Tracking Owls in the Snow

Use the Snow to Look for Clues About Your Owl Neighbors

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Winter is a fabulous time to learn if owls live in your area by looking for owl tracks in the snow.

There’s something magical about seeing owls in the wild, and many think these enigmatic birds aren’t their neighbors because they rarely see them.

But think again.

Now that snow covers many parts of the country, you can get outside and look for owl tracks to confirm if they are close by.

Barred Owl hunting in the snow

Where to Look for Owl Tracks

You don’t have to venture deep into the woods to look for owl tracks because they’re all around us.

Owls tend to hang around agricultural fields, marshes, prairies, airports, wooded strips near open areas, standing, dead trees with large cavities, and in tangles of old vines.

But you don’t have to limit your search to these areas.

If you have a barn, shed, garage, or structure where rodents or other small mammals live, then it’s likely an owl or other bird of prey is close by.

In our part of New York, we enjoy having Barred Owls, Great Horned Owls, Eastern Screech Owls, and Northern Saw-whet Owls, with cold-weather visits from Snowy Owls and Short-eared Owls.

We recommend checking out Audubon’s owl resource to see what owls you might see in your area.

Barred Owl pouncing on its prey

What Owl Tracks Look Like

Owl tracks don’t look like typical animal tracks you see for a squirrel, rabbit, or wolf because owls often only touch down when hunting.

These raptors have keen eyesight, but their sensitivity to sound helps them hunt for prey traveling above or below the snow.

Like voles, field mice, and small mammals.

When an owl swoops down and grabs its prey while in flight, the tips of its wings brush against the snow leaving behind an owl snow angel imprint.

Other times, owls ponce on their prey, hitting the snow with so much force that their powerful talons leave deep imprints.

If the owl chases after its prey, grab it and then lift off, the whole act is captured in the snow.

Snow tracks from an owl or another bird of prey left behind after what appears to be a successful hunt

Leaving behind tracks that disappear. There is nowhere to go but up.

Snow acts as the owl’s storyboard capturing each frame of the hunt.

Look for pounce marks or wing marks in the snow to confirm if owls are close by, and then do a little research on Cornell Labs’ All About Birds to determine the species.

Windswept snow can tell incredible stories by retracing an owl’s path.

And is proof that our magical raptor friends are much closer than we might think.

Now get outside and see owls!


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