The Owl Comes Into Its Own

Only lately have scientists begun to understand owls in detail, and to puzzle out the subtleties of behavior, biology and sensory prowess that set them apart.

Comments: 172

  1. As to being bad omens, the Italian word for witch (strega) comes from the word strix (owl).

  2. A barred owl spent most of the day yesterday in a tree in our backyard, keeping an eye on the area around our bird feeder, which attracts squirrels, mice and other rodents to forage the seeds the birds drop on the ground. Later, when it was dark, we heard it hooting, perhaps to let another owl nearby know that it got some prey. We once saw one swoop down, grab a rodent in the snow, fly off to a nearby tree branch and swallow it whole. Recently, we saw rabbit tracks in the snow across the yard and an area of stirred-up snow where an owl tried to grab the rabbit, but missed -- the tracks kept going.

  3. Far too short of an article for such a fascinating topic!

  4. Such beautiful birds.

  5. They dined on mince
    and slices of quince
    which they ate with a runcible spoon

    And hand in hand
    at the edge of the sand
    they danced by the light of the moon, the moon
    they danced by the light of the moon.

    "The Owl and the Pussycat"
    Edward Lear

    4:15 p.m.

  6. These birds are, as so much of our natural co-habitants of planet earth, majestic, amazing and sacred. Instead of spending billions to see if there might be life on Mars, I pray we take that money and invest it in the precious and incredibly fascinating life here on earth. The bird in the photo was struck and killed by a truck -- says the caption. Would that we would find ways to increase and protect the areas where our wildlife require a buffer from the dangers of our world. What a waste of such a magnificent bird. They all are irreplaceable but our corporate age appears to believe all of these animals are expendable. They breathe, exude the most mysterious and valuable of all qualities -- the mystery and magic of existence. All of us need to find a single voice that declares our wildlife sacred and worthy of protecting from habitat destruction, corporate greed, poachers - you name it. We need to. We must. @johannaclear @nrdc @wwf @sierraclub see for NYC's only wildlife rehab facility - established just last year!!

  7. Too bad the Madison, Wisconsin, Common Council has decided to erect a monstrosity of lights along the Southwest Bike Path, or, as it is known to some, "Owlpath."

  8. Unlike - for people and owls?

  9. We have a great horned owl pair that has been heard and seen off our back yard space for 4-5 years now. They call the standard 'who who whoooo who', but also 'talk' in a warbly sort of way sometimes. They sound quite gossipy when they get going. Might owls be related to those talky pests, the starlings? They are most enchanting and I love hearing them even if they are close and keep me awake.

  10. Some owl folklore from "The White Goddess Site" - derived from Cailleach, Oidhche, or Comachag
    The word "cailleach" in the Scottish-Gaelic means old woman!, "coileach-oidhche" is the word for owl, it means "night-cockerel"! These birds were associated with the Crone, or death-dealing aspect of the Goddess. The owl is a guide to and thru the Underworld, a creature of keen sight in darkness, and a silent and swift hunter.

    Owls are believed to have played a more prominent role in early Celtic religion, and may predate the Greek cult of Athene, for whom the owl was an animal attribute.

    Owls are believed to be a sacred animal to the famed Cult of the Head. They often appear with human heads and with bovines, such as rams and bulls, all of which have been determined by scholars to be objects of this strange cult. In modern Scottish and Welsh languages, the owl, by the etymology of the word alone carries negative connotations of death and darkness. Then, in later Gallo-Roman times the Owl lost its cult significance, but has been linked to a Celtic goddess associated with fertility.

    The Owl is a symbol of the Goddess, and represents perfect wisdom, death and rebirth. They can see in the dark, fly noiselessly through the skies, and bring messages through dreams. The Owl is the bird of mystical wisdom and ancient knowledge of the powers of the moon.

    Modern Wiccans revere them. Born-agains fear them. I guess wisdom and religion don't always go hand-in-hand.

  11. What is a "modern wiccan"?

  12. "Born-agains fear them." Why would a creature created by God who pronounced it all Good, be feared by "born-agains"?

  13. Wiccan is modern pagan witchcraft religion.

  14. Owls is it. Then let me be the first to say. 'Furry' a name my (late) wife and daughter named our first cat outlived many Owls.

  15. We're lucky to have screech owls nesting in our backyard fir trees. In summer we can hear them--not a screech, as their name suggests, but a melodious trilling sound, and have also heard the sound of their babies. Lovely on a warm summer night when the bedroom windows are open.

  16. One of the finest large urban parks in the U.S.A., Forest Park, is located six miles west of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, MO. This park , which is 500 acres larger than Central Park, is home to a pair of great horned owls that have been the subject of over seven years of dedicated, enthusiastic and well informed observation of a local amateur naturalist Mark H. X. Glenshaw. He has witnessed, documented and shared an incredible range of behavior of this pair of wild owls. His blog, chronicles his observations in a most engaging manner with well-written narrative along with photos and videos.

  17. These are majestic 13-yr old daughter is the most knowledgeable owl enthusiast I know (while my now 19-yr old son was a penguin enthusiast! So funny how these 2 birds are favorites). They should be protected and kids should be encouraged to adopt them as they are in the wild and not just when they get injured and live the rest of their lives in nature reserves or sanctuaries. They play an important role in our ecology and I would say, our history. We should nurture these and other majestic animals!

  18. Yeah I like owls, but for sure my favorite birds are eagles.

  19. Often when I fly radio controlled gliders over a steep slope, bald eagles will come down from nearby trees and fly with me. I'll hover the glider into the wind, and an eagle will hover over my glider and look it over, or fly alongside it.

  20. On the northwestern shores of Trinity Bay in Texas, Screech Owls and Great Horned Owls make up most of my sightings and soundings. They are a delight to the ear and eye. The Screech Owls will rest on branches of trees in my yard and awaken to hunt at evening twilight. I have enjoyed watching them begin their moves as darkness arrives. One time I was observing one on a lower than usual branch, no more than 20 feet away. As it awoke it began to observe me, and finally swooped right at the top of my head. The event was stunningly fast. I ducked just in time. I do not know what exactly the Owl was trying to communicate to me. It did not feel like affection, but I would not trade for the moment.

  21. It was saying, "Keep your distance!"

  22. I also have been swooped at by owls, while bike riding at dusk and while skiing at night. I know of one case of an owl whose talons became entangled in a skier's sweater. Fortunately, his friends were able to disentangle the owl and let it go.

  23. He was telling you to get away from the area around his nest!

  24. Amazing creatures...when the Great Horned Owls talk to each other in our back property it brings joy to our house.

  25. I just wanted to post a quick comment about this interesting article and video clip. the accompanying photo shown with Blakiston's fish owl noted sadly, that the owl had been killed by a vehicle.
    Not far from here in the Puget Sound we have a fine animal wildlife rescue, Sarvey Rescue that does very fine rehabilitation with wildlife of all types including eagles, owls et al. On a visit last year I saw a snowy owl that had been injured and left on the roadside. A motorist called Sarvey and the owl was taken to a center for care and rehab.
    I wanted to note the fine work that Sarvey and other centers are doing with this care for all wildlife and in this case owls.

  26. Our pair of barred owls also hunt all day and all night in our live oak trees. Don't know when they sleep. It is a pleasure having "Hoot" and his Mrs. or Mr. around except when we had a Boston Terrier puppy which we had to be careful of when Hoot hooted. They keep the squirrel population under control, difficult these past few years with an overabundance of acorns (global warming?).

