Daytime Owl Sightings: Why They Happen and What They Could Mean

By Staff WriterLast Updated May 27, 2020 7:29:30 PM ET

Despite what the common phrase may say, not all owls are "night owls." There are around 250 different species of owls around the globe. While they are famously nighttime hunters, some owl species prefer being active during the day. The World of Owls notes that less than 70 percent of these winged woodland creatures are nocturnal. 

Seeing an owl during the day likely means that you've encountered one of the species that prefers being active during the day. There's also symbolism behind seeing owls that you might be interested in learning more about.

Reasons You Might See an Owl During the Day

Many people associate owls with nighttime activity. Seeing one during daylight hours could be jarring, but it's not necessarily a sign of anything wrong. Wildlife Damage Management cautions that animals are much like humans. Every member of the family can be a little different. 

Even more importantly, if you see a normally nocturnal animal during the day, the reasons are likely one of two things. The owl's nest may have been disturbed, or it might have been kicked out for one reason or another. Urbanization is another factor. It brings changes to the ecosystem. It also increases the amount of activity and light during the night. 

Some nocturnal animals adapt by feeding during daylight hours when there's less human-related activity. Also, some species of owls are geared naturally toward waking during the day.

Different Owls, Different Waking Times

Some owls are active during the day and sleep during the night. These owl species are referred to as diurnal owls. Crepuscular owls are species that are most active during dusk and dawn, as noted by the Owl Research Institute. Regardless of when they wake, owls typically spend most of their time searching for food. These birds of prey eat meat. Primary food sources include mice and voles. Other animals hunted by owls include lizards, snakes, fish, frogs, and squirrels.

Diurnal Owl Species

Of the 250 species of owls, only two are characterized as diurnal owls. This includes northern hawk owls and northern pygmy owls.

Northern Hawk Owls

These owls have yellow eyes, a round face, and an oval-shaped body. They look distinctly like owls. Their behavior is more like that of a hawk. The Northern Hawk Owl hunts during the day, usually perching at the top of trees, much like hawks do. They hunt in forests for mammals. This owl has sharp eyesight that can spot their prey from up to one-half mile away.

Northern Pygmy Owls

This owl is very small. It typically has a round head, long tail, and yellow eyes. Its coloring tends to skew toward deep brown and white. This daytime hunter likes to sit quietly to surprise their prey during a hunt. The Northern Pygmy Owl is often mobbed by smaller birds like hummingbirds and wrens to scare them off.

Owl Symbolism

The owl is widely associated with wisdom through folklore and pop culture. They represent soul-deep wisdom, which may explain why they're often used in artwork.

The Owl in Religious Art

Because of the owl's association with hiding in the darkness, it has been used as a symbol for Satan in some works of art. At the same time, the owl is often depicted as a trait of Christ. Christians believe that Christ sacrificed himself to the shadow of death to provide light to the world, as noted in George Ferguson's book, eSigns and Symbols in Christian Art

What It Means When You See an Owl

If you see owls often, it could be a symbol that you've uncovered your own deepest knowledge. It may also represent something in your life that is about to change or requires attention. Seeing owls could also mean the following:

  • You should evaluate your life with a sharp eye and avoid taking people and situations at face value.
  • You should strive to enjoy the wonder of life and discover your natural curiosity.
  • Owls are associated with death, but that can mean that a transition is about to present itself in your life.