Owl problem.
November 28, 2013 2:14 PM   Subscribe

There's this owl, and it starts hooting at around 2am, not finishing until 4:30am. This has now become a frequent occurrence, and it's driving me nuts. Unfortunately, one attempt to remedy the situation has made it worse. So, how can I get this owl to either shut up or go somewhere else?

I have asked the neighbors. Half of them don't hear it because they are asleep, and the other half say they like the sound of the owl. Which is easy for them, as it's by my window now, and not theirs.

Solutions tried or considered:

1) I made some hooting noises as this would apparently drive it away. However, I swear the thing moved much closer to the window and is still there, so whether I accidentally did some kind of owl-mating call, and the owl is now close to my window and making forlorn "mate with me" noises (not happening, owlie) I do not know.

2) "Blow its bloody head orf!" and similar. Suggested by some as it's a solution from a famous sketch by a local comedian who had a problem with moles. Not an option as almost impossible to legally get hold of a gun, and discharge in a public place will result in a long prison trip.

3) Put a red light in your room, as owls apparently hate red lights. Nope; I live in what used to be a notorious, well, red light distict. Having a red light in my bedroom between 2am and 4am is just asking for trouble.

4) Leave milk out on a saucer. Tried that. No luck, but it attracted a load of cats who keep coming back now. However, that's a derail and something for another AskMe question.

5) Make dog sounds. Tried that; woke every dog in the street. Owl completely unconcerned.

6) Borrow or rent an owl of the same gender to scare it away. How?! I live in the ethnic area of an English city. There are a dozen options for buying a yam within 10 minutes walk. There are no options for buying an owl within the same.

7) Borrow or rent an owl of the opposite gender so it will mate, or be attracted to the new owls location. See 6).

8) Frighten the owl away with distressing noises. Tried Coldplay, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. Didn't work and the neighbors have requested I stop as they don't like hearing Wrecking Ball at 4am, and prefer the stupid owl.

Over to you, crowd. I have only a low budget for this, and only willing to seriously consider legal methods.
posted by Wordshore to Pets & Animals (50 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Giant mouse costume.

Seriously, though? Earplugs. The owl lives outside, you live inside. Control your own living space.
posted by holgate at 2:17 PM on November 28, 2013 [9 favorites]

Unless you're willing to engage in serious hazing (the actual term for scaring birds away!), for which you might need a permit and which would also disturb your neighbors way more than the owl does, the only legal solution that will work is earplugs.
posted by rtha at 2:18 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

This site gives some zany info.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 2:22 PM on November 28, 2013

Have you actually seen the owl? Are you sure it's not one of your neighbours messing with you? I'm put in mind of this story from some time back where two owl enthusiasts on the same street were calling to one another thinking they'd each found a rare owl.
posted by randomination at 2:41 PM on November 28, 2013 [15 favorites]

I know very little about owls, and you mention it making "mate with me" noises, but I'm wondering if an owl decoy is worth a try. It's not quite rent-an-owl.
posted by Juniper Toast at 2:44 PM on November 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Can you call your local government and see what they suggest? Perhaps animal control can rehome said owl?
posted by c'mon sea legs at 2:51 PM on November 28, 2013

Can you go and chuck sticks into its tree at night? Flap your arms at it? On the other hand, it is probably eating rats or other things you don't want. We had an occasional visiting owl a few years ago: it would hang out in a tree that overhung the gutters rats used as a little ratty highway. Like sushi train for owls. Something is keeping it there: either a really great tree (which you can counter by chucking sticks, being annoying) or good eats, or (I don't know what other things owls look for in a place to live, but those two would be my first guesses). Good luck. I LOVE the advice to "borrow or rent an owl".
posted by Kaleidoscope at 3:01 PM on November 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Forgive my ignorance, but aren't most raptors endangered and therefore protected animals? (I understand you're in the UK, and therefore it may be different.) If this is so, hazing a protected animal could come with a substantial fine.

White noise, earplugs, call your local wildlife rescue or RSPCA for more information, but really - even if this isn't a protected animal, it is a very useful one that is murdering disease-carrying rodents in your urban area. Adjust. (And don't kill it, for goodness's sake. What an idea!)
posted by Nyx at 3:05 PM on November 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

Isn't there some kindof 'scarecrow for owls'? Like they have 'scare-owls' for other birds?
posted by bquarters at 3:12 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Having lived in the Lancashire countryside for a while with a similar problem (ArseOwl McOwl would land on the windowsill at 3am every night and scare the bejeesus out of sleepy old me, though I loved having it around most of the time) I think there's very little you can do.