  27. I would have loved to see a slideshow instead of the video. The front photo is fantastic-- is that some prey sticking out of the owl's mouth? Gorgeous, thank you NYT for the story and to all the researchers for their conservation efforts.

  28. Whereas in the western culture owls are considered wise, in the muslim and mid eastern mythology , owls are bad omen, bad luck, unwise and foolish. A dim wit is often refered toas an '"ull loo" or an idiot ( an owl). I wonder how and why this difference in characterisation of this nocturnal bird has come about ?

  29. For the Apache people, owls are the dead and a bad omen also.

  30. Mullim cultures also have disdain for dogs, considering them inherently filthy animals.

  31. In Greco-Roman antiquity, the owl was a sacred animal of Athena/Minerva, the goddess of intelligence and skill. The "owl of Athens" appeared on coins, in the form of perfume and oil bottles, and widely in art.That's the origin of the owl's association with wisdom in the West. But in this same classical tradition, the screech owl, by contrast, was a bird of ill omen, and scary nocturnal creatures that stole babies or sucked blood had owl-like characteristics.

    Hope someone can tell us about the Islamic or Near/Mid Eastern tradition.

  32. Thanks for a fascinating article. We in northeastern Minnesota are seeing a substantial number of great gray owls this winter, apparently because of short rations in Canada. They are magnificent birds.

  33. Timely article. The February full moon is nicknamed the "owl moon," as many species are mating and preparing to nest. Local conservation and birding organizations in many areas of the country hold nighttime owl prowl events around the time of the owl moon.

  34. Disney needs a fish owl character.

  35. Owls. Yes.

    But I want to say that all life is wonderful and worth as much amazement.
    You humans have a tendency to revere the mythic, the charismatic, those animals
    from whom you wish to draw power and status by appropriation. And in
    your very awe and theft of their being, you destroy them.

    But when you stop, seized in amazement at a housefly, whose deft agility
    no human fighter aircraft can match, then consider yourself a friend of
    all the earth, not just the charismatic mega fauna. Nothing is here
    to be "beautiful" for you, nor to complete your moral aesthetic.

    You, who are not stewards of anything, nor worthy of much, could best practice
    respect for life and all "inanimate" things by some simple observance:
    restraint; attempt to practice abstinence from eating creatures;
    let the ego's appetite fast; do not interfere, neither to "save" nor to
    "extract," but above all, consider your 50,000 year old species a destructive
    toddler among things that have counted the sun's travail in a clock whose tick and
    tock are reckoned in the life and death of stars.

  36. There is no greater feeling of being one with all the other creatures on earth than when you stop killing and eating animals for food. We save every errant housefly, moth and beetle, and put them back in the yard, their natural home. Honor life.

  37. What a rich trove you reveal in this most beautifully written, elegantly phrased and informative article. Exquisite prose in the service of science. A parliament of owls? A deeply satisfying name; if only it's collective namesake had the dignity, intelligence and congruity of purpose of these amazing creatures. A meal of voles is surely better than they deserve. Name them rather an 'unkindness' or 'conspiracy' of congressmen (the collective noun for ravens).

  38. Owls are fascinating creatures. The more that we see and learn about them, the more enamored humans become by their majestic features. They are incredible, complex raptors with incredible stealth skills in flight. I've had the experience to personally meet some of the amazing owls that they have in North America. I hope that our owl friends will continue to adapt to humans in their environment like they already have.

  39. I am thinking about rasing them when I retire, establish a protected zone in a piece of land/wood. I am more and more fascinated by them (as I am by hawks and eagles) - maybe because they have the magic gift of seeing in the dark, which of course, on a more existential level, these days is something many of us would like to be able to do...

  40. I have only seen 2 owls in my, one that was killed on the road by someone going too fast to care that I buried him in my yard. The other was 15 years ago when I was living in rural Kansas and was given a kitten that I named Otoe after the Native Americans who had lived in the region and because he had one toe missing on his right paw. One day I was watching Otoe from my kitchen window when I became aware of a shadow and then suddenly a huge owl swooped in and snatched him. I gave chase for miles but never could catch up. I don’t know what I would have done if I had. I was devastated. About 2 weeks later I was walking in the woods about 3 miles from my house when I heard what sounded like crying. There was Otoe, a mangled leg and near death. I rushed him to the vet. It was life and death for days but he recovered. The old vet saved his leg but he would always limp and said it was miracle that a kitten could survive in that environment. What probably saved him was that it was summer. Otoe survived on bark and anything else he could swallow so his gut was full of splinters. How he survived with all the foxes, bobcats and raptors that were thick in those woods is still a puzzle to me. As I type this I’m watching Otoe looking out the window. I’ve always wondered if he remembers the owl and his ordeal. I really would like to know why the owl let him live—I’m glad he did.

  41. I'm so glad Otoe survived the attack! How lucky you both are! He might have been able to squirm away, as it sounds as if the bird had him by the leg.

    Owls love hunting for cats, just one more reason to keep your feline sweety indoors at all times. (It protects birds from them, and them from birds.)

    Wishing you many more, and more pleasant, owl sightings!

  42. I love this tale! Thank you for sharing. I will think of brave, strong Otoe as I go to sleep tonight, and maybe an owl will visit my dreams.

  43. For all the owl lovers here you may enjoy the Cornell Lab of Ornithology web site as they have wonderful nest cams of many species of birds. Last year the Great Blue Heron nest was attacked by a owl at night. The Heron survived the attack . The nest cams will be back up soon as the Eagles and Owls are already nesting. A great joy to watch these live nest cams.

  44. Thanks for this site. Their film on birds of paradise is amazing as well!

  45. In Burma owls call money.

  46. One night, near the southeast entrance of Joshua Tree, where you can overlook the western extent of the Colorado Desert, my son and I stopped our car and got out to enjoy the star show of a new moon. After about 5 minutes of relaxing on the car a large owl - just a shadow - buzzed our heads. Scared us near to death; we still get chills when we talk about it.

  47. We enjoyed a resident Great Horned Owl in a Eucalyptus tree at Westward Look Resort in Tucson last week. Staff at the resort said that the owl has been living in that tree, undisturbed by the comings and goings of humans below day and night, for over two years.

  48. The small wet weather creek behind my barn drains into Owl Creek and there are nesting barred owls in my woods, as well as nearby. Listening to baby owls learning to hoot is hilarious, and it is truly joyful when as many as a half dozen owls call back and forth. I have always been amazed by how they can fly so silently. Thank you for the explanation.

  49. When I was young my father, a huge bird lover, taught me the calls of the Barred owl "who cooks for you?" and the Great Horned Owl "whose awake? Me too." When I was nursing my daughters there was a great horned owl who became my buddy. During the late night feelings it was nice to listen to the owls call to each other, and it was nice to know other moms were up late looking after their young.

  50. When we lived in Durham, Maine we had three owls within listening distance. Barred owls lived on our property so we heard them many nights in the spring and summer. In late winter/early spring saw whet owls would "serenade" us to sleep from across the road (they make a beeping sound like trucks backing up) and down the road we had the occasional great horned owl. The barred owls make some crazy sounds, but we loved listening to them. We occasionally hear barred owls at our current house in a different town and always stand listening at the window for as long as they call.

