Got your flashlight? Mosquito spray? Boots on? Tonight we’re going to explore the bush in search of owls and nightjars. It’s a full moon tonight, so the night birds will be more vocal. It’s a warm evening, and there are millions of bugs flying around. Perfect conditions! I wonder what we’ll find? But before we set off, let’s recap the calls of night birds – this is the best way to track them down.
This is the most common owl. It’s call is a typical owl “hoo-hoo“. There are long gaps between the calls. This one sounds like a male. The females often give three hoots: “HOO-hu, hoo”. It’s quite soft, even when the birds are close. The best times to hear them are just after the sun sets, and just before dawn.
These giants sound a bit like far-away hippos. A very deep grunting sound, “gok-gok, gok“. At the beginning of this clip there’s only one bird calling, but at the end its mate joins in. I recorded this in tall pine trees in Malawi, in the late afternoon. Babies make a very different squealing cry.
Western Barn Owl
What a freaky sound! It can give you quite a fright at night. These are two birds calling from a half-built building on a farm, just before sunrise. If you listen very closely you can hear another night bird in the background – in addition to the chicken!
African Wood Owl
What a beautiful sound! It’s easy to hear the difference between the male (lower, deeper voice) and the female (higher voice). To me it sounds like they’re saying “who-who, who-are-you?”. By the way, the pinging sound in the background is a fruit bat.
I recorded this Marsh Owl on a big floodplain in Nylsvley Nature Reserve. Can you hear all the frogs and mosquitos in the background? To me, its voice sounds like fabric tearing in half: “kggrrk!”
Southern White-faced Owl
I love this sound! A quick, bubbling intro (bu’bu’bu’bu’) and then a louder BOO! If you’re far away, you’ll only hear the BOO-part. There are long gaps between the calls – I made them a bit shorter in this clip.
African Scops Owl
You could easily think this is some sort of insect or frog. It’s a very simple sound: just this quick prurrp, about every 5 seconds. Without the help of this call, it would be almost impossible to find these tiny little masters of camouflage.
African Barred Owlet
I recorded this owlet during the day. It started calling after some Terrestrial Brownbuls discovered it and made a big fuss. The call is a long series of whistles (cow-cow-cow…). Or the bird may add some rolling, purring r-sounds (purr, purr, purr….).
If you whistle the sound of this owl it will come to investigate, and attract lots of other birds who come to chase the owl away. But this is not a nice experience for the owl – some birders overdo it! You may hear this sound during the day too.
A classic night sound! To me it sounds like “No, call, is prettier!“. Or in Afrikaans “tot, by, die ewenaar!“. They sometimes also make a kind of “woop-woop-woop-woop…” sound. The safest and easiest way to identify nightjars is by their songs. When they are just sitting there, it is a lot more challenging.
This weird trilling can continue for many minutes! It’s crazy that the bird doesn’t have to stop to catch its breath. It sounds like a generator running! Square-tailed Nightjar sounds very similar, but has “gear changes”. I recorded this in a graveyard at night. Spooky!
This nightjar is found around rocks and hills. But they sometimes also sit on flat roofs. It sounds like a puppy: cow-wow …cow-wow …cow-wow … I recorded this in the Cederberg Mountains. The barking-type sound at the end was the bird flying away when I got too close.
- Please be careful not to disturb birds too much if you’re playing their sounds.
- All the sound and images on this page are copyright Faansie Peacock/Firefinch App.
- To hear all the bird sounds, check out my Firefinch app on App Store/Google Play.