The owl whinnied

by Heather

The first time I heard whinnying coming from a tree outside my window, it got my full and immediate attention. I got my shoes on and went outside to check it out, then came back inside to Google this call I’d never before heard in my life.

Turns out it was an Eastern screech owl, making one of its territorial defense calls–the descending trill during territorial defense, to be exact.

I feel particularly fascinated by this owl, and usually go outside to listen when I hear it. Sometimes the dogs are the first to alert me that an owl is nearby. If it’s close enough, they’ll bark when they hear it calling. (They growl and bark at recordings of the owl trill as well.)  I enjoy all birdsong, but this owl’s calls I find hauntingly beautiful.

When I was looking at houses before I bought mine, a homeowner in another historic neighborhood told me they had a neighborhood owl (more probably at least a mated pair I suppose), and I guess now that this is how she knew. I’ve never seen our owl or owls, only heard them. Eastern screech owls are quite small, and apparently are well camouflaged and difficult to spot. Certainly I haven’t seen one yet.

I don’t know why, but I typically hear owl calls between 10 and 11 pm or so. Perhaps this is when the nocturnal hunt begins in earnest, and thus the hour when owl territorial issues arise! With a river nearby here in the middle of the city, owl hunting is most definitely encouraged. I’m more than happy for them (really anyone using non-poisonous methods) to cull the local rodent population.

I wonder if by any chance owls eat my nemesis, the grasshopper? A girl can dream. (Research indicates they do eat insects as part of their varied diet, though grasshoppers were not specifically named.)

Perhaps I should install an appealing nest box, as close as possible to my roses …