  51. I was once "buzzed" by a great horned owl. I was blowing a crow call in the woods and the owl passed so close to my head from behind that I could feel the turbulance from its wings. I didn't hear a thing and when the owl flew away it was like watching a small airplane going through the trees.

  52. Great Horned Owls prey on crows.

  53. The crow is another avian species that has remarkable "bird brains." Knowing nothing about it, I would suspect that their territories often overlap, with opportunistic sorties and fight displays used to demarcate their boundaries.

  54. "The Wise Owl"

    The wise old owl
    Sat in an oak.
    The more he saw,
    The less he spoke.
    The less he spoke,
    The more he heard.
    Why can't we be like
    That wise old bird?

  55. About 20 years ago, after seeing no animal life whatsoever from my deer blind, I changed blinds. On exiting the new blind after the morning hunt, I spotted a bald eagle and a snowy owl feeding on the gut pile of a deer that had been taken the day before.

    I watched them for about 10 minutes from less than 30 yards until something, probably me, scared them off. The kidneys, heart and lungs had all been eaten or carried away with the only portion of the deer remaining being about 3 or 4 feet of large intestine on which the two birds were dining.

    I think I took a deer that year, but I don't really remember. I'll never forget those two birds of prey, however, coexisting within 4 feet of each other.

  56. We have several species of owl here, including of course the ubiquitous great horned, as well as little pygmy and saw whet owls. And during the winters we have been visited by more exotics including snowies. Several years back, there was a great gray resident in a local valley for a while. We were privileged to watch it dive from a power pole into about a foot of snow and come up with a rodent. They are all wonderful and lovely.

  57. The call of the Great Horned Owl has become a familiar sound at our house this time of year. When the children were little they would be frighten by the deep, lonely sound. When these occasions came about I would tell them stories of how the owl was talking to all the woodland creatures. How he guarded our home so nothing could harm them. Before I could finish my tale they would be fast asleep. Before long when they heard the Great Horned they no longer needed me to banish their fears. In retrospect I guess it was a bitter sweet result. I got more sleep but another apron string had been cut.
    The children are grown now and the last two years there have been no owl calls. For whatever the reason this wonderful bird had left our area. My biggest fear was the extensive building that was taking place and I wondered what other bird might never grace my yard again. Last night as I drifted someplace between dreams I head in the stillness of the late hours a noise demanding my attention. Laying in the darkness I wondered what had rallied me from my slumber and just then I heard it. That regal call I didn't no how much I missed. I just listened.... smiling to myself.... remembering the sound of little feet, the tug of my blanket and that small voice asking "Mommy what's that?"

  58. Beautiful writing, Lorraine.

  59. Those barred owls surround my house, they keep asking, but I'm not giving them, my cook's name.

  60. Many years ago my girlfriend and I were exploring the dunes at the West End of Jones Beach State Park on Long Island. We stayed past sunset and lay on our backs in the sand, looking up at the stars and listening to the nearby surf. Suddenly, a barred owl wheeled overhead at only an arm's length away. It had been hunting small mammals low over the grassy sand dunes when it came upon us. It seemed to do a complete 360-degree turn on its own axis as we clearly looked into each other's eyes. It then flew off as silently as it had arrived. We lay there stunned, aware of the rare, if momentary, viewpoint we had experienced this remarkable bird from.

  61. A great read on owls, 'Wesley: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl' by naturalist and owl scientist Stacy O'Brien...she chronicles her life with barn owl Wesley. Barn owls are quite unique...

    I love owls, what wonderful magical beings they are. The owl festival in Houston, MN is not to be missed, 1-3 March 2013, next week!

  62. Are you the "mom" of Alice, the great horned owl on display at the nature center?

  63. A wonderful fascinating book chock full of science and humor...a real treat!. The recorded version mesmerized our family of 5 ,ages 9-70, while driving from Massachusetts to DC.

  64. One winter back in the nineties when I was working as an Air Traffic Controller at Chicago's O'Hare airport a snowy owl took up residence.. The first time I found the ghostly visage staring back at me through the tower glass on a quiet midnight shift it was quite startling. After a while a night without a visit from this gorgeous creature was a disappointment, notwithstanding the large rat often held limply in its talons.

  65. The picture I use here as an avatar is of a baby great horned owl. Outside our office are two huge spruce trees, taller than our three-storey building. For years, a pair of great horned have nested in one of them, and an owl cam was posted on the building to watch. Last nesting was about three years ago, then researchers removed the wire nest frame and cam. When we saw they were nesting, we went to the third floor which put us at the same level as the nest, and there were two babies in the nest. The pictures I got were of the babies when they had moved from the nest to a branch nearby, but weren't yet flying. They were probably ten feet from me.

    The owls continue to occupy the trees around our building and the next one. We come out the door at about 5:30 and they immediately sing. They note our movement below the trees. I've even engaged one in some exchange once. They are large and very hard to see among the dense spruce branches, but occasionally we catch sight of one. They dine on pigeons that hang out around the buildings.

    I feel as though we are the interlopers in their territory, although I'm quite sure they enjoy living on a university campus full of trees and safety. The babies I photographed would tilt their heads this way and that, as though to say, what are you? and are you good to eat?

  66. We had a nest of great horned owls in a nearby tree. Eventually the babies (which were quite large) came out and sat side by side on a tree limb outside our bedroom window. What was interesting was that the adult owls were hunting by day at that point, and were being mobbed by the crows; but the crows totally ignored these baby owls. We had no idea why the crows didn't see them as a threat also.

  67. Growing up in Southern California, we rarely heard or saw owls. But when we moved to New England, the owls found us. We've had owls perch in a tall oak on the opposite side of the yard and serenade us through the night. It's always a beautiful sound. We did a nighttime owl walk at a local nature center, and the leader perfectly mimicked the owl's call. We silently listened and heard a far-off response. Then the owl came closer and closer, and finally swooshed over our heads. Breathtaking.

  68. A few weeks ago I was making dinner in the kitchen. I turned to see outside the back window a barred owl staring in at me. He (she?) had flown down in the dark onto the railing of the back deck and triggered the motion sensor light, and it may have been temporarily blinded. I was probably standing no more than 6' away from this amazing animal (and it seemed REALLY big), before it silently flew off.

  69. Northerners who love owls should be aware of the fear, superstition, and killing of owls because of those fears throughout most of Africa and (India, I understand). Owls are viewed as evil beings that bring death, and so they are regularly killed. If an owl lands on your house, goes the superstition, death will soon strike someone in your home.

    I had to order one of our staff to please NOT kill the Verreaux's Eagle-Owl that was landing on our roof at night and I so wanted to see in W. Africa. ("Does she want to see it dead or alive," asked the neighbor.) And in Southern Africa, my young son stopped our gardener from burning alive the owl he'd just downed with a sling shot.

    If you visit a bird sanctuary outside of Harare, you will find it full of injured owls. And one family, whose farm was taken over, said that the new occupants wouldn't enter the house because the family used to rescue owls. In fact, those with a knack for mending owls have compounds full of owls. We took the one our gardener tried to kill to such a man.

    I heard of some wax cloth, designed in the Netherlands, where it is made, that used an owl motif on the cloth. No one in W. Africa would touch it.

    Perhaps in the middle ages we had a similar superstition in the association of owls and witches, but modern northerners seem to associate owls with Athena and wisdom. This view contrasts starkly with the one held in Africa.

