An owl prowl is a hike taken after dusk in which you make owl calls in the hopes that you will hear one call back at you. I just took my kids on one of these nighttime adventures and it was a great way to study these elusive creatures.
We joined a program at the Wachusett Meadow Wildlife Sanctuary which is owned and operated by the Massachusetts Audubon Society. They have great programs from animal tracking to birding that will bring out your inner naturalist.
Audubon also has a very fun “Passport to Nature” program where kids can get stamps at each sanctuary they visit.
Mass Audubon is the largest conservation organization in the state. We pay $70 a year for a family membership. Not only does our membership give us discounted program tickets, but that money will help protect wildlife and their ecosystems for generations to come.
The best time of year to go on an owl prowl is January or February because that is when they are establishing territories and communicating with their mates. We set out at 5:00 which was already completely dark. Our guide was a naturalist who had perfected her owl calls.
She taught us the calls of two local owl species- the Barred Owl and the Great Horned Owl. The Barred Owl sounds like it is saying “who cooks for you?” and is pretty easy to identify. A Great Horned Owl call trails off and sounds sad at the end. I played owl calls for the kids on our way out to the owl prowl so they knew what to listen for.
After we practiced our calls, we bundled up and headed out on our night hike. We walked the edges of a field stopping every so often for our naturalist to do an owl call and quietly wait in hopes that an owl would respond.
There was a tree in the middle of the field which was prime hunting grounds for a Great Horned Owl. They like to be able to see the whole field in case a rodent scurries across.
I read the book Owl Moon to the kids before the owl prowl. Not only is it a great book, but it gave them a good idea of what to expect. On an owl prowl, you need to be quiet and you need to be brave. As they say in the book, “Sometimes there is an owl and sometimes there is not.”
That was true of our night in the woods. We didn’t hear any owls calling on this night, but it was still really exciting to be out at night in the wilderness. We will certainly try again.
What to wear to an owl prowl
Since it is going to be winter, it will be quite cold. We bundled the kids in hats, gloves, winter coats and long underwear. You could wrap a blanket around them if it is really cold. Wear good sturdy footwear because the ground is uneven and you will be walking in the dark.
There were no flashlights to help us see, because we didn’t want to scare away any animals. You also don’t need binoculars. You are really just trying to hear the owls, not see them.
Another great way to learn about owls is to dissect owl pellets. To read all about our experience dissecting owl pellets, click here.
The Trustees of the Reservation also offer owl prowl hikes. You can learn about their programs by clicking here. Along the coast of Massachusetts, there is an opportunity to see snowy owls.
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