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The Sounds of Winter

Jan 13, 2020

Grab your coat, scarf and gloves (maybe even your earmuffs and hand warmers, too), and head outdoors to take in the sounds of the season.

We often think of winter as a quiet time in nature. Chilling winds suppress any desire to wander outside. But the sounds of winter are waiting to be heard, on mild or chilly days.

Crisp, crunching snow gives way underfoot as you venture outdoors. You may be greeted by squirrels squabbling with cawing blue jays as scolding titmice and chickadees mingle nearby.

You may hear the thin, lispy calls of cedar waxwings as they forage for cedar or holly berries. Their red-tipped wings and yellow tailbands make cedar waxwings attractive, if not musical.

As evening approaches, you may hear other sounds in the forest. The descending whinny of a screech-owl cuts through the darkness, while the deep hooting of great horned or barred owls remind you that life has not disappeared from the winter woods. A slow, silent walk may be rewarded with the wail of coyotes.

As falling snow blankets your footprints, it may be time to return to the warmth of a crackling fire. Though it’s difficult to leave your cozy home for a winter walk, there are distinct sounds of nature to discover during this “quiet” time of year.

Calls of the Wild

  • A blue jay’s voice varies from soft murmurs to loud screams to clear, chime-like whistles.
  • The barred owl’s classic series of hoots is commonly heard and easily identifiable: “Hoo hoo hoohoo, hoo hoo hoohooahh,” also described as “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?”
  • The black-capped chickadee’s song is a 2- or 3-syllable phrase with the first note slightly higher than the second: “fee-bee” or “fee-bee-bee.” Call is a slow “chick-a-dee-dee-dee.”
  • The songs of tufted titmice are a whistled “peter-peter-peter” with the first syllables higher. Calls include harsh scolding notes and higher pitched “tseets” and whistles.

Find out about more animals and their sounds in the MDC’s Field Guide.

One owl you’re sure to hear hootin’ and hollerin’ in the winter is the eastern screech-owl.

  • The eastern screech-owl likes farms, orchards, woods and towns.
  • Despite their big and fearful name, screech owls are small birds about the size of a robin.
  • The call is rarely described as a “screech.” Instead, the whistled call is either a quavering, ascending then descending whinny, or a monotone trill, often in a duet with its mate.
  • They are active at dusk. They also have two color morphs in red and grey with intermediate browns.

Learn more about the eastern screech-owl in this Missouri Conservationist article.


Eastern Screech Owl
Eastern Screech Owl

Winter Hike

Take a winter hike and hear the sounds of a new season
Take a winter hike and hear the sounds of a new season

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