    Here's an organization in South Africa:

  70. There are numerous Ozark superstitions that associate owls with death and sickness.

  71. "Out on ye! Owls! Nothing but songs of death?"
    -- Richard III (Shakespeare)

  72. Macbeth (whose language is full of bad animals, rooks, "shard-borne beetles," etc., hears an owl the night he kills Duncan: "Hark! Peace! / It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman, / Which gives the stern'st good-night. He is about it" -- a "bellman" being an announcer. Lady Macbeth says the owl, "the obscure bird," "clamour'd the live-long night." These superstitions hardly died in the Middle Ages: horror movies and dark fantasies still rely on the same imagery.

  73. Every story here is so good. Three years ago we had an explosion of voles (they're like mice) followed by more then usual birds of prey. My husband is a landscape nurseryman so we have planted lots of trees on our ground. Besides the usual hawks, we had more owls than usual and some even flew around during daylight hours. At dusk, when taking our then puppy out (aussie shepherd fluffball) there were always at least five owls of various sizes and colors in the maple tree. Waiting for us! Last summer there were a couple owls that feasted on robins every night. I'd find their feathers in the morning.

  74. One night when I was in High School, I was waiting downtown for the bus home, when I heard a sudden beating of feathers. I looked up to a 3rd story overhang of the bank building across the street. Several pigeons were furiously flying away, but two were caught, each under the grip of the talons of a large owl, who calmly rotated its head, as if assessing its getaway route back into the hills.

    The owl had attacked silently, before the pigeons had a change to react. As the owl beat its wings in take off, it dropped one of the pigeons, which fell lifeless to the sidewalk below. I could only watch in awe as this magnificent bird of prey flew away with its dinner - though half its initial quarry - into the dark night.

  75. The article helped me understand a little know Owl trait: they cannot move their eyes which are fixed forward. The enormous dependency upon hearing for prey identification and its location through sound, helped by the face channeling sound waves to the ears makes eye rotation unneeded. And, when locating prey by sound, the eyes are then fixed with remarkable precision, no doubt, upon the source!

  76. > Not just owls -- all birds (of coruse not all of them fixed facing forward).

  77. Several years ago I was out for a walk one summer day at Tyler State Park in Bucks County, PA. In one of the fields there was a great mob of crows making quite a ruckus. Looking closer, I noticed a large Great Horned Owl perched in the middle of the ruckus sedately fending off the crows. I suspect he was raiding some crows nests. At some point he decided to make an escape and went like a flash for trees on the other side of the field. All of this occurred mid afternoon!

  78. I had the privilege of having a family of Screech owls in my Hilton Head Island, SC yard last summer. Managed to get wonderful photos of both parents and all three fledglings over a two month period. They became quite used to me and my camera and I was able to get within three feet of the little ones for many of the photos. Hope to have another family next summer. I'll be listening for them!

  79. these fine creaturea are owl-truistic, to boot! how wonderful they are!

  80. We have had a great horned owl nesting near the front of the house for years now. Every evening our older Bassett hound has to go out and exchange compliments with the owl before she goes to sleep. Fortunately the neighbors have not complained, and occasionally a coyote or two will comment as well. This, within 75 miles of NYC. And don't let me forget the sounds of a baby, crying in the woods, which is in fact the nearest bobcat.

  81. I wish I had an owl story. I'm jealous. (Is it just me or doesn't Dr. Slaght look rather owlish?)

  82. No, it's not just you—I had the same reaction to the photograph. Perhaps it's his widow's peak and the expression on his face?

  83. like when dogs and their owners look alike!

  84. But how Wise is it to keep eating potato chips?

  85. Not at all bad if you can get them or cook them yourself in appropriate oils such as (unhydrogenated) lard, or ghee.

  86. As Owls depend mostly on their hearing to find food. I wonder how the unending roar and din and noise from cars, roads and suburban sprawl are inhibiting owls ability to hunt and survive.

    For example, highways that cross wilderness areas must surely affect the well being of animals, and certainly owls.

  87. The African beliefs about owl cited by Outis above was transported by slaves to Haiti and these beliefs still exist there. And I would wager they exist in other Afro-Caribbean cultures as well. There is an interesting project in Kenya that tries to convince farmers to consider owls rather than rat poison as the best rat killing method. If successful, this will of course protect owls as well as the rest of the environment.

  88. Many townships in South Africa have severe rat problems and one of the many attempted solutions has been to introduce owls into the area to try and reduce their numbers. However, owls are a symbol of death in African culture so there has been some resistance to the idea and many people will kill them on sight if they can. The same ignorance prevails where snakes are concerned. Considering that owls and snakes are the best solutions for keeping rodent populations down, you can see why the rats have now become so dominant. Its simply the natural order of things that gets messed up by people. Nature always knows best!

  89. I am heartened by all the passionate comment here. Nice advocacy story about owls, though a little over the top. Barred owls are well-known to respond to hooting by humans (it is a distinctive call and no need to play a recording). I saw a large barred owl in a tree along my jogging route last year at dawn...I hooted to it in the typical barred owl "who, who, who cooks for you, who cooks for yhou all" fashion and it hooted back to me...while it's mate in the adjacent wetland hooted as well. I've also been surprised by the barking hoots of barred owls on The Devil's Path as I reached the top of a Catskill high peak ridge after a long climb (they must have been responding to my heavy breathing). They are crepuscular and often are one of the few owls in our region that can be heard during the day (particularly on overcast days during mating season in the spring). I have heard their calls in Mianus River Gorge or in the Palmaghatt Ravine of Minnwaska State Park while leading nature hikes during the afternoon hours. I treasure the nights when I hear the calls of screech owls, tiny saw whet owls or great horned owls while falling asleep. Thank you for drawing awareness to those wonderful owls!

  90. "Species like the barn, barred, screech and horned have some of the keenest auditory systems known, able to hear potential prey stirring deep under leaves, snow or grass, identify the rodent species and even assess its relative plumpness or state of pregnancy, based on sound alone."

    State of pregnancy? Does that mean they're smart enough to leave pregnant females alone to ensure their future food supply? That would just be too amazing.

  91. This summer I was kayak fishing on a local creek designated a National Scenic River. I have seen large owls several times in this section but never close enough to determine the species. As a friend and I rounded a bend, we spooked an owl on the bank. While ascending, it lost control of the prey it was eating, which dropped into the creek. My buddy paddled over to pick it up, and it turned out to be a freshly killed redtail hawk--sans head! I knew these birds were great hunters, but they moved up a couple notches in my estimation when I found out they were even preying upon other raptors. We tossed the unlucky hawk back onto the bank so the owl could retrieve its well won meal.

  92. We have owls outside, right now, up in the pines. Owls help curve the covering sky at night. They hoot us to sleep and hoot us awake. Thanks, owls. You are indeed priceless. I wouldn't trade you for Downton Abbey.

  93. One winter some years ago my wife and I were visiting friends in the high desert country of southeastern Oregon. We were scouting a jeep road one morning and stopped to look at something or other. I don't remember what. I had gotten out of the car and was standing in the road near a large bush when something drew my attention to it. What I saw in it were about a dozen pairs of yellow eyes staring at me intently. They belonged to long eared owls, about five feet away. My wife, sitting in the passenger seat, saw them, too. We froze, and for a few moments owls and humans silently regarded one another. Then, one by one and in pairs, they flew out of the bush, down the road and away. We had been holding our breaths, and let them out in unison. I will never forget it.

