Suddenly, my wife points to what she describes as a shadow passing through the yard. We point our flashlight to a large White Pine at the side of my brothers’ house. As we flash the light up into the tree, a Barred Owl’s two large, round eyes are peering directly back at us. We’re calling owls.
Every now and then I call owls by playing actual owl calls from a website using my cell phone. I use allaboutbirds.org (Cornell Lab Of Ornithology) but there are other sources out there. At dusk, I begin playing the calls of various birds one at a time. I’ll play the call once or twice then wait and listen for a reply while keeping my eyes on the woods for an owl that may be searching for the bird making the call. I begin by calling the smaller of the owls — the Eastern Screech Owl, because the call of a larger owl will scare away the smaller ones.
FACT: The Great Horned Owl is one of the largest and most common owls in North America. And, like most raptors, the male is smaller than the female.
I’ve heard owls calling each other just before dawn, but since owls are nocturnal, we rarely see these predatory birds. We’ve called the Eastern Screech Owl, the Barred Owl and the Great Horned Owl, all of which are indigenous to our area. And, we’ve seen both the Screech and the Great Horned Owls in our woods but have yet to receive a reply from a Bard Owl.
A Curious Barred Owl
Once while visiting my brother and his family in Northern Virginia, we ended a day by playing owl calls in his back yard. They had never done this before and were skeptical to say the least. I started with the Eastern Screech Owl calls, quietly listening for a returning call that never came. I moved on to a Great Horned Owl call but, again, no response. Of course, the snide comments increased as every passing minute of silence went by. Lastly, I played the call of a Barred Owl, but few people were paying attention by then. We were all very excited when it suddenly appeared.
The owl stayed in the yard for nearly 30 minutes, flying back and forth between trees looking for the source of the calls. It eventually landed on a fence post 15 feet away and glared at us unafraid, tilting its head quizzically. Grateful for this once in a lifetime close encounter with such a majestic creature, we retreated into the house and left the owl in peace.
Calling owls takes some patience and, during the winters in Connecticut, some warm clothes. I prefer calling in the winter because sighting them is easier through leafless trees. It’s always a thrill to see one of these silent, skilled raptors. Give a call to an owl and see if one will answer you — it’s a hoot.
OBSERVATION: When calling owls with your cell phone try placing the phone in a ceramic bowl. The sound will bounce off of the sides of the bowl and become louder, increasing your chance of having an owl respond to the calls.