7 Proven Strategies That Attract Owls! (2023)
How do you attract owls to your yard?
Few birds make me stop in my tracks quite like an owl.
But, unfortunately, owls are tough to attract.
You are going to have to work hard if you want to draw in these raptors. And because most owl species are nocturnal and difficult to see, it’s hard even to know if your efforts are working!
But trust me, the payout is worth it. The first time you see an owl roosting in your backyard, nesting in a box you installed, or you hear one trying to attract a mate, you will have an incredible feeling of euphoria!
I want to offer you a warning before we begin. There are no guarantees when trying to attract owls. You can do everything correctly and create an ideal backyard habitat, and they still might not show up. Or it may take years before an individual is finally spotted or heard.
But it’s a fun challenge nonetheless. Enjoy the seven tips and techniques below!
7 Backyard Strategies That Attract Owls
Strategy #1. Provide them with food.
One of the best ways to see owls is to make sure there is a reliable supply of food for them, similar to how filling up a bird feeder full of sunflower will attract cardinals and chickadees.
But owls are birds of prey, which means they eat meat and like their food freshly killed.
The most common food that owls eat is small rodents, such as mice. But, there are also some species, such as Screech Owls, that also eat insects. To view a list of the most common owls in North America, and a list of their favorite foods, you will want to read the following post.
So the first step to attracting owls is to provide a backyard habitat that encourages mice and insects to visit and inhabit.
Here are FIVE TIPS to help make your yard more rodent and bug-friendly.
On a side note, after finding out you need to attract mice and insects to attract owls, do you still want to proceed? 🙂
A. Don’t clean up your yard so much.
To draw in more insects and rodents, you are going to need to keep your yard a bit messier. The reason for this is that there needs to be hiding places and homes for them. Here are a few things that I do in my yard:
Make brush piles.
Check out this massive brush pile that I have created in the woods behind my home.
I throw everything I can in there, including old Christmas trees, bush trimmings, and any branches that fall in my yard. But look at all the shelter that this one brush pile provides!
I have seen numerous animals inside, including rabbits, opossum, and mice. It’s interesting to look at the tracks coming OUT of the pile after a light snow. I’m happy to know that I was able to help many animals find a warm place to get out of the wind and weather.
Also, I can’t imagine the number of bugs that use this brush pile as shelter or inhabit the decaying wood!
Leave leaf litter and fallen sticks
Many species of bugs rely on the leaves in your backyard. The leaves that fall each autumn provide a layer of organic material that slowly rots through the year, providing food and shelter. Many native bird species are even thought to have gradually declined as more of this habitat is “cleaned up” and there is a loss of invertebrates.
Believe it or not, many insects, slugs, snails, spiders, millipedes, spend the winter underneath leaf litter, which keeps them warm until spring.
And since bugs are toward the bottom of the food chain, you want to have a plentiful supply of them in your yard to have a healthy ecosystem. Even though most owl species don’t eat invertebrates, many things that owls prey upon do. This includes birds, reptiles, amphibians, and rodents.
B. Don’t mow so much.
If you want to guarantee not to have much wildlife in your yard, then you should go ahead and mow every single square inch of your property.
Even though a nicely manicured yard looks pleasant to your eye, it looks absolutely terrible to every single animal.
Just think about it. There is nothing to eat and nowhere to hide in a yard that is just grass.
My suggestion is to try and figure out the areas in your yard that you don’t HAVE to mow. Could you plant a native flower garden? Or maybe a bunch of trees that will grow big over time? I think an area left to grow naturally is incredibly more interesting to look at than just mowed grass.
At the very least, make sure to mow at the highest setting. The lawn will sure appreciate it as there are multiple benefits. Higher grass will help keep the soil from drying out so quickly, and the bugs will have a nice, cool place to hide.
C. Avoid pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides.
The root word “–cide” means death, destruction, and extermination.
So it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that I try to avoid anything that ends in “-cide” in my backyard since I will be mass killing something.