  94. Perhaps some of your readers can help me here. I was entertaining some German guests at my rustic retreat when we heard what I've always been taught was the hoot of a common owl. It was daytime. My German guests insisted that it could not have been an owl, that owls do not hoot in daylight. Was I wrong? Were they wrong? Is this a difference in species?

  95. barred owls sometimes hoot during the should check an online bird call site by googling the name of the bird [barred owl] + call to determine it this is what you heard. I hear them during the day mostly during the spring and summer, and mostly on overcast days..

  96. Maybe a White-winged Dove? As noted, sometimes owls call during daylight -- Great Horned Owls do so regularly near our house.

  97. Fans of owls (and birds in general) will be moved by this account of the relationship between a baby horned owl and a professor of zoology at the University of Vermont, excerpted from a book by T.X. Barber :

    "Bubo (the owl) wakes me at 4:34 AM, by drumming on the window beside my ear. He joins me for breakfast, sharing some of my pancake...He hops onto the back of my chair, making his friendly grunts while I caress his head, and he nibbles [affectionately] on my fingers endlessly." (Heinrich, 1987)

    "He plays rough, and so do I, but eventually he tires of it and lies down on my arms. Looking at the clock I see that we have played for one and a half hours. It seemed shorter than that... When I come back to the cabin he now always comes down from his sleeping perch to play.... Bubo comes to me and hops onto my leg. For a half hour we nuzzle, tickle and caress." (Heinrich, 1987)

    Bubo’s "friendly grunts" and "soft hushed, private sounds reserved for intimacies" are examples of a variety of great horned owl communications discovered in Professor Heinrich’s naturalistic investigation— communications of which ornithologists have been unaware. For instance, Heinrich discovered that Bubo had many different kinds of calls which had different nuances, each tinged with meaning."


  98. Sadly, many owls are hit by cars, going after rodents who are scavenging for food at roadsides. DON'T THROW APPLE CORES OR OTHER FOOD OUT YOUR CAR WINDOW!

    Wonderful article. Oh, to have Natalie Angier's job...though I couldn't write nearly as well...

    two wonderful books for young children:
    Owl Moon by Jane Yolen
    Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

  99. During the 1980's I grew Protea flowers at Puu Waa Waa Ranch on the big island of Hawaii. Every Friday early evening I would walk the flower field and two Pueo, Hawaiian owls (amakua) would hang/glide behind and slightly above my head. The followed me because as I walked mice would always scurry ahead of my feet. The owls knew this, and remembered this weekly. As a mouse would flee before me, one of the owls would swoop down and grab it for dinner. This continued for several years. Their presence was magical.
    see this link for a short video of a Pueo being released in Waimea:

    Lee Burkins Author of 'Soldier's Heart'

  100. Great video. What a beautiful owl. Thank you.

  101. Unfortunately most vertebrate species larger than a bread box are doomed by humans' "Growth for the sake of growth" ideology that Edward Abbey likened to the ideology of a cancer cell.

  102. Global Owl Project - at last, a GOP that has something positive to offer.

  103. Our densely wooded property a few miles north of Raleigh was part of the hunting range of a pair of Great Horned owls, which would wreak havoc with nesting crows and other prey. One fine spring morning, as I looked out into the trees I saw one of the adult owls with two largish fledglings perched high up on a branch. The two young owls, each at least a foot tall, still had their nearly white plumage.

    The adult seemed to be training its young to hunt, as it would swoop down to the ground, then return to the perch. A few days later, I witnessed one of the adults dive down to the ground, which was followed by a short cry, then saw the owl return high up to a branch with a rabbit held in its talons.

  104. I did owl surveys for the forest service for several years. One observation and one interesting anecdote.
    When I would hear the four-note hoot of the Spotted Owl, I would listen for an accent on the last note. If I didn't hear it, I would assume an unattached bird, but when I did hear it, soon there would be a duet of a male and female giving the same accent on the last note. I surmised this was the way the pair would locate each other in the dense forest.
    After a night in the forest and being one of the older surveyors my music choice runs on the eclectic side. Since my field partner was in my age class and the younger teams had not returned, I asked if he objected to my playing some George Gershwin and Scott Joplin piano rolls. He did not. On went the CD player and when a particular Joplin piano roll began playing, we soon realized we were not alone. A family of 8 Northern Saw-whet Owls surrounded us in the nearby trees and they were making their sawing call along to the music. I stopped the music and they flew off. I turned the music back on and they returned and starting sawing away again to the beat.
    The moral is, that if you listen to the music of the night whether man-made or nature, you will hear and learn that nature is always magical and that it deserves our respect.

  105. One summer afternoon I was looking down into my woods & kept hearing a sawing noise. I thought I was imagining it, as there was no one there. Then, I spotted 2 tiny owls on a branch not 6 feet from where I was standing. I ran to get my bird book & found that they were "saw whet" owls. They remained on the branch for a bit & I have never heard or seen them again.

  106. Will the engineers reading this article please take an interest in the owls' silent flight and find the inspiration to design or retrofit heat pumps for quieter operation!

  107. Some heat pumps and air conditioners are very quiet. That normally comes at a higher price, though visiting a few HVAC showrooms can help.

    Yes, many HVAC companies do have showrooms, and it's worth a visit.

    I've found better Carrier heat pumps and condensing units to be very quiet, though the noise level varies by model. Low end HVAC systems are almost universally noisy.

  108. Grew up in the country- hence, have owl stories.

    I was about 12, and it was just after twilight when my Dad said - let's go -I have something to show you. Off we went in our old jeep, down a dirt road, into deeper woods. We parked, my dad said be quiet, and gestured to me to get out of the car and look up.

    He opened a flashlight, pointed it to the top of a very tall pine tree and 2 enormous, baleful orange eyes looked back with more than a little irritation, that slowly changed to a cold interest. It was a Great Horned Owl - close to 3 foot high. It took my breath away. I had never experienced so much natural deadly power, clearly expressed. We watched each other for about 15 minutes, and as my eyes became accustomed to the dark, I saw the whole bird, wings, horns, and all. He was the King of the Forest for sure.

  109. Good dad story. My greatest satisfaction as a father has been through moments like this with my daughter.

  110. We've got Great Horned Owls here in many areas of semi-urban Los Angeles. It's wonderful to see and hear them. LA also has a rat problem, and here's hoping more people use traps, not poison, to deal with them. Sadly, the Owls suffer the consequences.

  111. Good to see the article - I've been part of a hawk and owl watch for years. The title of the article is getting to me, however. The Owl Comes Into It's Own -- because humans have given them the attention (?). They've always been a majestic bird.

  112. Two years ago I moved to rural Western Massachusetts. I love the sound of the Barred Owl at night and have the pleasure of seeing one but only once. They act like royalty, kings and queens of the night, looking down at their subjects with an air of superiority.

    I am also learning how to call them. Slowly and surely I am starting to talk to my unseen neighbors of the night. It is fascinating.

  113. Despite their reputation as nocturnal, barn owls in the Galapagos can easily be found on a morning hike on several islands. They tend to blend in while standing on the lava, so binoculars are helpful.

  114. Owls are cavity nesters; they prefer natural tree cavities but some species (screech, barred, barn) will use owl boxes.

