If I were to randomly question people in Bethel to name birds with which they are familiar, even those who are feather-challenged may be able to name robins, crows, cardinals, blue jays, and owls and to describe those chippy birds we can all see flittering on the ground everywhere. They may also name seagulls, but there is actually no bird classified as “seagull.” There are herring gulls (mostly seen around landfills), black backed gulls, and Bonaparte gulls to name a few. I’ll leave the world of gulls for another writing.
Those with a few feathers in their cap might expand the list to include hawks and bald eagles, sparrows (the technical name for the chippy birds), chickadees, and possibly bluebirds and starlings.
Though there are abundant owls on our Earth, I wonder how many individuals have actually seen one. They are mostly nocturnal with some being crepuscular (active during twilight). Therefore, they are very rarely spotted during the day.
There are about a dozen owls commonly seen in the continental United States, Alaska, and Canada. Long eared, pygmy (only 6.5 inches tall) and burrowing owls only inhabit the far West and Southwest. The snowy owl, boreal owl, and great grey owl are found only in Canada. The great grey is the largest owl in North America at 28 inches tall and with a 52-inch wing-span.
In New England, the most common owls are screech owls, barn owls, great horned owls, saw whet owls, and barred owls. The saw whet is only 8 inches tall with a wingspan of about 16 inches and the great horned is the largest at 22 inches tall and with a wingspan of 45 inches. Despite its size, the great horned owl is the least commonly spotted and most secretive with its stealthy nocturnal hunting. The screech owl’s name is a bit of a misnomer because its call is better described as a long, high-pitched whine not unlike the whinny of a horse. The barn owl call is more like a screechy shriek.
Most experienced birders generally identify owls by their calls. If you again questioned our non- birding population, they may say that all owls simply hoot. This is a mistaken assumption. There is one owl, however, whose call is very similar to the generic hooting associated with owls. This is the barred owl whose call resembles: “hooHOO hoo-hoo, hoo HOO ho hoooooooaw (who cooks for you, who cooks for you all).
My wife and I are often serenaded (almost every evening year-round) by two or three barred owls hooing back and forth to each other. They are permanent residents in the Wolfpit Land Trust Preserve adjacent to us. Needless to say, even though we are regaled regularly, we were elated one afternoon when our grandson excitedly came running to us asking, “What’s that big bird standing there on the back porch roof?” We slowly sidled to the window of our bedroom and had to thwart a squeal as we eyed a lone barred owl perched on the corner of the roof. We were captivated and entertained by him for over half an hour as he peacefully surveyed his environs combing the ground for mice and chipmunks scurrying about probably searching for a safe place to hide. Several times he turned his head (head only) 180 degrees toward where we were standing seemingly unperturbed by our presence. Finally, after discerning all that he deemed necessary, he tranquilly and without hesitation or looking back, flew off into the woodlands alighting on a branch to continue its quest for a meal beneath the trees, leaving us in awe of his existence in our lives.