I was in my backyard at dusk yesterday when I heard a single deep "whooo" coming from the trees behind my yard. I stopped in my tracks and stared in that direction. I stood stock-still for a few minutes but neither heard nor saw anything else that might indicate the presence of an owl. Finally I went and sat in one of my lawn chairs for several more minutes and perused the area from which I thought the sound had come. After a bit though, the ravenous mosquitoes drove me inside.
I was excited to hear that sound. It was a sound I remember well from my childhood which is filled with memories of the nighttime sounds of Barred Owls that populated the bottomlands around our house and I was almost certain that's what I was hearing yesterday, but, of course, I was not able to confirm that. The bird, if that's what it was, never gave the distinctive eight syllable call of the iconic owl of Southern swamps, so it could have been something else altogether.
Barred Owls do live in my neighborhood although it has been a very long time since I've actually seen or even heard one. Several years ago, one perched in the magnolia tree outside our bedroom window one moonlit spring night and serenaded us. On another occasion, one perched on a utility pole near our house in broad daylight. But even though I know they, as well as Eastern Screech Owls and the occasional Great Horned Owl, do live in the area, I almost never catch a glimpse of one of the secretive and stealthy birds. The potential sound of one so near my house was enough to make me sit up and take notice.
Owls have a special claim on the human imagination. Maybe it's their ability to hunt and find prey in almost complete darkness or their ability to fly silently on soft wings. Or maybe it's just their appearance - the broad face with the front-facing eyes so much like our own that give the birds an expression which we interpret as wisdom. They are linked in folklore to stories of wizards and magic. And the real-life owls do seem almost magical in their abilities.
An owl for a neighbor would be a wonderful thing, indeed. I'll be listening and hoping to hear that call, hoo hoo ho-ho, hoo hoo ho-hooooooaawr, which will confirm for me that I have such a magical neighbor.