BIRD WATCH: Halloween heralds owl sightings on Peninsula

THE MORNING PHONE call was one of those surprises that rouses your curiosity.

Neighbors sometimes call, but most of our visiting is done “over the fence.”

Andrea’s question added even more interest to her call: “Do we have owls around here?” She and her husband, Phil, had watched a large owl fly through their yard before disappearing into some trees on the other side of the street.

It was still daylight, but just barely. There has been an owl in the neighborhood, but not recently.

Pete, a neighbor on the other side of my place, had seen a barred owl on an early morning run. I’ve only heard it call in the middle of the night — not the best time to start walking around the neighborhood.

With Halloween approaching, the owls know it is their time to howl or hoot or screech.

Barred owls have a distinctive call. It sounds like it is asking a question, “Who cooks for you?” Or, “Who hoots for you?”

Drag this phrase out a little when you repeat it. If you hear a barred owl hooting, you will recognize it.

This fierce hunter has another call that can make your hair stand on end. It wails out a long, almost agonizing screech.

It was an experienced birder from the East Coast that taught me this scary call. I had heard it in West Virginia, and no one seemed to recognize the imitation I came up with. Frank did a perfect imitation and solved the mystery for me.

Two days after Andrea’s call, an email with a perfectly timed question greeted me. Joan and her husband discovered not one but two owls hanging out in their garage. The door had been open and they had moved in. They showed no desire to vacate the premises. Some entertaining videos resulted from their extended stay.

Western screech owls are one of my all-time favorite birds. I have many memories of their visits around our cabin on the Hoh River. I love to hear their “screech.” It’s actually a whinnied hoot, and the “t” sound isn’t heard. Just the “hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo.” Just whinny like a horse and don’t try to enunciate very clearly.

There are other owls that will be making their presence known in the coming weeks. This is when they establish their winter territories with an eye toward their early nesting season.

Both the barred and the screech owls are some of the more common owls we might encounter. However, where the habitat is inviting, it’s also possible to see that strange-looking but beautiful barn owl. Their light-blond, almost platinum coloring and large facial disks give them a unique appearance among all other owl species.

Yes, they do hang out in old barns, those structures that are rapidly disappearing from our region. They will move into other large buildings and hang out in bell towers or church steeples.

The great horned owl probably gets the most points when “real” Halloween owls are being chosen or decided upon. They have those horns, but so does the more diminutive screech owl.

Characteristics

These are feather tufts on the bird’s head, and they can stand them up or sweep them closer to their head.

Most owls aren’t strictly nocturnal. They are diurnal, and even though bright, sunny days aren’t to their liking, they can be seen early in the morning or late in the evening when the light is low.

Out and about

This is the perfect time to be moving about, hooting, screeching or wailing. Without them, Halloween just might not come.

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Joan Carson’s column appears every Sunday. Contact her at P.O. Box 532, Poulsbo, WA 98370, with a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a reply. Email: joanp carson@comcast.net.