    Resist the urge to remove dead or dying trees from your yard, and take especial care of any trees with knotholes or other cavities. You may be rewarded with owls, as I have beenthis winter. One old oak tree in our suburban yard has a nice knothole about 30 feet off the ground, where a grey-phase screech owl has taken up residence:

    It’s so important to leave old trees standing; it’s sad that people think they’re “ugly” and remove them from our landscape. So many creatures, including owls, woodpeckers, and many mammals, depend on those old trees:

    In my yard, mice, rabbits, and other creatures come out at night to glean seed from the ground around where we feed the birds. A fox comes by once in a while, as indicated by tracks left in the snow. And I know that the screech owl, whose roost hole overlooks the area, is making a living there, too. The other day I found a pellet under its tree: a little bundle of fur and bones from a mouse or vole that the owl had caught and eaten; the pellet is disgorged after digestion.

  115. > Not all of them - I'm not even sure most of them. E.g., 3 species found in my neck of the woods (from All About Birds,

    (1) Great Horned: "Uses a variety of nest sites, including trees, cliffs, buildings, and the ground. Does not make its own nest. Typically takes over nests in trees made by other bird species. Often puts nest in hollows or broken-off snags in trees." Thus, only sometimes (and apparently more often not) in cavities (i.e., I guess you could consider tree hollows to be cavities).

    (2) Short-eared Owl: Scrape in ground lined with grasses.

    (3) Barred Owl: "existing tree cavity or abandoned platform nest" – thus sometimes, but not always, in cavities.

  116. We have a Western Screech in our tree. Beautiful call like a ping pong ball bouncing. We love to hear the call on summer evenings when our windows are open. There is a barred owl not far with it's Who Cooks For You call. My wife says the correct reply is I Do ;)

  117. It would be nice if people would put up some owl nesting boxes. As of resent years here on the plaind a lot of owl nesting sights have been destroyd. That is old barns and wind brakes to plant more corn. It has been a long time since I have seen or heard a screech owl or a barn owl.

  118. Yes indeed - but great care must be taken to insure that the box is suitable, located properly, etc. One cannot just stick up a box and call it 'done.' Research please! The Hungry Owl Project has great information.

  119. Thanks NYT, for the kind of article that makes you a great newspaper. Early in our marriage, my wife and I spent a weekend on Smith Island, a remote place in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay, slowly sinking, inhabited by descendants of its original 17th Century English settlers, and, among other critters, screech owls. I didn't know what that meant till at dusk on our first night there, in a lonely B&B where we were the only guests, we heard blood-curdling screams from outside the bedroom window. Summoning y courage, and my belief that these must be screech owls, I went outside to see 6 or 8 of them hanging out on the branches of the ancient trees for their twighlight social. Stubby little things - if I hadn't seen what was producing that noise, and how cute they were, I would never have slept that night.

  120. Last night I woke up to 'who..who..who..who" . I heard it repeat four times outside my bedroom window. It was just cool to hear the owl so clearly! I was delighted to see this article following my close encounter. Thanks

  121. it was a full moon last night

  122. I'm stunned this guy could write a cheery article about owls and not mention the huge danger they are in from the new generation rodenticides on the market. See Ted Williams article in the last Audubon issue. I do nature photography, (dhale photos @ flickr) and I can assure you that owls are in a steep decline in my area.

  123. Yes....huge problem in Los Angeles...rats everywhere and most folks seem to use rodenticide. They all threaten owls, even the old fashioned warfarin variety. Hope fully the NY times will do an article on this.

  124. We had a screech owl living in a tree cavity right outside our dining room window. We looked out the window one day and there he was gazing back at us. What a beautiful bird. It was, indeed magical. He/She stayed for awhile and then one day, the cavity was empty. Maybe someday they will return.

  125. Could have been eaten by a great horned owl. They prey on screech owls.

  126. Oh I got it. killed after it was released.

  127. The photo caption says the Blakiston fish owl pictured is being released after being hit by a car and Killed? Something doesn't add up here!?

  128. I was driving home in Austin one night and some people were standing around something on the road ahead. It turned out to be a small owl. It was just standing there on the road, stunned maybe. Anyway nobody knew what to do so I took it home and was watching it in my yard. It turned its head all the way around to look at me. Then I glanced away and it was gone, like a magic trick. No sound whatsoever. Just disappeared.

  129. I'm a bit confused about something in the (fantastic) picture: Does the owl have the tail of some recently deceased animal dangling out of its beak? The caption doesn't say.

  130. Hi Alex, that is indeed the tail of a Dolly Varden trout...sometimes owls are fed before release, so they don't go hungry after a capture.

  131. I have always loved owls and, as a youngster had the amazing pleasure of raising a screech owl. I grew up on a farm in central Texas and one morning I happened upon a *tiny* puff of white/gray down hopping on the redwood porch that ran the length of our house.
    I approached it and it instantly hopped up on the palm of my hand and then perched on my finger.
    He was christened Oliver and all the kids adored him....we fed him hamburger meat at first and then would collect assorted bugs for him.
    One bad idea we had was to show him, up close, a stuffed chicken hawk that was given to me as a present...he was terrified. :( Like I said, bad idea.
    He grew and grew and would spend longer and longer time away hunting at night and eventually did not come back one time. I'd like to think he met a nice gal, settled down and gad lots more Oliver Jrs.

  132. Hey Zeekla,
    I grew up in central Texas as well and had an almost identical experience. We just called ours Screech. If you want to correspond, please email me at [email protected]

  133. Lovely story.

  134. I have always loved owls and, as a youngster had the amazing pleasure of raising a screech owl. I grew up on a farm in central Texas and one morning I happened upon a *tiny* puff of white/gray down hopping on the redwood porch that ran the length of our house.
    I approached it and it instantly hopped up on the palm of my hand and then perched on my finger.
    He was christened Oliver and all the kids adored him....we fed him hamburger meat at first and then would collect assorted bugs for him.
    One bad idea we had was to show him, up close, a stuffed chicken hawk that was given to me as a present...he was terrified. :( Like I said, bad idea.
    He grew and grew and would spend longer and longer time away hunting at night and eventually did not come back one time. I'd like to think he met a nice gal, settled down and had lots more Oliver Jrs.

  135. Yes, the only owl in our woods (inner suburb) is a screech owl. I used to want one that hooted, but I have grown to love the warble/whistle of my screech owl.

  136. "Well-placed perforations in an airplane wing could have a similar [to the owl's serrated feathers at the wing edge]smoothing effect on turbulence, leading to quieter and more fuel efficient flights..."

    I thought the differences in the owl wings that allow silent flight also hurt, not helped, flight efficiency. That is why their wings are so large proportionately, to make up for the loss in efficiency. So these serrated feathers improve efficiency? Or do they reduce noise? Or both?

  137. Owl hearing fun facts:

    The article notes that the owl’s ear openings are asymmetrically oriented, and that this contributes to their ability to ascertain the location of where sounds originate. However, it doesn’t go on to describe why this is important. Humans are fairly good at determining where sounds originate in the horizontal plane, but not in the vertical plane. In fact humans make use of the same system owls do for determining where a sound comes from in the horizontal plane; an ongoing disparity in the time it takes for a sound to arrive at each ear. A sound to your left arrives at the left ear before the right. The time delay between ears can be used to calculate the angle the sound originated from. To locate the origin of sounds in the vertical plane requires something a bit difference. This is where the owls ear opening come in; one is oriented up and the other down. This creates a disparity in the intensity of sounds. Sounds originating above or below the bird will sound relatively louder in one ear than the other. This disparity can then be used to calculate the vertical angle. The facial ruff is very important for this process as it amplifies the directional asymmetry of the ears.

