Will a Flashlight Scare an Owl? What are the Reasons?

Last Updated on May, 2024

More than 80% of migratory birds, especially owls, are known to fly at night, using the stars and other landmarks for guidance as they make their way through dangerous terrain. However, a new danger has emerged, and many of us are unknowingly helping in its growth. 

Quick Summary

A sudden burst of light is more threatening to an owl than continuous light.

Owls and humans have similar responses to intense light, with a resulting impairment of vision.

Owls can be scared away by predators, anti-bird spikes, strong odors, and drones.

Will a Flashlight Scare an Owl?


A sudden burst of lightning is much more threatening to an owl than continuous lightning. There is a higher chance of owl roadkills or collisions with large windows at night due to the glare of light from headlights of moving vehicles and from and around buildings too. 

Related article: How to Identify Animal Eyes At Night with a Flashlight?

Why Does Flashlight’s Light Scare an Owl?

We don’t know much about bird vision, although some study is available on the topic. According to Ellis Loew, a professor of physiology at Cornell University’s Department of Veterinary Medicine, owls and human eyes have similar responses to light.

The photoreceptors in the eyes can become overloaded when subjected to intense light, such as a flashlight going off in the dark. 

A glowing afterimage results from this, impairing one’s ability to see and recognize objects briefly. Regaining normal vision can take anywhere from five seconds to thirty seconds.

Softer artificial light seems to have more effect on owl vision and behavior than harsher night light (such as light glare and light clustering). The photoreceptors in an owl’s eye can be irreversibly damaged by exposure to bright light over extended periods. 

Also, more damaging to owl vision is an artificial night light in the blue to the ultraviolet range of the light spectrum.

Other Factors That Scare an Owl


Because owls naturally fear being hurt, this technique is likely the most effective at scaring them away. Fake replicas of predators and other giant predators being visible to them are also some causes. 

Anti-Bird Spikes

Bird spikes can be on several surfaces, like roofs, ledges, and guttering. The metal spikes point upward, making it a terrible place to land. Owls are not harmed because they avoid landing on them. Bird spikes are common on urban sites, both public and private.

Also, spikes can be an extremely efficient deterrent. However, they may not be as successful as discouraging owls. 

Distinct or Strong Odors

For a short while at least, strong odors like pepper or essential oils scare an owl away. This is because they think that there might be a predator around. This is also a pest-controlling method.

It would take the regular application of the odors to all the owls’ resting and hatching areas for them to be eliminated. Owls don’t like strong smells, but this probably won’t work in the long run. 

How to Observe an Owl? (Without Scaring Them)


When Night Falls, Turn Off All Artificial Lights

Studies have found that owls released after being banded at night and kept in the dark for five minutes are more likely to fly away quickly and without incident than those released after being exposed to lights. This suggests that owls’ night vision is temporarily affected by artificial lighting. 

Leave Your Dog at Home

Owls are naturally afraid of dogs. Expect the vast majority of owls to be stressed by the presence of a dog, even owls who are adapted to human activities in cities. See how owls react to dogs if you’re first studying owls that have become used to humans. 

Take it Easy, And Don’t Raise Your Voice

Stressful for owls are sudden movements and loud noises. Avoid startling the owls by moving slowly and keeping quiet if you want to observe or photograph them.

When it’s Safe, You Can Use Your Car as a Blind

In general, owls are more tolerant of humans while they are inside a car. Turn down your engine and park on the RIGHT side of the road if you don’t want to annoy other drivers (take pictures or watch from the passenger seat).

The peace will help owls in their hunt by allowing them to hear their prey more clearly.

Don’t Bring Your Drone With You

The presence of a drone in the area around a nest can make owls and other raptors feel threatened. This can cause owls a great deal of stress, and certain species, like the Barred Owls, may react by attacking the drone.

Some drones have sharp blades that can hurt owls and other raptors if they attack (and the owls may also damage the drone).

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Final Words

Scientists are unsure that an owl would suffer actual harm from single or multiple flashes. What if, however, multiple photographers were to take pictures simultaneously? Perhaps a group of bird watchers that visit the same spot repeatedly over several weeks or months?

They warn that continuous exposure to flashlights could have adverse health effects. However, the intensity of such efforts would depend on the number, frequency, and intensity of flashes. 


Yes, you can use a flashlight to scare an owl by turning on a solid light flash and directing it at the owl for a few evenings in a row.

If you see an owl in your yard, make loud noises with a horn, whistle, or alarm to drive it away. Additionally, keep cats and small dogs away from the owl and avoid giving it the idea that it may be fed. Finally, consider using a strobe light collar on your pet to further confuse and scare away the owl.

Yes, owls are sensitive to light. They have large eyes and wide pupils to maximize the amount of light entering the eye, and they become more active in low light levels. Consequently, they are able to detect motion in total darkness.

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Dillon Morrison
I have been involved in the flashlight community since 2007. My brother has a flashlight shop from where I have tested and reviewed more than 600+ different types of flashlights. You can find more about me here.

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