“Who cooks for you…..who cooks for you aaallll?”
By Noreen O’Brien, Purchasing, Marine Parts Express
Standing at the window under the cover of darkness, I have been eavesdropping on the intimate conversation that is taking place outside my window. I can’t help myself. There is no hope that I will ever know what is being discussed between the two barred owls, but my guess is that he is whispering sweet nothings into her ear.
’Tis that time of year for these owls—time to select a mate and begin preparations for setting up housekeeping. Too dark to see what is happening out there, I judge from the closeness of the calls and reckon the birds are in the evergreen nearest the dooryard and close to the window. Perhaps they are making use of the roosting box mounted there expressly for them.
I imagine she is standing inside the box. One third heavier than the male, I see her yellow bill slightly raised in a haughtiness, as he attempts to impress her with his whispering. For her eyes only, he is posing, standing straight and tall on a nearby branch, streaked breast puffed up, a feathered leg extended with talons pointing as he shows off the fine tools that he will use to keep her and their offspring well fed as they engage in raising a family in the coming months.
The two large birds, among the most vocal of our owls, are performing a duet of rich hoots and hollers. At times, the birds sound much like monkeys conversing, at other times they share a rather soft maniacal laugh. Their most common and definitive call is, “Who cooks for you…..who cooks for you aaallll?” Now, however, they exchange low grunts, and an occasional soft bark or an excited “hoooo-waaah.”
Perhaps they have been debating the value of a “previously owned” nest site where a family of red-tailed hawks once lived. The male owl likely selected this site in early autumn, and it must now meet with her approval. Among other things, she is looking for a location that has some, but not too dense an understory for protection from predators, as well as a good source of food in the immediate vicinity.
A few more minutes of this intimate exchange and all is quiet. Perhaps the pair moved off into the night in the silence of owl flight.
Moments later, I turn on a porch light out back before taking out the dog. Instantly, I see a pair of dark eyes turn toward the light—I have disturbed an owl perched atop the bat house—the birds moved only as far as the backyard. Apparently, this bird is hunting—or I have interrupted some mating ritual—because it remained, still, but watching the area of the door.
Within a few moments, unperturbed by the light, the owl dropped to the forest floor only to lift up seconds later, long yellowish legs dangling, looking much like the legs of a night heron, talons empty. The bird flew into the darkness beyond the range of the light.
Waiting for the teakettle to boil, I stare out the window into the space where the bird was, feeling awe-inspired over my pre-dawn experience. Then I saw it: a barred owl, looking all superior, perched on a horizontal branch just inside the circle of light. Is it the first owl still hoping to catch the same critter, perhaps in the hopes of impressing its mate, or is it the mate, still waiting to be impressed?
I don’t dare reach for binoculars—I am afraid to breathe. I remain still as a rock. Peering out the window, I tick off the key identification points of the grayish-brown barred owl: about 20 inches tall, barring on the feathers of the upper breast to the throat, and below that, a pale breast and underparts heavily streaked with dark, elongated markings. Its round, “earless” head has dark eyes—our only owl with brown eyes—within the well-defined facial disc. The bird’s head turns first over its right shoulder, then over its left, as it surveys the ground below its perch. What is it hearing that I cannot?
I had moved from eavesdropper to voyeur—and still I could not stop myself. I know I’ll be back tomorrow morning before first light, on the lookout for more intimate exchanges between the barred owl pair. It is my hope that they, too, will be back.
“Who works for you…who works for you aaalll?” So asks the staff at Marine Parts Express, at the ready to help with all your marine engine parts needs. Call us toll free at 877.621.2628.
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March 14, 2011 / Noreen O'Brien / 4
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