Opening the window and clapping loudly might work — you may have to do it several nights in a row for it to get the message.

I'd say earplugs FTFW.

Also, kudos on one of the most hilariously well-written questions I've read in a while.
posted by gmb at 3:57 PM on November 28, 2013 [19 favorites]

As a kid we had whippoorwills that would go on for hours. One night, I remember hearing the sash going up and then the old man, "Shut the hell up!". It quit for a few minutes, then it was back at it. The sound the window again, then the racking of a pump shotgun - ka-blamo! And this was from a member of the Audubon Society (he was just firing in the air, not at it).
We used to use "clappers" to scare birds out of the fruit trees and fields, basically two boards and a hinge so they slap together - makes noise as loud as a gunshot.
posted by 445supermag at 4:08 PM on November 28, 2013

Best answer: People that suggest earplugs for every kind of problem as if they make you suddenly not have ears have obviously never tried ear plugs for any kind of real noise.

Why don't you call a zoo or some kind of wild animal rescue organization and ask for advice ? Obviously even if it's possible to get rid of it you don't want to do so in any way that will harm it.
posted by Blitz at 5:05 PM on November 28, 2013

Best answer: Have you actually seen the owl? The only owl it can be is a Tawny Owl, in a city. They're not uncommon but not usual, but only if there's a big garden, park or cemetery nearby with a good few mature trees. If this isn't the case, and you've not seen it, them maybe it's something else.

If it is a Tawny, then you might be in for a tough time. Firstly you can't kill it by law, and you can't disturb or even mildly harass it between its nest building through to when the young are fledged and independent. This basically means from February to October.

Tawnys are hyper territorial. Do not play any more owl calls. In October this years juveniles set off to set up their own territories. That means around now all the existing birds are calling to tell the new ones to bugger off, and the new ones are calling to see who is around and if they're possie targets for eviction. Whichever yours is, playing or faking calls or putting up a decoy owl is the surest way to make the calls much much more frequent and get lots of attention. They're also super aggressive as the breeding season gets underway, and will not infrequently attack intruders without warning. A good few people have lost eyes through this. The good news, for you at least, is that if it is a young bird trying to establish a territory in a not great area, it's likely to die over the winter - about 70% do.

In short, a policy of trying to ignore it and hope it goes away is probably best. You could also call the RSPCA, Hawk Conservancy or RSPB to ask for advice.
posted by cromagnon at 5:42 PM on November 28, 2013 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: So it's 2am and guess what noise has started, as regular as bloody owl-clockwork, outside my window? A few responses:

Earplugs - nope. I have a lot of medical appointments, and missing them through sleeping through an alarm is not good. It would seem to be morally fair that I get a good nights sleep in return for not wringing its bloody owl-neck.

Have you actually seen the owl? - It's dark and it's not sitting there holding a neon-sign saying "Owl: here", which is reasonable. When I've moved the torch over the tree the damned thing does go quiet and I think I've seen it once, but as it's probably tree-colored and not Borat mankini-colored and it's THE NIGHT how exactly can one tell?

Can you call your local government and see what they suggest? - Tried. Went through surreal process of trying to explain what an owl was to someone brought up in the town of no-owl-ville. Passed through to someone else who pointed out that in austerity times I'm not likely to get a dial-a-socialist-owl-removal-service, am I? Complete waste of time.

Can you go and chuck sticks into its tree at night? - Done that and the owl kept going and one of the neighbors stuck his head out the window and enquired as to what the heck I was doing now and he was going to phone the police #fail

Flap your arms at it? - There's a level of dignity here. Also, because of the previous noises I made and because of descent into hippyism hair-wise making me resemble human-animal-bird hybrid, local shopkeeper says this may result in encounter with owl, which I really do not want. Especially as...

A good few people have lost eyes through this. - Well, that's reassuring...
posted by Wordshore at 6:16 PM on November 28, 2013 [12 favorites]

Image search for "silhouette + name of local bird of prey" and print it out on white paper. Pin up in window. It's free and involves no interaction with the owl.
posted by variella at 6:29 PM on November 28, 2013

I think you need to revisit that earplugs solution. I wear them nightly because I got in the habit when I was on the night shift. The disposable plugs only cut sound about 28-30 dB, so I hear the alarm on my phone and on the clock fine. Owls and loud alarm clocks seem to run about the same volume (80dB) but the owl is outside, so that'll knock the volume down a bit.
posted by gingerest at 6:45 PM on November 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you get a vibrating/light-making alarm clock (like the ones they use for deaf people) then you could keep earplugs in.

