While walking through a stand of 25 year-old white pines last week on my property, I heard wings flapping against small branches near the top of a big pine. By the time I focused on the large bird soon into its flight, the bird was gliding through the pine grove. The flashes of wing and body were brief as the bird maneuvered through the pines as if it was mastering a maneuverability course for the Air Force. The short glances of the impressive bird first revealed short, dark bands running under its wings. The same pattern on its chest but the pattern changed on its stomach, with several streaks of brownish stripes going from lower chest to its tail. The short flight, caused by me spooking it from its morning perch, ended twenty yards from where it started. I crouched behind the smooth trunk of a pine and held still.
Without my camera (and of course a great shot missed), or binoculars, I squinted to see the bird that was looking for me just as intently. It moved its head sideways and then back to the other side. It was a mature barred owl, possibly one of several young ones I heard frequently last spring on the same ridge. Its head swiveled to the left and then the right—as any owl in a documentary would do to show its skills. I cupped my hands around my mouth and called out, “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all!” with an owl accent of course. My offering of communication with the bird of prey was accepted and the barred owl fell from the branch supporting it and was gliding back towards me.
The beautiful bird landed on a branch about sixteen feet from the ground and nearly at the same time, spotted me balled up at the base of the pine. The owl had had enough and turned its head the opposite direction and leaned the same way, and with a rapid turn of its body, it was flying away from me. I repeated the call a few more times, but without success. It was a fun moment invested in talking with the owl.
Birding was the fastest growing sport in America from the late 1990s into 2000. Birders from all ages and interests spend hours, days, and weeks, enjoying the antics performed by the hundreds of bird species throughout the states. A bright red cardinal is a pleasant site against a winter background. Bird food sales remain high, even during tough economic times, but avid birders consider it cheap but lively entertainment. The owl I met this week (and talked to) was a handsome and wise fellow, standing about twenty-inches tall. The barred owl is a common owl species found across the eastern United States. It eats mice, fish, and sometimes takes small birds. Next time you’re walking near a woodlot after dark, pause and announce, “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all”, and just maybe you will have your own conversation with a barred owl.
See you back here on Tuesday!