Saturday, September 6, 2014
Peak time of year to hear Screech Owls
This past week I was teaching a night class at UNO, and let the students out for a 15 minute break at 7:30. Ten minutes later, one of the students came back and held out their smart phone, asking "What's this bird? It was calling outside the building just now!" After two or three seconds of crickets on the tape, the whinny of an Eastern Screech-Owl came through the speaker loud and clear.
Late summer and early fall are classically the best time of year to hear Screech Owls in our area. I am not sure why- possibly the increase in vocalizations is due to adults solidifying their territories for the winter, or possibly it is due to young testing out their vocal "pipes." At this season it is actually not surprising to hear them during early morning daylight hours. The most common situation for this is when imitating (or playing a tape) of one to try and draw in small songbirds intent on mobbing- a common technique used by birders. The place I have heard of birders encountering them in this fashion with greatest regularity is in the Couturie Forest of City Park, but they widespread in residential areas wherever there are large trees. Sometimes they seem to also respond to ambulance sirens.
Before the age of convenient hand-held electronic playing equipment, many birders trained themselves to imitate Screech Owl calls. This is done by holding the tongue up just below the roof of the mouth, trapping a small amount of saliva there (above the rear edge of the tongue), and bubbling through it with head tilted slightly back. It takes some practice- the shower is good place! I still do this alot in the field.