I don't suppose you have a waterhose with a powerful enough spray to squirt the owl? Not to hurt it, but just dampen it. Though unless you have a really clear shot it may not work.

You have my sympathies. We are infested with a bird called a "grackle" here in the US that hangs out in huge flocks, loves eating garbage, hanging out in parking lots and crapping on cars, and makes a noise that sounds exactly like styrofoam squeaking and breaking but LOUD, and doesn't quiet down much at night. And also divebombs people. And is unpleasant-looking. We have no laws protecting them and they are still a nightmare to dislodge from their preferred places. Firecrackers, spiked ledges, owl decoys, they usually ignore them. It could be worse, in other words.
posted by emjaybee at 7:12 PM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Throwaway question while my mind disintegrates. Is there such a thing as "owl repellant"? Any particular spray or whatever I can buy and use. Not necessarily on me, but in the area of the trees outside?
posted by Wordshore at 7:24 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nope. As far as I know, owls have little or no sense of smell (true of most birds that are not exclusive carrion-eaters). I'm sorry this is happening. I have been awakened by a mateless mockingbird advertising for mates in the middle of the night, and there's really nothing you can do except earplugs and wait for it to move on.

The owl will not care at all about the bird of prey sillhouette taped to your window. It will either take it for a rival (and call more) or ignore it.
posted by rtha at 7:38 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try Nite Guard.
posted by Caskeum at 7:39 PM on November 28, 2013

Response by poster: Try Nite Guard.

Read point three. No red lights, and heck especially no red flashing nights as I do not want the religiously conservative neighbors thinking I run "Owl Towers Sauna and Massage Parlor", with all the repercussions that would entail.
posted by Wordshore at 7:47 PM on November 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Rather than earplugs, I'd use white noise in your room to drown out the sound. Anything from a strong fan positioned in your window to an actual white noise machine should do the trick.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:48 PM on November 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

It's a small, discrete, flashing light you can fix in a nearby tree, not quite a prostitute's boudoir lamp (why would anyone think that in this day and age anyway?). But ok, try this.

You're ruling out pretty much all your options here, perhaps some sort of CBT to control your aversion to this noise might be in order.
posted by Caskeum at 7:51 PM on November 28, 2013 [4 favorites]

Before you figure out how to chase it off, could you please record the sound and send it to me? I'd be happy to send a recording of the police-chase, ambulance and fire truck sirens I listen to all night - or, if that's too dull, I can have my friend where I used to live record the sounds of the couple who live next door trying to kill each other.

I'd go with the earplugs - I've used them in both the above situations and each time I managed to train myself to ignore what little of the sound was left once the earplugs were in use.
posted by aryma at 7:52 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Maybe try throwing a handful of rice out the window in the direction the hooting is coming from. It will hopefully annoy the owl enough to fly away without hurting it. Start underhanded so it's raining rice and work up to more straight on. Considering the eye thing, you might want to wear safety glasses. Still trying to get the thought of an owl in a Borat makini out of my head.
posted by stray thoughts at 8:14 PM on November 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Any idea how far from your window it is? Maybe you could shoot it with a water gun? A brighter flashlight (police flashlights these days are just unbelievably bright) might help to locate it.
posted by kavasa at 8:31 PM on November 28, 2013

Are you sure it's an owl? That's kind of weird owl behavior.

Having said that, you can buy large plastic owls to scare other birds off and a really big one might be enough to make this guy leave the area. Some of them move or make noise to be more realistic. Get a really big one.

