Give a Hoot

Feb 24, 2012

Barred owls, New Hampshire's most common owl species, also have the most familiar courtship and territorial song—usually translated as, "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?"   It can be heard all year, day or night, but really revs up as owl breeding season begins in late winter.  Owls are early nesters.

Wildlife produce their young when their primary food resource is most abundant.  Mice, rabbit and squirrel populations are exploding when owl hatchlings on a continual growth spurt require frequent feeding.

Barred owls in high courtship mode don't limit their vocalizations to the familiar "Who cooks for you."  A few generations back, ornithologist Edward Forbush watched courting barred owls by the light of his campfire and described another of their duets as follows:

“They nodded and bowed with half-spread wings, and wobbled and twisted their heads from side to side, meantime uttering the most weird and uncouth sounds imaginable.”

The word, "caterwauling," comes to mind.

Did you know that by mimicking their hoots, it's possible to engage owls in a duet?  Barred owls are known not only to hoot in response, but to fly in close to check out what's trespassing on their territory.  You don’t have to be an expert naturalist to give it a try, and I admit I've stirred a few wild turkeys gobbling in response.