Let’s run through some common “cides” and discuss why they are not good to use if you want to attract owls and other wildlife to your backyard.
For the sake of simplicity, when I use the term “pesticide” in this post, I am referring to poisons that kill rodents, such as mice, voles, moles, chipmunks, etc.
Here’s why you shouldn’t use pesticides if you want to attract owls.
First, as we have already discussed, small rodents serve as a primary food source for most owl species. Poisoning them away doesn’t seem very productive for attracting owls.
DON’T USE THIS STUFF!!!
Second, introducing poisons into your yard is incredibly dangerous for owls, hawks, eagles, coyotes, or anything else that preys on rodents. The reason is that the pesticide will get passed up the food chain. As that mouse is dying or has recently died, it becomes an easy meal for predators.
Unfortunately, as soon as the predator ingests the easy meal, it is now poisoned with the same pesticide that killed the mouse. And then scavengers will likely feed on the carcass, and the pattern continues.
So please, don’t use pesticides in your backyard. If for the only reason that your dog or cat might eat them too.
Let me know if this sounds familiar:
You get a knock at your door right before you’re getting ready to sit down for dinner. You head to the door to find someone going door to door, trying to get you to buy their services to spray your house through the summer to kill every sort of bug under the sun. Their sales pitch usually says that all of your other neighbors have signed up, and you are going to be the only house on the block that still has spiders.
When I first became a homeowner and didn’t know any better, I fell for this trap and had our house sprayed for bugs a few times. That was until I learned more and became more knowledgeable.
As we have discussed already, invertebrates serve as food for countless species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and even other bugs. By killing them all with poison, you are destroying a food source that owls and other predators in your backyard are going to eat.
Not to mention, no matter what the salesperson tells you at the door, there is NO WAY having massive amounts of insecticides sprayed all over your yard is good for a person’s health. Are you telling me that the wind isn’t going to blow a little bit of poison directly onto your fruit tree or vegetable garden?
I am not as passionate about eliminating herbicides from your yard as I am about not using pesticides and insecticides.
The average homeowner typically uses herbicides when they are applying fertilizer to their yard. Many of these fertilizers also include something that kills weeds, such as dandelion and clover in their lawn.
The problem is that not many creatures eat the grass in your yard, but some mammals and insects will be attracted to your “weeds.” Whether it’s a rabbit munching on clover, or native insects that love a blooming dandelion, having some weeds mixed into your yard is good for wildlife, which in turn helps attract owls.
For 100% disclosure, I want to mention what I do at my house. I live in a suburban neighborhood and do care somewhat about the appearance of our home and yard. We treat our front yard with a “weed and feed” type fertilizer. In the backyard, though, I let the weeds grow wild!
D. Plant native trees, shrubs, and flowers.
I believe it’s best to plant specimens native to North America to draw in all sorts of wildlife, including owls.
That’s because most grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, spiders, caterpillars, and other invertebrates are only attracted to plants native to North America.
This makes sense when you think about it; that beautiful shrub from China for sale at your local garden store may look pretty, but native insects and arthropods are not adapted to it and therefore won’t be attracted.
And if bugs don’t like your plants, then birds and rodents that eat those bugs won’t be coming to your backyard! And if the bugs, mice, and birds are not in your yard, then it’s unlikely owls will be showing up.
If you DON’T WANT wildlife in your backyard, my #1 tip is to plant exotic plants from around the world!
But the line between what is native and what is not is a bit unclear. Some plants originate from other continents but have been in North America so long that they are considered “naturalized” in the wild. Also, most plants you see in nurseries are not what you would find in nature anyway, but some cultivar of the wild version of that flower species.
How do you know if a plant is native?
There is a helpful search tool located on the United States Department of Agriculture website. If you are not sure if a plant is native, type in the scientific name or common name in the search bar on the left-hand side. It will show you whether the plant is native to North America, introduced, or both.
