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For a short time in recent years “owling” came to mean posing for a picture by crouching like an owl in unusual places and posting the resulting photograph on social media. However, for bird watchers owling is a much more meaningful pastime.

Barn Owl

Spotting owls is different from other types of bird watching as they tend to be fairly elusive during the day. Some species such as short-eared owls or little owls can be seen during daylight hours, but most owls are are nocturnal or crepsular – active at dawn and dusk.

Therefore, going owling takes some planning to ensure that you maximize the opportunity to see an owl.

Although most owls do not migrate and can be found in the same territory throughout the year certain times of the year are better for owling.

A moonlit night in mid-summer or early autumn is the ideal time to go owling so check the weather forecast and plan to go on a clear, dry night. Younger birds tend to be less secretive and therefore easier to spot.

If you bird by ear then searching for owls in late winter can be easier when owls are calling to attract a mate or claim their territories.

Before you go owling check your field guide to find out which species of owl you are likely to see. Make yourself familiar with their markings, calls and preferred habitats.

You will need a pair of binoculars with night vision or with wider lenses that can be used in low light conditions. A spotting scope can be very effective for observing a perched owl.

Make sure you take warm clothing. Even on the hottest days, temperatures can drop rapidly after sunset so take layers and choose clothing that is not reflective in dark or camouflaged colours that does not rustle.

Pack a torch, insect repellant and ensure your mobile phone is charged. You may want to take a flask or tea or coffee or even something a little stronger. Keep your torch pointed downwards when using it as a flash of light may disrupt an owl’s night vision making them vulnerable to predators.

Try and take a nap before you go out owling so you have plenty of energy to get you through the night. You won’t find it easy to spot owls if you are not alert.

Check local websites or get in touch with a local bird watching organization to get advice on the best places to spot owls.

If there are no records of recent sightings, head out to woods, forests and agricultural areas where owls can find lots of prey such as mice, voles and shrews. Always respect the countryside and keep to public rights of way.

When you are out looking for owls keep as quiet as you can and avoid getting to close. In nesting season owls can be particularly aggressive and if they don’t consider you a threat they are less likely to fly away.

Most owls have brilliant camouflage so listen carefully for their calls and when you think you are near an owl watch out for any head movements or wing stretches among branches to show you where the bird is perched.

If you are having difficultly finding owls then you might want to join a scheduled owl watching walk where you will be led by an expert guide who will be able to show you the best places to find owls.

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