  138. I think my first wild experience with an owl was during college in Houston. I was out walking in the residential neighborhood around the University and noticed a large owl sitting on a branch over the sidewalk, about 6 feet above me. I stopped and stared at it while it stared at me, for probably 10 minutes, at which point it swooped down toward me (I ducked), and flew off. I wondered which of us had won that staring contest. Our school mascot was the Owl, and during my time there, several of them died while in captivity, falling from their perches while tethered and unable to recover their perch.

  139. remember the owl given to
    Karin (Meryl Streep) in
    Out of Africa....?.
    a beautifully evocative scene

  140. We live in a rural area with Barred owls. Near dawn one morning, I awakened with a scratching sound outside the window our bed was under. I got to my knees to look out and was surprised to see four baby barred owls on the window ledge. Mom was in the ivy below hunting mice and did not seem concerned about her owlets. My husband and I watched for a long time. Finally, the young owls hopped down and the family disappeared. It was amazing!

  141. Great article, and great comments to match! Who-who-who would have known this about an article about owls?

    The article: "Owls were long thought to be closely related to birds of prey like hawks and eagles, which they sometimes superficially resemble..." Some readers' comments also discussed the lore of the owl and philology of "owl". I'd like to add that in Chinese (at least in Cantonese), the term for "owl" is "maao-tao ying", literally "cat-head hawk".

    The article brings to mind Cormac McCarthy's first novel The Orchard Keeper (1965), a neglected masterpiece. The article: “Many owl species are renowned for their ability to fly almost completely silently, without the flapping noises and air whooshes that might warn prey of their approach.” The Orchard Keeper: “Their steps ghostly on the warping boards, rousing an owl from the beams, passing over them on soundless wings, a shadow, ascending into the belfry like an ash sucked up a flue and as silently.” (164) In the article's video feature, one of the owl watchers saw, among other captured animals in an owl’s nest, two cats. The entire chapter 17 of The Orchard Keeper (216-217) is about the owl preying on and capturing the cat, lifting the cat up into the air and flying away with it.

  142. Interestingly Ms. Angier's last article was on cats, both feral and domestic, and incredible annual toll they take on various songbird species. In this respect, owls might be seen as the avian avengers!

  143. Thanks to Ms. Angier for a lovely article. The segment about playing the owl calls on a phone app at the zoo is just wonderful. If I may ask, what phone app did you use? Thanks!

  144. Don't know for sure which she used but I have iBird and it's great: It includes several calls for each bird and you can buy by region. iBird Lite is a free trial with 20-30 species including an Owl. I really enjoy it and believe it has gotten a rise out of at least a couple birds in our neighborhood in CT. Enjoy!

  145. "The owls are not what they seem"

  146. Thanks for this wonderful post. We had a pair of Great Horned that nested on our roof in New Mexico for a number of years. One of our most treasured memories was watching the female teaching her fledglings to fly from one PInon Pine to another. This took place each year in the late spring until the development and an idiot neighbor who liked to shoot and kill wildlife chased them off. We keep one of her tail feathers framed to remind us.

  147. The owl can be known as a an omen of death among American Indian culture because they are such keen hunters. Once the owl sees it's prey the prey has no chance of living. On the Opposite side the raven and crow are the birds of wisdom in American Indian culture for it high intelligence and cleverness.

  148. One bleak and snowy winter evening when I was running in a large cemetery in mid town Toronto a snowy owl swooped over my head twice. He/she was only a few feet above me and I got the distinct impression he/she did not approve of me being there. (There was nobody else around and it was getting dark.) I picked up speed to get away. It sounds silly now but there was something very ghostly and slightly menacing about the bird's interest in me. Maybe there were young nearby.

  149. A few years ago, while on my annual visit to the colonial city of Oaxaca, I was walking to my apartment around three in the morning on the Andador Turistico, a street where traffic is not allowed, when I sensed something above me and when I looked up, I was blessed with one of the most magnificent sights I have ever been privileged to see. A large white owl with a wing span which seemed as broad as the cobbled street I traversed, glided slowly and almost silently before me. When I told friends about this, they mentioned that it roosted on a perch behind the cathedral of Oaxaca and sure enough, the next day, I found the owl looking out of a small enclosure high above the crowds where a building block had been removed from the cathedral made from green stone. Every summer, while in Oaxaca, I look for owls in the early hours of the morning, to no avail. It was a breathtaking sight I will never forget. And, it wasn't the effect of the Mezcal I had consumed!

  150. Superbly acute hearing might explain the snow angel- like print I saw below a chairlift at Gore Mtn a few weeks ago.Wing shaped marks more than 2 ft across with a hole punched through the powder between them.No tracks anywhere around, and very distinct primary feather prints. I wonder if the bird was sitting on the chairlift cable after closing, listening for movement beneath the snow?

  151. I think we have to add smart to owl discriptors. Years ago on a fall trip to Yosemite, we saw what turned out to be a juvenal great horned owl in a tree along the Merced River. As my partner and I slowly approached the tree to get a better look, the bird flew across the river to a tree on the other side. We kept an eye on the bird as went a little up river to a bridge. After we crossed the bridge, we again slowly approached the tree where the bird was perched. As we got near, the bird flew back across the river. We did this dance a couple or more times but it was clear that the bird didn't want us to visit with it.

  152. One night, when I was staying in a farm house, I woke from what I thought was a dream of watching the play Romeo and Juliet, only to realize I had been awakened by two owls calling to each other. I listened to them until after dawn and even today, more than 25 years later, still remember how enchanting the experience.

  153. Thank you for this amazing story and audio

  154. I've been sternly chastised by many bird-loving friends (with links) about using these bird call apps. Apparently they cause some serious physiological problems for the birds…not to mention just disrupting the natural order of things. I've stopped taunting my backyard finches, which I enjoyed so much!

  155. Summer nights in my back yard resonate with owl hoots. I've spotted one in a tree at sun down. It was watching my cat. So I quickly brought Coco inside.

    So scientists and watchers, you're welcome to camp out and owl watch. You days will be filled with hawk sightings. I am only 8 miles from downtown.

  156. Such amazing creatures. I have had the good fortune of seeing short-eared owls, snowy owls, great horned owls... All due to my living in Boston-- a city with an amazing birding community. Well, there is one that I've seen without direction... last summer, while dining in our tiny urban back yard, a tiny young screech owl landed on a wire and stared at us for close to half an hour. What a thrill.

  157. What a wonderful article! The perfect time of year, too, here in Vermont.

    I am reminded of a picture book called "Owl Moon" that I used to read to my daughters when they were little and we lived in a very wild and rural part of southern Vermont. The book told the story of a little girl who kept asking her dad if they could go "owling"--go out to call to an owl and see if it would come to them. Finally they do, and the owl comes.

    That year, I took my 6-year-old daughter owling one night in the woods about our home, a full moon in February like the one we will have on Friday, and we called to the Barred owl that lived about our house--hoo-hoo hoo-hooooo, hoo-hoo hoo-hooooo--and listened as it called back to us--about fifteen minutes calling back and forth before it got too cold to try any longer, and we went back home.

