned owl; or the chilling scream of an endangered barn owl.

Learn more about Missouri’s owls,  and listen to their courting calls at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s online field guide.

Discover Nature is sponsored by the Missouri Department of Conservation.

Kyle Felling was born in the rugged northwest Missouri hamlet of St. Joseph (where the Pony Express began and Jesse James ended). Inspired from a young age by the spirit of the early settlers who used St. Joseph as an embarkation point in their journey westward, Kyle developed the heart of an explorer and yearned to leave for adventures of his own. Perhaps as a result of attending John Glenn elementary school, young Kyle dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but was disheartened when someone told him that astronauts had to be good at math. He also considered being a tow truck driver, and like the heroes of his favorite childhood television shows (The A-Team and The Incredible Hulk) he saw himself traveling the country, helping people in trouble and getting into wacky adventures. He still harbors that dream.
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