The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Barred Owls are Out and About
Ro Wauer, February 1, 2004, The Victoria Advocate, © 2004

A few morning ago I was awakened at about 3am by a barred owl calling right outside my bedroom window. It called several times, and then, as I lay there listening to their wonderful songs, I detected one or two additional wail-like sounds that I recognized as youngsters. A family of barred owls were visiting my yard, probably in search of prey species that might be attracted to the abundant seed that I feed the wild birds. They remained for about 12 to 15 minutes before moving off to another site within their territory.

Barred owl calls are wonderfully deep hooting notes, ending in oo-aw, with a downward pitch at the end. Their calls usually include eight notes, giving them the name of "eight-hooter" in some areas. Phonetically, their call sounds like "who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?" Young barred owl may communicate with a wide range of sounds that can include waits and moans to cackles, hisses, and laughs. To me and lots of other nature-lovers, the calls of barred owls, especially when emanating from dank swamps and riparian habitats are truly memorable.

I remember my first ever barred owl vocalizations in the Big Thicket of East Texas. At the time I was working for the National Park Service, and I was part of a team of folks sent to examine the Big Thicket area for possible National Park status. I was with a guide in a small boat, polling along one of the shallow streams, when he spotted a barred owl sitting in the trees high overhead. After showing us the owl, he began to call just like the owl. After only about three or four hoots, the owl responded. And I remember sitting there watching that singing owl; I literally had goose-bumps. It was one of those outdoors experiences that I will never forget. And that initial experience came back to me while laying there in bed the other morning listening to the owls in my yard.

Barred owls are mid-sized owls, somewhat smaller than the great horned owl that is common in our fields and pastures, and larger than the Eastern screech-owl that resides in various woodlots in our area. The overall range of Barred owls extends from British Columbia east to Quebec and south to the Texas Gulf Coast. Their name is derived from the dark bars on their upper chest.

It is a chunky owl with all-brown eyes, a rounded face that is outlined with a dark bar, no eye tufts like great horned owls, and a streaked breast. Their ear openings are offset to help in locating prey by triangulation. They are able to locate even faint sounds with amazing accuracy. They prey on a wide assortment of creatures, from rodents and other small mammals, to frogs and toads, snakes and lizards, and a variety of invertebrates.

Owls also possess specially adapted wing-feathers that are serrated rather than smooth; this adaptation disrupts the flow of air over the wings in flight, eliminating the vortex noise created by airflow over a smooth surface. Owls also have the ability to see amazingly well at night, even on the darkest night. Their eyes are dominated by rods, rather than cones, that are receptors and able to function in very dim light.

Owls are truly exception creations! Here is an animal of the nighttime that hides out during the daylight hours, usually among the foliage of high trees growing over or near water areas. It is usually pure serendipity to find one during the daylight hours. But it is not so difficult to detect them at any time of day or night when there are calling. Their rhythmic, emphatically delivered "howWho-haWHOO!....howWHO-haWHOOAaahh" calls can hardly be ignored.

2 Comments:

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