    We never saw the owl, though it called to us for a long time, and now it is many years ago, and my daughters are grown, but I think I may go owling this weekend, under the full moon, after the snow storm has ended.

  158. Living Southeast Florida, I was fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood graced with small Burrowing Owls, which would build their homes most often on the edges of corner home lots. Since the birds were protected, the City would of course tape off the nest so as not to disturb the birds, and people by and large gave them their distance. i was amazed that they were so habituated to humans as to build their nests smack in the middle of a neighborhood, and inches from a sidewalk. One parent was always above ground playing 'lookout' and the other below with the chicks. They are very small owls, larger of course than a screech owl but no more than about a foot tall and mostly all legs. There were a pair that built a nest in the swale in the local Wal-Mart parking lot, of all places. They ate some small rodents, voles and such but mainly feasted on the large insect population and could grab the large Florida Dragonflies straight on the wing. What a delight they were! Who doesn't love owls??

  159. Enjoying reading people's stories here very much. What a nice change from the usual internet comment vitriol. My story: Near our winter home in Florida, in a condo community, there lived a family of great horned owls. I'd watched them for the last two years, male and female raising a family each year, gray fluffs that grew fast. We saw them learning to fly, watched the parents bring food. Watched mostly grown son owl fly to a distant tree to sit with Dad owl. Dad owl often sat out in the open on a light pole in late afternoon and would turn his head and look at us as we spoke to him. Sometimes he would hoot and I'd flatter myself that he was answering us.. Once, he flew within six feet by me from behind; he was being chased by mockingbirds (who relentlessly harassed him)/ Someone told me the family had been there for several years. Then this year, no owls; a big disappointment. I miss these magnificent creatures whose lives I felt honored to peek into. I hope they found a more private place to live and are safe and happy.

  160. There is nothing to compare with the haunting, low pitched "Hooo, hoo, hoohooh", as one walked the snow packed trails of the upstate woods on a vivid full moon lit night when it was so cold that the snow crunched underfoot. In the warmer months if you are blessed, a great horned owl can be seen cruising above the canopy, usually being harassed by crows or minors concerned that this behemoth was too near to their precious nested family. It all looks like a 747 floating effortlessly and majestically above being frantically buzzed by a handful of single engine Cessna's.

    The dilapidated old wood duck houses became winter and early spring rentals for families of screech owls. We snapped many pics of baby owls playing peek-a-boo out the nest hole as their mother was chasing down the next tasty morsel. One local wildlife organization sent a field officer out to investigate our "technique" for attracting these cute little guys. The "technique" turned out to be to have lot's of woods and fields turned over to the stewardship of nature.

    So simple, yet so difficult to achieve.

  161. Our suburban neighborhood has a few species of owls, including the impressive Great Horned. During daylight hours, we can tell when there is an owl or hawk close by because they are usually being harassed by a noisy mob of crows.
    One summer evening, I heard an enormous racket at the front of our house and went to see what was happening. In the street behind a parked car was a young great horned owl with a squirming rabbit in its talons. While it was trying to kill the rabbit, the owl was being mobbed by crows, who had also been joined by the neighborhood Cooper’s hawk, and all of them were taking turns swooping at the owl. The owl’s look was one of puzzlement (Mom didn’t tell me there’d be days like this) mixed with determination not to let go of the rabbit, and the owl continued to hold on until the rabbit was dead. At that point, the owl must have had enough of the harassment, and it flew off, hounded by the crows and hawk--all of them disregarding the (late) rabbit lying in the street.
    I felt sad that the owl didn’t get its meal and wondered whether it would return after the other birds were asleep and it could eat in peace. About 10 p.m. that night, I made a point of going outside to see--and reflected in the beam of my flashlight were the eyes of the owl, who was chowing down on the rabbit. The next morning, only a damp spot on the road and a few stray bits of fur marked the spot where predator and prey had met.

  162. Pardon if someone else has already asked, but have there been studies on whether owls are moving away from roads, towns, quarries, etc. as increased noise has hit their sensitive ears?

  163. Beautiful article. Strangely enough I had had a dream the night before I read this wherein a lovely, small owl was curled up asleep in a cage at a pet store--and in the dream I marvelled at its beauty and was quite upset it was in captivity, and for sale.

  164. Thank you for your great article. Just a quick note though. It is not advisable for the general public to begin using bird calls at avian enclosures at nature centers and zoos. This could be disruptive and may be considered harassment of the birds.

  165. Yes, when I'd "talk" to the great horned owl (my story a few below) I didn't want to "hoo-hoo-hooooo" at him because, well... wrong DNA & besides, I wasn't fluent... It did feel disrespectful somehow. Actually, being the calm and mature bird that he was, he probably would have just felt sorry for my lame attempts to speak great horned owlish.

  166. I love these videos that accompany articles. Seeing a stationary picture of an owl is thrilling, but seeing these birds in flight on this outing and hearing bird watchers talk about them, is thrilling plus thrilling. thanks for doing this..

  167. Wonderful story... luckily we live where owls find happy homes and often hear and sometimes even see them. We enjoy a giant barn owl that lives near our house who apparently wants to snack on our six pound chihuahua... or so it seems. She however is a fierce little thing and it never manages to get her. It seems they enjoy dueling or perhaps tauntiing each other on the back patio as this has been going on for several years. Sometimes our owl swoops so low we hear and see flashes of him as he (?) dips down... although after this informative piece I will forever wonder if the owl is a she.

  168. I have an Owl and Pussycat story in concert with a David and Goliath denouement.
    Barred owls moved into my rainy Northwest woods territory about 20 years ago and I have been studying and enjoying them ever since. Baby owls are a delight. Last year, a couple young owls appeared on a branch of a maple tree near my house. As I watched, one of them flew directly toward a window of my bedroom and landed on a redcedar tree limb not a foot away from the window, leaned forward and stared into the murky gloom. My indoors cat, Minderbender, stared back from a few inches away. Owl and pussycat had themselves a confused predator stare-off. I pulled up a chair to watch, wondering who would blink first: immature owl or confined cat. Fifteen minutes passed and not a feather or fur fluttered. During that time, I surmised that both predators realized they were staring, at best, at an unsavory meal, and were trying to figure a way to back down and still save face--anthropocentric meanderings. Suddenly the young owl's head started swiveling back and forth in a rapid motion, leaned backwards, leaned backwards some more, let go of the branch and fell on his fluff in the duff. Minderbender simply disappeared into the dark of the house. It was then I noticed a male rufus hummingbird, in a territorial rage, flitting about the owl's head, who (get it? who?) picked herself up and got the hell out of there. A tiny hummingbird had faked out both of the large predators. Nature is full of paradoxes.

  169. Great article, and even higher kudos for your recent article about cats and the horrific impact they have on wild birds.

    I must caution you to be careful about how you describe things that readers might pick up on ... specifically, "[at the National Zoo] I pulled out my phone with the birdcall app and started playing the barred owl song." I'm afraid you have given folks the idea that doing this may be an acceptable thing to do (e.g., see the comment by ). I'd be sruprised if Zoo staff would agree - I hope you had permission (in which case you should have clearly stated so). Your description makes it obvious that this riled up the zoo birds.

    And resist the temptation to do this in the wild, because it can have the same effect. In fact, playing recordings of bird voices has been known to cause nest/territory abandonment, as the real bird interprets the recording as a rival that it cannot drive off.