And fyi I can hear those ultrasonic repellant things they sell for rodents so I would assume I could hear a bird one too. I know it's unpossible, me being human and and all that, but I can definitely hear them and they're super annoying.
posted by fshgrl at 9:22 PM on November 28, 2013

Best answer: Sorry about this, I have had similar problems. Be mindful that anxiety over this owl noise (and resultant discarding of any and all possible potential remedies) is part of the larger problem. If you have anti-anxiety medicine, consider taking it as well. Other realistic solutions

- directed red blinky light and getting better at not giving a fuck what the neighbors think
- sleep in the living room or bathroom or somewhere that is not right where the owl is. I have been surprised that relocating often solved a lot of my THATFUCKINGOWWWWWL feelings making it quiet enough to be muffled by ear plugs or white noise (and yes ear plus and an alternate solution for waking up is also in the realm of reasonable) and the owl moved on after a few days

According to this (PDF), there really aren't any real ways to repel or deter owls (or hawks)
posted by jessamyn at 10:05 PM on November 28, 2013 [8 favorites]

I also can hear the unpossible ultrasonic things, or at least I've heard them sometimes. They're awful.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:06 PM on November 28, 2013

I don't know how to discourage owls but I do know how to mask annoying night noises: SleepMachine Lite (or its heavier duty paid cousin.) Boom now your smartphone is a customizable white noise machine. For me, works much better than earplugs.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:49 PM on November 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I had a similar problem but with a woodpecker, it was pecking on the reverberant stovepipe chimney to an ill-considered freestanding fireplace in my bedroom, producing a sound like machine gun fire but louder. This went on for several days until I lost my marbles entirely, rocketed from my bed stark naked (this was at first light, so at about 5:15 AM), ran outside, and jumped up and down and screamed furious incomprehensible gibberish at the damned bird until better sense prevailed. The bird never came back; this was fifteen years ago.* However, if you are already worried about the neighbors thinking you are running a house of ill repute, this may not be the greatest idea.

*sometimes I wonder if this bird is still telling the story of the time when an enormous pink loathsome creature shot forth from the Awesomely Noisy Tree to threaten it / attempt to eat it / attempt to mate with it
posted by KathrynT at 11:12 PM on November 28, 2013 [23 favorites]

So it shuts up when you shine a light at it? Can't you rig something up that points light at the tree?
posted by Omnomnom at 1:39 AM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Contact some local bird experts. If there's anything that can be done, they will know.

For example, the people at the Centre for Ornithology at the University of Birmingham probably know a thing or two about owls, and they may be able to do something for you rather than just advise you. And if there's nothing that can be done, they'll be able to tell you that.

Also, the people at Birdland (not far from you) manage owls and may have some good suggestions for you.
posted by pracowity at 2:31 AM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

I'd try contacting the Birmingham Wildlife Trust, Raptor Rescue, and/or the RSPB. Hopefully one of those might have some specialist knowledge that would help.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:46 AM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Desensitization! You're noticing (and being annoyed by) the hooting sounds because they're new and unfamiliar. (People don't generally notice, for instance, the sound of the train passing by when they've heard the same thing every hour in their place for the past 30 years).

Thus: could you find a couple of MP3s of fairly dense owl hooting, similar to your guy, and play them on loop around the house for a few days and nights? That way the owl BECOMES the white noise, and you still get to hear your alarm.
posted by Bardolph at 4:17 AM on November 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Earplugs are very unlikely to equal 'I won't hear the alarm'. I use silicone earplugs on occasion when my partners snoring keeps me awake. They'll dull out a constant snore or hoot, they wont stop your brain from hearing an alarm at about the time its supposed to be waking up.
posted by Ness at 6:25 AM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have no suggestions for owl discouragement, & having read the caveat against earplugs I strongly suggest earplugs.

There are a variety of Shake & Wake alarms out in the US, may be some in the UK as well. I've used one for several years now (I bought a first gen Jambox Up) & I've slept through alarms for years till I got this.
posted by tilde at 8:41 AM on November 29, 2013

Best answer: When it comes to not wanting red light - right now is the perfect time to string up some pretty fairy lights in Christmas colours (such as, for example, red - but feel free to throw in some green/gold too) in your window. To any casual onlooker/nosy neighbor, they'll see that and chalk it up to your Christmas spirit, because if their minds jump from "pretty fairy lights" to "bordello!" you may more than just owl problems. If you then want to occasionally, late at night, do something with a powerful torch/red light on top of the pretty shiny Christmas lights... I can't see that register as a big neighbourhood disturbance?

Anyway, good luck. Owls, man.
posted by harujion at 12:47 PM on November 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Welcome to tonights episode of Shut-The-Fuck-Up-Owl. And at 3:30am, tonights chosen solution was:

Primal Screaming

Downside: the lights in several nearby houses went on. Someone may call the police.
Upside: no owl noises for a few minutes now.
posted by Wordshore at 7:39 PM on November 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

Much as you have my sympathies because I had a shrieky bird on my street at the ass crack of dawn. for awhile.... you can only control you, not the bird. You cannot legally do jack about a bird screaming, especially when the law is against you and apparently so are your neighbors.

