Important Etiquette for Owling in Winter

Owls are exciting and enigmatic creatures, and sightings of them are coveted by birders young and old, avid and casual. At least seven species of owls can be seen regularly here in Rochester, including:

  • Eastern Screech Owl
  • Short-eared Owl
  • Northern Saw-whet Owl
  • Great Horned Owl
  • Barred Owl
  • Long-eared Owl

These special creatures are large, intelligent, and well aware of your presence and actions. Please take extreme caution to not disturb birds even if that means missing out on a killer photograph. The birds are more important. 

Repeat after us: The birds are more important.

Owling season can also be troublesome for landowners who unwittingly play host to these creatures. So let’s be as kind and respectful as we can to them so they see, and continue to see, birdwatchers and photographers as a welcome lot.

Below, field trip leader Kimberly Sucy has put together a few etiquette guidelines for owling season. We hope all birders and photographers will read with care:

  1. Respect private property and be a good neighbor: don’t block roads, driveways, mailboxes, or gates with your car. Don’t turn around in residents’ driveways if alternatives exist.  Be friendly, wave and smile, and be sure to engage locals who are curious about what you’re doing. Try to represent birders as a considerate group of visitors to local neighborhoods, and not a nuisance.
  2. Your car is the best blind for viewing and photography.  If using a spotting scope, consider getting a car mount—or if you have only a tripod, stand behind your car or other obstacle to avoid spooking the birds from a prime perch.
  3. If in your car, be aware of other viewers:  try to keep cars aligned on the same side of the road if you can.  If you have a great location and have seen and/or photographed the owl for several minutes, try to move ahead. The person behind you, or two cars back, might never have seen these birds before and would appreciate your consideration.  Remember the joy when you first saw these birds, and allow others the same moment of bliss.
  4. If others are actively viewing or photographing skittish birds, try to keep distractions to a minimum. Avoid leaving your car, approaching the birds, or making noise like slamming car doors or shouting.  If you do need to move around outside your car, be stealthy!  You may have already seen the bird of the day, but others may only get a glimpse of a bird flying rapidly away.

Now you’re ready to have a great owling season. Don’t forget to send your observations to the birding listserv and submit your data to eBird. We’d like to share your joy, and others use the data you collect.

Good birding!