Naturalist Sara's Book Pick: 'The Barn Owls'

Updated: Feb 26, 2019

My favorite book on owls – just in time for owl prowl season!

Photo by Sara Russell

"The Barn Owls," written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Deborah Kogan Ray, is a delightful book about the ebb and flow of life for generations of barn owls living in a barn that "has stood in the wheat field one hundred years at least." The beautiful watercolor illustrations catch the light, following the birds of prey as they mostly sleep through the day and by night as the owls wake "and hunt for mice while moons swell and shrink." I love the illustrator's use of warm golden tones and cool blues. Discover how owls live, hunt, and care for their young, including a lovely moment with owl parents and baby hatchlings. Echoing the rhythms of a lullaby, this is the perfect book to end the day at bedtime ... just as most owls are starting their day.


The Owls

Late winter is the perfect time to search for owls. They are calling more often to attract mates and claim their space, so make sure to bone up on your owl calls. After you read this book, go outside. Can you find some of the owls that call Will County home?


A Few Owls of Will County

  • Believe it or not, the great horned owl does not have any horns! They have feathery tufts on the top of their head called plumicorns that look like horns or cat ears. This large owl lives around Will County all year.

  • The barred owl has a fantastic call. Listen for "who cooks for you, who cooks for you all" in the night air – a barred owl is not far away!

  • The Eastern screech owl is tiny compared to other owls of Will County. They weigh in at about 6 ounces – less than a pound! They love holes in trees, so look up on your search.

  • Barn owls, the star of the book, are endangered in Will County and across Illinois. Barn owls have lost a lot of habitat. But if you are lucky enough to see one, they are hard to mix up with other owls. Just look for the white heart-shaped face.


The Search: Owling Basics

  • The best time of day to see owls is at dawn or dusk when they are more active. But moonlight can be great too. It helps you spot the nocturnal birds.

  • Do your research. Listen to different types of owl calls to help with birding by ear and bring a field guide of different owls.

  • Make sure to dress for the weather and wear plenty of warm layers. Keep in mind the temperature can drop quickly after sunset. Choose non-reflective, quiet fabrics without metal fasteners that can reflect light that will disturb the birds. Don’t forget your winter boots.

  • Don't forget binoculars. Look for a pair with wider lenses to capture more light at night.

  • Keep quiet! Owls have amazing hearing and will hear you. But the less noise you make, the less you will disturb the birds. If they don’t consider you a threat, the less likely they are to fly away.

  • Listen carefully. Sometimes it helps to cup your ears with your hands.

  • Look closely. Owls have amazing camouflage; sometimes you can look straight at them and not notice that they are there because they blend in so well.