Blogtober: Owls

At my very first park job, one of the programs I most loved to lead was the Owl Prowl. That consisted of wandering down the trail, just after dark, with my participants and a red-masked flashlight (to prevent us from losing night vision) and a way to playback recordings. We usually have three main owl species in my area: Eastern Screech Owls, Barred Owls, and Great Horned Owls in order from smallest to largest. The order in which we called them in was very important, assuming we wanted to run an ethical prowl. We’d always start with the smallest owl species, and end with the largest. Great Horned Owls (GHOs for short) sometimes eat the much smaller Screech Owl, and even Barred Owls who aren’t a lot smaller than the GHOs. If we started with the biggest, and had a Great Horned Owl not only call back to us but approach, then when we switched to the smaller owl(s) the GHO could just fall silent and lie in wait while we attracted its dinner. That just doesn’t seem fair for said dinner!

A Great Horned Owl I saw on its nest in Florida. Perhaps it was thinking, “I’m a bit hungry, wonder if I could lure a Screech Owl or two?”

So instead we called the Screech owls first. That gave them the chance to flee when they heard us play the Barred Owl’s calls. My boss could imitate all three species’ calls without needing a machine. Me, I mastered only one, the Barred Owl. I think it’s the easist to remember and also the simplest in terms of sound reproduction. The mnemonic for its cadence is, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?” Check out some recordings on Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds pages if you’re interested. See if you can mimic too, in the privacy of your own home! (Those of you reading this at the office, maybe don’t try right away.) https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Barred_Owl/sounds

Since they’re so easy to copy, even on prowls when absolutely no owls cooperated with my playback, I could still send my participants home with the ability to call Barred Owls themselves! I have successfully called back and forth with an owl in the wild, one afternoon on the Washington & Old Dominion bike trail. While I don’t know exactly what I was saying, I know owls call for territorial purposes, to see who else is in their area, and for courtship. So I only called a couple times, I don’t want to either bully an owl or have one develop a crush on me. 😀

That reminds me, though, if you hope to see/hear an owl during the daytime, Barred Owls are a good possibility. I frequently hear them around 4 pm during the late summer and early fall, several hours before sunset. I saw one on a hike with my mom one time in May as well– we were really lucky to spot it. I’m sure there are many more times I’ve been within 20 feet of an owl and had no idea. Happy owling!

The Barred OWl I saw with my mom, It looks shocked that we could see through its camouflage as a tree stump!

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