What’s All the Hooting About?
by Doreen S Damm
My husband and I enjoy nothing more than sitting in the garden after the sun goes down and listening to the sounds of nature. One sound in particular excites my husband. The hoot of an owl. He takes joy in hooting back to them and sounds so realistic, I have to keep reminding him he doesn’t speak owl and could be saying something he shouldn’t.
The Eastern Screech Owl is the smallest of the Florida owls, maxing out at 10 inches. Rather than the typical “hoo, hoo, hoo” sound that other owls make, the screech owl whinnies and trills. These little guys can be very good to have around as they dine on insects, lizards, mice. They live in all types of wooded habitats, including suburban backyards. While they nest in natural tree cavities, they may take up residence if you provide them with a screech owl box. They can be seen roosting throughout the day and are often mistaken for baby Great Horned Owls.
Great Horned Owls are one of the most common of the Florida owls, but there is nothing common about them. With a voracious appetite, they will eat anything from small fish and frogs to larger mammals such as rabbits and opossums. They even prey on large birds and other owls. They are the largest of the Florida owls measuring up to 25 inches for a mature adult and sport horn like feather tufts called plumicorns on their head. For such a large bird, the Great Horned Owl has a weak voice. Its call is a “hoo-hoo-hoowha” and is much quieter than the smaller Barred Owl.
The Barred Owl is related to the Great Horned Owl but you can’t miss their powerful voice with a “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you all?” call. Just slightly smaller than their relative, they measure between 18 and 24 inches. They get their name from the distinctive feather pattern which is barred colors of alternating white and brown. Not only active at night, the Barred Owl hunts for small mammals around forest edges such as open fields and pastures.
One thing these three owls have in common is their need for mature trees and fields. It is important the we continue to maintain conservation areas for them to live and hunt as they are very territorial. They call out telling other males this is their home! They also use calls to communicate with their mate and their owlets. There is just something magical when you hear an owl “Hoot” and that’s what all the hooting is about.
To listen to clips of these three owls and other Florida birds, visit: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/birds/florida-bird-sounds/
Doreen S. Damm
Nature Photographer &