You can also talk to your local garden store, nursery, or bird club for advice.
E. Put out a bird feeder.
I think that setting up a bird feeding station with feeders full of seed is a great way to help attract owls.
Having bird feeders in your backyard is going to attract many creatures that owls eat! Let’s run through the list of possible prey items that will be drawn towards birdseed.
As we have talked about numerous times already, small rodents are excellent for attracting owls!
And for those of us that already have bird feeders set up, it’s common to have mice and rats attracted to the seed that falls to the ground. And since mice and rats typically only come out at night to feed, they are perfect owl bait.
Luckily, I have never seen a rat in my backyard, but mice are seen all the time on my live camera that watches the area underneath my feeders.
For example, you have to check out the following clip of an owl grabbing a mouse at a bird feeding station in Europe. The owl comes out of nowhere to ambush its prey!
This predation wasn’t a one-time event either. It happens quite regularly, and the owls are often seen flying around the feeding station at night, waiting for their next meal to arrive.
Having lots of birds in your yard is an excellent way to attract owls. While smaller birds are generally not a primary source of food for owls, they still serve as something that our nighttime raptors will dine upon. This fact is especially true during nesting season when owls are more active during the day looking for food to feed their chicks.
Strategy #2: Owls need to drink too.
Like all animals, owls need a consistent source of water to survive. Think about your backyard for a moment; is there anywhere nearby that provides water?
This question is great to ask yourself, no matter what you want to attract. Whether its birds, bats, or owls, water is essential for survival.
You may be lucky enough to have a stream or pond nearby. If that’s the case, then you may just want to skip to the next section. But if you’re struggling to think of a consistent water source, then you should consider adding one to your backyard.
The most common way to add water is by purchasing a bird bath.
And even if an owl never actually comes down to your bath to drink, that is OK. The clean water source will surely provide fluids for many of the creatures that owls eat, like rodents and birds.
To be honest, the BEST way to attract owls to a bird bath is by making sure the water stays heated during a cold winter. Just think about it, while most other water sources are freezing, your bird bath will still have open water. You will have the only game in town!
Unfortunately, I have never gotten to observe an owl drinking from my heated bird bath, but we have seen all sorts of other animals coming in for a drink. In addition to birds, the list includes foxes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and ducks. My favorite animal that has come down for a drink has been a Red-shouldered Hawk, which you can see a recording of below.
If you have the means, then you can also consider some sort of fountain or small ornamental pond with a waterfall. Not only would something like this look nice, but it will probably become a magnet for all sorts of wildlife. The reason for this is that animals are attracted to moving water!
Just imagine if you were an owl or bird in the trees; if there were splashing or movement, the water would be much easier to see.
Strategy #3: Install an owl nesting box.
If you want an opportunity to attract a family of owls to your yard, then you must consider installing a nesting box in one of your trees.
Most owl species that live in North America prefer nesting in some sort of cavity. Naturally, this means they seek out a large hole in a tree that can be used.
But luckily, owls will readily build nests in human-made nesting boxes.
Before you go ahead and throw something up in a tree, I encourage you to do some additional research. Each specific species has preferences as to how large their nesting cavity should be. Luckily, some guidelines have been created that will help attract a pair of nesting owls to your yard.
For more information, I highly encourage you to read a guide I have written about owl houses.
- The Complete Guide to Owl Houses (Coming Soon!)
Strategy #4: Owls like BIG trees!
Having large trees in your yard is a great way to attract owls. Owls rely on the shelter and safety that is provided by the limbs, branches, and leaves. Being high up in a tree also provides excellent camouflage for hunting.
While this is simple advice, it’s not easy to implement. Until Elon Musk figures out how to speed up time, growing a tree large enough to appeal to owls could take decades.
In my experience, you are lucky enough to have a wooded yard, or you’re not. I don’t want to discourage you from planting trees, because they have so many incredible benefits, but a young tree is not going to do much for owls.
