Perhaps you’ve heard one when you were in bed. Or maybe you were lucky enough to see one while you were walking in the evening. Few animals are more emblematic of the night than owls. We associate owls with mystery and wisdom—and, in the past, with magic and witchcraft. But these superstitions obscure much of what is truly interesting about these nocturnal birds.

Like the hawks, eagles, and falcons, owls are carnivores and have sharp talons on their feet which they use to kill their prey. They hunt small mammals and other birds at night, detecting them both by sight and by hearing. However, owls are certainly not limited to small prey—screech owls bring down birds as large as themselves, while great horned owls have been known to hunt foxes and skunks!

Owls do not build open nests in trees, but nest in holes instead. The owlets are covered in fluffy coats of down (which incidentally makes them look downright adorable) until they fledge and begin to fly. Owls defending their nests can be ferocious; a territorial great horned owl dive-bombs intruders with enough force to knock a human off his feet!

The presence of owls is not only enjoyable but often profitable too. Since owls prey on mice and rats and other rodent pests, they perform an invaluable service as pest control in crop fields. They consume animals that cause millions of dollars’ worth of crop damage every year. Despite this, owls still are regarded with suspicion or even dread by many.

Several owl species live in Davidson; the most common of them are the barn owl, the eastern screech owl, the barred owl, and the great horned owl. The barred owl, great horned owl, and eastern screech owl all belong to the large family strigidae, the so-called “true owls.” The barn owl, on the other hand, belongs to the family tytonidae. Of Davidson’s owls, the eastern screech owl is the smallest, and the great horned owl is the largest.

How do you attract owls to your home? Put up an owl house. This is a larger version of a typical birdhouse, with its size depending on the type of owl it is designed for. Owl houses designed for screech owls may be only about 15 inches tall and 9 inches long—in other words, less than twice the size of a standard bluebird house. A great horned owl house, on the other hand, may be as much as 3 by 4 feet! Such a large box will probably need to be mounted on a special platform instead of being hung on a tree.

You probably wont get much of a look at your owl guests during the day, but if you can keep watch outside at night, you might catch a glimpse of them flying to and from their new home with food for their hungry owlets. As with any wild animal, you should not touch or feed them. Make sure your owl house is out of reach of snakes and other potential nest-robbers.