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Where to Hear (and Maybe See) Owls in Philadelphia

by SJ Punderson on October 21, 2015

Birding is a hot commodity these days, and this beloved pastime of aviary spotting has only been given a boost with BirdPhilly, a city project created by the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club supported by the Fairmount Park Conservancy to encourage quality birding experiences birding  through expertly guided field trips.

There are two types of owls commonly seen in the Philadelphia area: Great Horned and Screech. Although hard to spot, there are a few places that these raptors have been known to hang out.

If you’d like to go on your own owl outing, here are three places to visit: the Wissahickon Environmental Center (commonly referred to as the Tree House) in Chestnut Hill, Carpenter’s Woods in Mount Airy and Pennypack Park in the Northeast. Winter at dusk is the best time for a possible hearing or if you’re lucky, a sighting. Be respectful of any owls your see or hear, stay quiet and don’t get too close.

Things to Know Before You Go

  • At the Wissahickon Environmental Center, check in with Director Trish Fries and her staff about the Great Horned owls that can be heard there.
  • The number of Great Horned owls was affected by the West Nile virus outbreak in the region in 2004. Since that time, they have been harder to hear and spot.
  • Screech owls are cavity nesters, and often take over woodpecker holes, emerging at dusk to hunt for insects, mice, squirrels, small birds and even bats.
  • Long-earred, short-earred and saw whet owls are rarely seen in Philadelphia, but experts say that they do live in the area.
  • The term mobbing refers to a group of birds getting excited and making noise to alert each other of an owl nearby. The birds “go nuts,” said Peter Kurtz, Director of Pennypack Environmental Center, directing the noise towards the spot where the owl is perched. You’ll have to look up, though, as Great Horned owls usually perch between 20 and 30 feet, while screech owls sit lower, sometimes just 10 feet above ground.