But for those of us who have large trees already, you are in a position to attract owls more easily.
If anything, make sure that you DON’T cut any of your trees down.
This includes dead trees or limbs. The nonliving trees are places that can provide future nesting cavities, while limbs are perfect spots for owls to perch.
Please use common sense when deciding on whether to cut a tree down or not. If it’s a safety hazard, or potentially may fall on your house, please remove the tree.
Strategy #5: Keep lights off and pets inside!
Owls are hunters of the night. They do their best work when it’s completely dark and silent.
If you have your yard filled with bright lights, then you can expect any owls in the area to find other places to hunt.
This same advice goes for your pets. If you have a dog outside barking and scaring away potential prey, then owls will do their hunting in someone else’s backyard.
Strategy #6: Learn how to identify owls by their calls.
As you already know, it’s rare to see an owl during the day. These raptors are mostly nocturnal and typically do their hunting and courtship rituals under cover of darkness.
So how would you even know if you were successful at attracting owls? Or what if you already have owls visiting your backyard, but you don’t even realize it since you never see them?
As far as I know, most people aren’t sitting on their deck with night vision goggles scanning the trees for owl activity.
To confirm you have attracted owls, one of your only options is to LISTEN for them.
The easiest way to confirm that owls are in the area is to hear their nighttime calls and hoots.
Luckily, once you know what you are looking for, it’s easy to recognize an owl and determine the species you are hearing.
Here is how FIVE of the most common owls in the United States and Canada sound.
There aren’t that many owl species, so you don’t have to learn that many sounds to know what you are doing.
Western Screech Owl
- Range: West of the Rocky Mountains
Eastern Screech Owl
- Range: East of the Rocky Mountains
- Range: Eastern USA, most of southern Canada to the west coast. Includes parts of the Pacific Northwest
Great Horned Owl
- Range: Almost all of North America
- Range: Almost all of the contiguous United States
This list is certainly not all-inclusive. To learn about owls you may encounter in North America, you will need to read another post that I wrote.
If you want, you can practice your best owl impersonation and see if you can get one to answer you back. It’s possible even to get an individual to fly in for a closer look!
Strategy #7: Patience and Persistence!
My last piece of advice when it comes to attracting owls is to have a MASSIVE amount of patience and persistence.
It can be tough to attract these beautiful raptors. You may have the perfect wooded yard with a river that runs through the center, install nest boxes, and have dozens of mice and other food sources, and still never see or hear an owl.
I wish I could guarantee you success, but it’s just impossible. Owls are unpredictable and make their own choices. There are probably dozens of factors that play into their decisions about where they choose to spend their time.
Don’t give up. Keep working on your yard. At the very least, you can spend a lot of time outside, making owl noises. One thing that I can guarantee is that your owl calls will get MUCH better with a few adult beverages.
Or at least you will think so. 🙂
What are YOUR favorite ways to attract owls?
Please leave a COMMENT below!
I have Intimately encountered and observed Great Horned Owls for 28 years in woodlands, wild pastures, and meadows along the rivers behind my home. I have watched them mate more than eight times, observing varied courtship displays. With my partner Caryle, we observed fledglings learning to fly, their antics often quite humorous such as in their early stages. We had one that had just learned to fly, glide across in front of us and glide up to a tree limb, grasp a small shoot with one claw, then hang upside down facing us because of having no solid perch. I came across a female owl that was ignoring her mate who was leaning towards her from a nearby branch and calling to her but getting no response. When I walked around the huge, old, dead cottonwood, amber light from the sunset was falling on the owl where she perched on a gray, twisted branch. In her left talons, a very large, dead, cat hung limply in the air, the long tail stretching downward.
