The Musical Owl
Really nice to have a little warmth in the sun yesterday, the night itself too didn’t have the usual chill factor. I was out on the night shift last night looking for Long-eared Owls. More specifically I was out listening for Long-eared Owl chicks calling (pictured below by John Lusby). The books describe their begging calls to their parents as akin to the sound of a rusty gate squeaking. This rusty gate analogy for me doesn't fit. Their calls are not at all a sound which would make you wince. The Long-eared Owl chick’s begging is a single, pleasant, drawn out note which seems to somehow fit naturally into the summer night’s soundtrack. The sound doesn't demand your attention but once you’re listening for it the high pitched notes are unmistakable.
The birds which I visited last night are resident on the edge of a rookery. I couldn’t see the nest itself in the nighttime gloom blow a Scots Pine stand but the chicks are not at all shy. I didn't see the chicks either, but standing below the tree they could be easily pinned down to a branch or two from their calls alone. The sound too really travels, I could hear the chicks from at least a kilometer away. I gathered from their chorus, that there were three chicks. One at least has fledged and called from a tree some 30m away. Young Long-eared Owls fledge early, leaving the nest while still flightless and covered in down. This behaviour is thought to be a defence mechanism to guard against predation on the nest. If any of the nestlings are to be ringed, we’ll have to visit the nest site soon before the two remaining chicks have fledged.
The weather seems to be on the up for the next week at least so why not get out for an evening stroll, and who knows maybe a harmony of Long-eared Owl chicks are playing a wood near you!