What's That Sound? 7 Wildlife Calls You Might Be Hearing

Beautiful barred owl with a blurry background

Brian Mumaw / 500px / Getty Images

Squirrels, common birds, and the occasional raccoon or opossum are about the extent of the backyard wildlife most of us encounter in many parts of the United States. They're familiar sights around the neighborhood, and we're used to the sounds they make as they coo, screech, and chatter. But have you ever awoken in the middle of the night to a wild sound you couldn't place?

As human development expands, wild animals are moving into urban and suburban areas in search of food and shelter, and although we might not see them, we often hear the evidence of their presence. We've rounded up videos that capture the hoots, screeches, and other wild calls of several animals that are commonly found in North American backyards.

Which ones have you heard in your neighborhood?


Red and grey foxes are well-adapted to urban life, and they're not dangerous to humans unless they're rabid, which is very rare. However, the animals have been known to prey on small animals, including cats, rabbits, and chickens. If you've seen or heard foxes in your neighborhood, the Humane Society has several tips for how you can peacefully coexist with the animals.

Barred Owl

These owls live in old-growth forests, so researchers were surprised to discover that barred owls are thriving in Charlotte, the largest city in North Carolina. Scientists assumed that the large raptors would struggle to survive in urban settings, but they've proved just as resilient in cities as they have in the wild. In fact, there have even been a few resident barred owls in New York City's Central Park for periods of time.


Coyotes are thriving in urban areas across the U.S. A study by the Atlanta Coyote Project reported 500 community sightings annually in the Atlanta metro area between 2015 and 2018. As of 2014, it is estimated that 2,000 of the animals live in the Chicago metro area. They've also been spotted in New York's Central Park. Experts say the presence of coyotes in cities sets the stage for larger predators like wolves, mountain lions, and bears.

Red-Tailed Hawk

These birds of prey are found throughout the United States, and while they prefer open areas and deserts, they've adapted to a variety of landscapes, including human habitats. If you hear a distinctive screech that sounds like a bald eagle, look up and you might spot a red-tailed hawk in a tree or perched upon a telephone pole. And yes, they might be eating a pigeon...

Mountain Lion

You don't expect to see one of these large cats roaming a suburban neighborhood, but reports of mountain lions in yards and city streets are popping up from Colorado to Connecticut. The animals have extremely large territories and can roam more than 20 miles a day in search of food or mates. Mountain lions don't always make loud screaming sounds. Juvenile mountain lions make noises that are much softer. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, mountain lions make a sound like a bird chirping when they are communicating with each other.


During the summer, you'll hear this insect's distinctive humming and clicking sounds, which have been known to reach 120 decibels.


Bobcats are found throughout the United States, and residents of states like Arizona and California are accustomed to seeing the cats napping on their porches or in their yards. The animals, whose cries have been described as sounding like crying babies, are usually harmless; however, these creatures can be a danger to outdoor pets.

Why This Matters

The wildlife found in suburbs is often overlooked, but all these creatures are still important members of your local ecosystem. We hope that the more we all learn about the natural world right in our backyard, the more we'll be motivated to help protect and conserve it.

View Article Sources
  1. "Barred Owls By Ornithologist Rob Bierregaard". Henry L. Ferguson Museum.

  2. Mowry, Christopher B. et al. "Using Community Science Data To Investigate Urban Coyotes (Canis Latrans) In Atlanta, Georgia, USA". Human Dimensions Of Wildlife, vol 26, no. 2, 2020, pp. 163-178. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/10871209.2020.1806415

  3. Coyote Management And Coexistence Plan. Chicago Animal Care And Control.

  4. "Coyotes, Raccoons Are Prowling New York City In Seemingly Record Numbers | Cornell Chronicle". Cornell Chronicle.

  5. "Mountain Lion Signs". Missouri Department Of Conservation.