Birding Starter Pack

5 owl calls to know before your next night walk

By Tan Hui Zhen

As night approaches, most birds settle in to roost. During this time, however, a group of birds start to become active, having spent much of the day resting – Owls. Owls are nocturnal birds of prey that are well-adapted for life at night, with big light-collecting eyes and serrated feathers that power a stealthy flight. Their name in Malay, burung hantu, which translates to “ghost bird”, aptly describes their habits (and they are certainly the preferred type of hantu to see). To detect owls in the field, it is crucial to learn their calls since they are often heard instead of seen. In this article, let’s listen to the calls of 5 owls in Singapore and learn about their favourite haunts.

Sunda Scops Owl Otus lempiji

Sunda Scops Owls have a distinctive high-pitched note call that stands out from the nocturnal soundscape. They can be frequently encountered in a variety of wooded habitats and they feed mostly on insects. Sunda Scops Owls can be told apart from the migratory Oriental Scops Owls by their dark eyes and finely-streaked underparts.

Buffy Fish Owl Ketupa ketupu

Buffy Fish Owls produce a screeching call that echoes through the night. As their name suggests, fish makes up a big part of their diet and hence they are usually found close to waterbodies. They are a rich buff colour overall, with large yellow eyes paired with a white unibrow.

Spotted Wood Owl Strix seloputo

Spotted Wood Owls have a deep booming call and partners can often be heard duetting. They can be seen in our parks and gardens and are easily recognisable with their orange facial discs and barred underparts. Families of the Spotted Wood Owl have been recorded in various parks like Pasir Ris Park and the Singapore Botanic Gardens.

Brown Boobook Ninox scutulata

Brown Boobooks (aka Brown Hawk-Owls) are uncommon residents of our forests and can often be found in pairs. They look very similar to the Northern Boobook, a species that can be found in Singapore on migration. Comparing the calls of these two species is the most reliable way to tell them apart.

Barred Eagle-Owl Bubo sumatranus

Barred Eagle-Owls are rare residents of Singapore and have deep and loud calls. Adults are stately in appearance and easily recognisable by their distinctive ear tufts and extensive barring throughout their plumage. Young birds, which have been documented in recent years, are almost fully white.

Do also check out these 8 resident bird calls and see how many of them you can recognise!


Adrian Silas Tay: Sunda Scops Owl, Buffy Fish Owl, Spotted Wood Owl, Brown Boobook

Francis Yap: Barred Eagle-Owl

Sound recordings

Adrian Silas Tay: Buffy Fish Owl

Keita Sin: Sunda Scops Owl, Spotted Wood Owl, Brown Boobook, Barred Eagle-Owl


I am grateful for the feedback and support from the team at Singapore Birds Project.

One Comment “5 owl calls to know before your next night walk”

  • asdfasdf


    Thank you!!!!!


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