I have found, if I talk with birds and animals, they often respond. Great Horned Owls are often pestered by magpies, crow, and ravens. One can hear the raucous, frenzied calls from the tormentors during the day when they have surrounded an owl trying to sleep. I approach slowly, speaking to the owl, gaining its attention, and, as I draw nearer, the other birds disperse, leaving me to gaze at the owl, and it gaze at me. I often continue talking, such as telling the owl how beautiful I think she or he is and that I am so glad she or he is here. I have drawn a few owls into my yard by imitating their calls, including one mating pair one winter.
My observations of Great Horned Owls have deepened my convictions that many living creatures are as individual in their nature and behavior as we are.
Wow! What a story!
Another owl attractant: chickens. A local great horned oil dove at our window well to pick off chickens perched there. It missed, and wound up crashing through the window. It looked OK, after it got outside and perched on the neighbor’s house… but the chickens were shell-shocked and wound up on the owls’ menu a few days later. As a child I recall owls going after my mom’s chickens, and one day in frustration she smacked one of the owls with a broom. Then she burst into tears thinking she’d killed it. But it must’ve just been dazed, as it “came back to life” in my dad’s arms, while he trudged down the back hill to dispose of it. Boy did he have his hands full trying to get out of its way! So yeah- chickens are great owl bait… and their feed is great mouse bait.
I always put my bird feeders under the tree to keep the owls from eating the birds because it is very hard for them to come from the side. But, the owls still come for the rats and mice that try to eat the seed under the feeder, which is good, because my rat trap isn’t working very well. However, I am very protective of my birds.
We have 2 barred owls that will fly in within 45 seconds of playing a certain youtube video over a wifi speaker. Anytime someone new stops by we will call them. I purchased a new spotlight to see them better. They will land in the trees 20′ above your head and really don’t seem to mind being lit up haha. They will hang out calling back in forth until 2am when it’s nice out. I hung a nesting box a couple months ago and we’re hopeful they will move in this winter. My goto video for calling them in is below.
We have a Owl box and had a decade of use. My suggestion is to place it far from the house. Starving babies screaming for food is gut wrenching. About 6 years ago Great Horned Owls nested in our trees. No Barn Owls have used box since. Barn Owls seem to disperse quickly after fledging compared to GHO. We have spent 5 summers observing 1 or 2 immature GHO learning to hunt on our 10 fallow acres. Totally fun to hear and watch.
We’ve recently seen a Great Horned Owl in our side yard near to the 4 acres of 50-70’ trees. He/she lands in the yard, walks around a bit, dodging birds who fly at her. We love seeing her most evenings. Thanks for such a great article. What we’re doing, trying to attract wild turkeys, seemingly works for owls. May their tribe increase.
I have only actually seen and heard Great Horned Owls in my yard. They will sit in a tree that has limbs hanging over the house and when they hoot its LOUD. we love it. I tried building owl houses to attract other species but only squirrels and wood ducks use the houses.
this is an awesome site. we’ve had a what i think is a great horned owl in our neighborhood for a few years now. Last week one visited our large cottonwood tree and was do his booty call…sorry thought that was funny.. after a few minutes of hooting, we heard a series of hoots then a screech. i was standing on the deck trying to see him but since it was very dark I couldn’t actually see him. for a good 15 minutes it was hoot hoot, few seconds then screech. then stepped on something that made a metallic clank and found out there were 2 owls. could one making the screech sound be a barn? it sounded similar to your audio. do different species hang in the same tree?
I have several Bared owls in my yard,
P.S. I do have winter water, bird feeders, lots of scrubby vegetation, and chipmunks/squirrels galore. But it’s just not enough to entice those magnificent birds to permanently reside in my neighborhood.
We have Great Horned Owls chilling in our very tall oaks in January, doing bootycalls at 1am. They don’t nest here, sadly; apparently we are more of a “hookup” habitat than a family-friendly neighborhood, LOL. But that’s okay; as long as I get to hear them for a couple of weeks each year, I’m good. They are so magical!
Ever since I watched the Harry Potter film, I’ve had a particular interest in owls. However, I have never seen the owl directly in the wild. I will try to apply your method to my backyard, hope that work