Forest Hills Cemetery asks people to avoid owl family after influx of visitors causes disruptions

Cemetery officials said the noise humans make tends to deprive the birds of “precious daytime sleep.”

A great horned owl is perched in a tree keeping watch on two juvenile owls in the Forest Hills Cemetery. Matthew J Lee/Globe Staff

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A family of owls moved into a pine tree on Forest Hills Cemetery’s scenic grounds and they’re drawing plenty of attention.

The Great Horned Owls nesting next to the historic cemetery’s contemporary burial area have drawn unrelenting crowds of curious visitors, often with cameras in hand, to the location over the last three weeks. Staff are now urging people to leave the nocturnal creatures be, and offer some peace to the family members visiting loved ones buried in nearby gravesites. 

Well-intentioned birders, nature-lovers, and photographers, through no fault of their own, have blocked roads while attempting to photograph the nest, and some have even set up tripods over gravesites,” cemetery officials said in an update Tuesday. “We have received a number of complaints from our families who felt that the gravesites of their loved ones were being disrespected.”

*NOTICE* – March 23, 2021Nature lovers,Here at Forest Hills Cemetery, bird watching has always been encouraged as a…

Posted by Forest Hills Cemetery on Tuesday, March 23, 2021

While bird watching has always been encouraged as a way to connect with the wildlife and greenery surrounding the garden cemetery, founded in 1848, officials said this time, they’re asking people to pass up the opportunity. 


Wildlife rehabilitators and folks involved in the birding community have told the site that the constant disruption from people’s fascination with the owls can be detrimental to them. 

Whether people are calling up to the birds, standing around with a camera, or watching from inside their cars, cemetery officials said the noise and presence tends to deprive the birds of “precious daytime sleep.”

Great Horned Owls often inhabit dense forests of every type or smaller woodlots, and favor areas near marshes, rivers, and ponds, according to Mass Audubon. 

A versatile bird and well-equipped predator, the species adapts well in the presence of humans and can be content with living alongside them, often snacking on the squirrels and rats people attract to their neighborhood spaces. In Massachusetts, these owls are also year-round residents.

“Great Horned Owls seem to be doing well for themselves,” the organization’s website reads. “Their nocturnal habits in the age before electricity helped them maintain an air of mystery that has not been totally dispelled even today.” 

The bird, Mass Audubon explains, is most often found near the Connecticut River Valley, the Worcester Plateau, the Coastal Plains, and on Cape Cod. 

A pair of juvenile Great Horned Owls perched in a tree in the Forest Hills Cemetery. Matthew J Lee/Globe Staff


“Great Horned Owls become most vocal during late December through January and up to the beginning of nesting in February,” the group’s site says. “Vocalizations are almost as varied as those of the Barred Owl and range from deep booming hoots to whistles, shrieks, screams, and hisses. The resonant hooting call can be heard for a distance of several miles on a still night and is generally composed of five notes that sound like whooo-whooo-whoooooo-whoo-whooo.”

The creatures generally begin laying eggs between Feb. 20 and March 25. 

In early May, as the pandemic was unfurling and people craved escape from life indoors, Forest Hills announced that the closure of nearby schools, parks, playgrounds, and all non-essential businesses brought a rush of new visitors through their gates. 

“Unfortunately, many of these visitors were not respecting social distancing or the sanctity of the Cemetery,” officials wrote in an update on their site at the time. With bikers, joggers and dog walkers all using the space recreationally, the site decided to shutter to the general public, only allowing lot and grave owners to visit daily between 2 and 4 p.m. 

Mount Auburn and Swan Point, among other local cemeteries, closed their gates for the same reasons at the time.


Cemetery officials also posted an update on the site’s web page on Jan. 29, announcing new hours and introducing a policy that now prohibits dog-walking, jogging, or biking on the grounds. 

Now, officials are requesting that people rethink their hopes of encountering the feathered celebrities or snapping the best close-up shot for now. 

“Please help us to protect this family of owls and simply refrain from the desire to visit the nest,” officials said in the update, reminding there are always other birds in the cemetery to see. “We welcome all bird watchers and visitors to walk and bird watch in all other parts of our historic grounds.”

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