Nature centers, sometimes offer “owl prowls” or guided walks. These outings are led by a local owl expert and include visits to areas where owl sightings are likely to occur. These programs are an excellent introduction to the basics — where to go, how to listen, when to go and how to look. You can contact Harris or Fenner Nature Centers for the next walk.
Where to go
In our mid-Michigan area the Great Horned, Barred and Eastern Screech owls are all common on small woodlots or edge of forest areas. Most owls do not migrate and can be found in the same territory throughout the year, and winter is a great time to go owling.
How to listen
Late December to January, owls are calling more frequently to attract mates or claim their territories. http://www.allaboutbirds.org is a good website that will give the typical sounds owls produce.
When to go
Owls are nocturnal birds and the best time to see them is when they are more active hunting at dawn or dusk. A full moon at night can also help provide more light for effective owl spotting.
How to look
Owl pellets are about 2 inches and include fur, feathers, claws,
teeth, bones, exoskeletons of insects and other undigested parts.
When I looked below the tree I spotted several owl pellets. Since most owls usually eat their prey whole, the undigested parts (bones, bill, teeth, skull, feathers, or fur) are compressed into a pellet and regurgitated. The larger the owl, the larger the prey it takes and the larger the pellet. Owls typically regurgitate two pellets each day, usually one at their daytime roost and one at their nighttime feeding site.
Another thing to look for during daytime walks is white excrement, down through the branches below the owl’s perch. If you’re lucky, the owl will be sitting motionless, camouflaged in the branches.
Resist the urge to pull out your smartphones and apps that can reproduce a species songs. Imitation calls during an owl’s breeding season can stress a bird unnecessarily.
If you discover an owl, remain quiet and do everything in slow motion. Do not disturb trees an owl chooses as its perch or nest.
If you find a nest or roost site, visit infrequently. Study the site from a safe distance with binoculars or a scope, so the owls are not alarmed by your presence. Do not disturb them by getting too close, even for photos. You don’t want to be the reason a nest fails or a roost is abandoned.
Using basic birding etiquette, you can observe owls in their natural habitat without disturbing them.