(a) Earplugs + (b) noise machine turned up as high as it can go + (c) vibrating alarm clock if you seriously can sleep through an alarm but not the bird. I'd also try the suggested "post a picture of a predator bird on your window" thing just for shits and giggles, i.e. nothing else you can do and it can't hurt.

I know, I know on earplugs. They don't work very well. But they are, alas, all we freaking HAVE.

Again, you REALLY have my sympathies tonight :( But....yeah, options are limited here. Sorry. This is the best we all can do.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:08 PM on November 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

You now have the option to become 'Crazy Owl Man' as featured in the inside pages of the Birmingham Mail during the forthcoming pre-Christmas news lull, or you have the option to control your own living space and state of mind.

You have convinced yourself that Something Can Be Done To Get Rid Of The Owl, and your lizardbrain is taking that to bed with you so that when the owl shows up, you're all Now It's Time To Do A Something. That's not going to help you. I say that with real sympathy.

Book yourself a night in a hotel and put it on AskMe's tab, just to get yourself a night's sleep where lizardbrain is not on owl patrol, or if it is, it gets over it.

Don't be Crazy Owl Man.
posted by holgate at 10:50 PM on November 29, 2013 [6 favorites]

If owls don't like red lights and you don't want your neighbors thinking you're selling fleshly wares, perhaps invest in a few cheap red lasers?
posted by jeremias at 4:04 PM on November 30, 2013

Response by poster: Oh for the love of Cthulhu, not again. 2:37am. I've just spent the weekend with 200 librarians and I'm too tired to get out of bed and deal with this and you can guess what it is. Tomorrow, I will put some of the solutions suggested here on standby, make some calls, in case this happens yet again.

posted by Wordshore at 6:38 PM on December 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Lack of sleep can make everything more difficult than it has to be. Can you concentrate on getting just a few good nights of sleep in? I know you have appointments in the mornings, but could you set aside a few nights this week to take sleeping pills or Benadryl or melatonin -- if you take them early enough at night you should be fine in the morning -- and conk yourself out, earplugs in? Or to stay at a friend's house for a few nights, if you could sleep better there?

If you have a chance to reset, you'll be able to deal with the problem much better.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:43 AM on December 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Noise insulation for your entire room. I'd start with some simple heavy drapes for your window--even just pulling down the normal shade and tacking up a heavy blanket over it. See how much that cuts the noise (should be lots), and then work your way up from there.
posted by anaelith at 5:06 PM on December 2, 2013

Response by poster: I HAVE SEEN THE OWL. IT EXISTS.
posted by Wordshore at 6:33 PM on December 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

I wonder if the problem is that it's calling for a new mate. We used to have what I am pretty sure is the other half of your owl pair over here, but I haven't heard it for ages. Not that I know how to help with that, short of bellowing owl noises from here, but it might trigger an idea from someone else!
posted by LyzzyBee at 11:04 AM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Further update.

- I haven't seen the owl since the storm we had a few days ago. Hoping it may have blown away.
- It's not on a tree. It sits on the chimney pots (not coal fire, but gas heating outlet so warm) directly opposite my window. This makes perfect sense, on reflection.
- This comment is bang on. Friend played owl noises online and, even though it appears to be the wrong time of the year, it's a territorial tawny owl.

I'm holding off on making calls until it reappears again. But am hoping it may have hopped up the hill and set up some kind of owl-love-nest with LyzzyBee's owl.

Also, despite what I commented on other MetaFilter threads, I have not turned the owl into owl soup. Only considering legal methods.
posted by Wordshore at 10:17 AM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

According to my friend on Facebook your owl is now outside her window in County Durham. She refers to unexpected 4am owl noises as "an unexpected treat".
posted by emilyw at 9:00 AM on December 11, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: So, after the storm of a few weeks ago (and there have been several storms since), the owl has not returned. This meant I couldn't try out a few of the solutions, which would have been:

- water gun
- red light
- clapper boards (can improvise)
- the outline of a hawk on the window

Despite several nights of interrupted sleep, I do hope nothing bad has occurred to owl, and hopefully he (or she) has found and is making sweet (and quiet) owlie love to some other owl, somewhere else.
posted by Wordshore at 1:29 PM on December 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

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