FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
FAQs - click on a question to find the answer below.
How do I attract owls to my yard?
The best way to attract owls to your property is to create habitat for the prey that owls hunt – usually small mammals. This can include leaving dead trees or “snags” on your property, creating brush piles, leaving out wood piles and downed logs, and not mowing your lawn.
Turn off any bright lights.
Never use any rodenticides – not only will these kill the owls’ prey, but they will also poison the owls.
Open areas are attractive to many types of owls for hunting, such as the Great Horned Owl, Great Gray Owl, Snowy Owl, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl. Open areas bordered by trees, fence posts, or open branches provide perches from which owls can hunt.
Nest boxes can also help to increase your chances of getting a breeding pair of owls on your property and maybe even some chicks in the spring. Nest boxes generally work best for Barn, Screech, Saw-whet, and Barred owls.
Great Horned Owls commonly nest in old Red-tailed Hawk or raven nests, so keeping tall trees on your property is helpful. For the Northern Pygmy owl, active bird feeders can be a good lure, as these owls mostly hunt small birds. Undisturbed grasslands with taller grasses attract Short-eared Owls, and dense shrubs can provide good cover for roosting Long-eared and Saw-whets.
How do I protect my small pets from owls outside?
Most owls are not able to snatch pets as prey. Great Horned Owls are potentially large enough to take a small cat, but generally this is not common. They are more likely to grab a rabbit or smaller pet that will not put up a fight. It is best to keep your rabbits and chickens or fowl in a protected area in the evening and early morning when owls are most actively hunting. Cover openings or windows in barns and outbuildings to prevent Barn owls from entering. Remember that it is illegal to harm an owl in any way. Cats should be kept indoors anyways to protect them from other predators and because they are a major predator to vulnerable species of songbirds.
I found a baby owl on the ground – what should I do?
Do not touch the owl or approach too closely. Often, it is perfectly normal that the chick is on the ground and is a critical part of their development.
Call the nearest raptor or wildlife rehabilitation facility in your area. A google search for "raptor rescue," "raptor rehab," or "wildlife rehab," will usually yield this information.
If you can observe from a distance, wait and see if the parents are delivering food to the chick. Look around for the nest. If the chick is very small and downy, you can place it back in the nest if accessible. Many owls leave the nest before they are fully fledged or able to fly; however, they should have some feathers at this point, not just down.
Absolutely do not bring the owl into your house unless you are sure it needs help and have been told to do so by a rescuer, as it may imprint on humans and no longer be able to survive in the wild. It is important to remember that nature is usually best left alone and occasionally wild birds will fall out of the nest or succumb to predators.
How can I identify an owl I've spotted?
Start by determining the species of owls that occur in your area.
Then, note the size, shape, and color of the owl.
Is the owl large or small?
Does it have ear tufts or a smooth head?
What color are the feathers, eyes, and beak?
These key traits will usually point you in the right direction. If possible, listen for the owl calling in the evening or night and record the call. Also note the habitat and behaviors of the owl to narrow down possible species.
Additional resources include:
Check out our Owl ID Guide pages.
Join the Facebook Raptor ID group.
Download the Merlin Bird ID app.
Where can I find owls – I want to photograph them.
Go owling! Learn owls’ geographic ranges, habitats, and calls to sleuth them out. Enjoy the special experience of finding an owl by listening and observing quietly from a distance. If the owl is looking at you and changing its behavior, you are too close. Protect the owl by refraining from sharing its location.
Read more about best practices in wildlife photography here:
Ethics from Empathy, by Melissa Groo
Is it okay to approach an owl?
When you are observing or photographing an owl, aim to leave the owl’s behavior unchanged. If you’ve flushed an owl and it flies away, you know you’ve gotten too close. Look for any signs of stress in the owl and immediately back away if you see these (watching you intently, defensive posturing like spreading wings, raising ear tufts, panting, etc). Do not draw attention to nests by hanging around or preventing food deliveries by staying too close to the nest.
Surviving in the wild comes with constant challenges for owls - your presence can create a host of new ones. In short, keep your binoculars handy and your distance long.
What can I do to help protect owls?
Drive slowly at night and watch out for hunting owls swooping across the road.
Leave habitat undisturbed.
Never use rodenticides or pesticides.
Keep your cat indoors.
Make the windows of your house bird safe with decals.
Cover chimneys and ventilation pipes with screens.
Put up owl nest boxes.
Advocate for habitat conservation, bird conservation, and donate to or volunteer to a conservation or research organization.
Does it disturb the owls to study them?
It depends on the invasiveness of the research. Some of our projects are purely observational, and we observe the owls from a distance which does not disturb or affect their behavior. Other projects, such as those where we band the owls, require capturing and brief handling. While this is a stress inducing event for the owl, the time in-hand is brief and they are released back into the wild immediately thereafter. They resume their normal behavior very quickly after release.
Does it hurt the owls when you capture them?
No, we do not harm the owls in the process of capturing and banding them. The safety and well-being of the owls is always our number one priority.
Can I hire an ORI biologist to do a talk or presentation?
Absolutely! We love to share our knowledge and experiences. However, we are busy with research and our time fills up fast! Please contact us and let us know a little bit about your interests and needs so we can plan appropriately.
How can I volunteer for ORI?
We do not currently have any volunteer opportunities. Check our website or social media for updates.
Is ORI hiring?
Check our website or social media for job postings.
Can I do an internship with ORI?
Check our website or social media for internship opportunities.
Are there any owl classes I can take?
ORI Researchers sometimes lead owl workshops in the spring. Find out more by visiting the websites of the tour companies that host them:
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT)
Where is the ORI office located? Can I come visit?
Due to our busy field schedule, the ORI offices and field station are not open to the public. That being said, if you'd like to stop by and see our facility in Charlo, Montana, feel free to contact us. We are sometimes able to make arrangements!
Please note, we are not a rehab facility and keep no live owls in our care. ORI research is exclusively conducted on wild owls in the field.
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Just fill out the newsletter sign-up form HERE.