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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The owl in the oak tree

Last night around 11:15, I was in my bathroom just about to step into a steaming tub of deliciously hot water for my bath when I heard a sound in my yard. I stopped and cocked my head toward the window, not sure at first just what I had heard. Then it came again - a soft hoo-hoo-ho-ho, hoo-hoo. An owl! But it wasn't the owl I was expecting.

A few days ago, I reported on hearing a sound just at dusk that came from the trees behind my yard, a sound that I was sure was made by an owl. But the sound was not definitive. It was just a single hoot, and I thought it had probably been made by a Barred Owl since they do live in my area, although I almost never see or hear them.. But although I waited for the bird to make further sounds or to move so that I could get a look at it, it did not cooperate. Now here it was - most likely the same bird - calling from my front yard.

I eased my bathroom window open as silently as possible. The owl continued to call, but even though February's full moon, the Snow Moon, was lighting up the yard as bright as an overcast day, I could not see him from my position. He was in the big red oak tree in our front yard and with the window open, I could hear his calls even more clearly. Definitely not a Barred Owl.

Barred Owls are very raucous, noisy birds, with a fairly large repertoire of sounds. Many of their calls sound almost like dogs barking. The owl in my yard had a soft voice, almost as if he were whispering and his call was always in a series of six syllables rather than the eight or nine typical of a Barred Owl.

By now, my bath water wasn't steaming any more and I decided I had better get on with it before it was icy cold, but later I checked my field guide to be sure and then went to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website to listen to owl calls. And there it was. No doubt about it - I had a Great Horned Owl in my yard!

This was the very first Great Horned Owl I had ever observed or heard in my yard. They may have been here before but they had escaped my notice. Now that I know I have one in the neighborhood, I'll be on the lookout for it. And during these moonlit nights of the now waning but still almost full moon, I'll be out and about, looking and listening.  


  1. How exciting. I love owls. I really enjoy hearing them.

  2. It is exciting, Rambling Wren. I forgot to mention in my post that this is the 101st species of bird that I have recorded in my yard.

  3. We've heard Great Horned Owls here a few times. I love hearing them outside. I think I told you before about the time we had one in our tree, and another one across the street, calling back and forth to each other. Just wonderful!

  4. Owls are wonderful birds and seem almost magical and certainly mysterious to us. One of the nicest things about having an owl in the neighborhood, though, is that its presence is an indication that the habitat is reasonably healthy, Jayne, and that's always a good thing.

  5. Way to go. Good ID. I just did a post on owls having seen several lately but no luck yet with the snowy owl irruption.

  6. I would probably faint dead away if I saw or even heard a Snowy Owl here, troutbirder, but certainly a lot of people across the north and midwest have seen the beautiful birds for the first time this winter.