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February 23, 2004

You probably didn’t know owls could do that. Neil Gaiman discovers the magic of winter in the Midwest.
Last night I went out owling, with a number of people, led by Sharon Stiteler, official bird lady of Neilgaiman.com, just like in Jane Yolen’s lovely children’s book Owl Moon.

This is what happens when you go owling. You tromp through the deep snow in the darkness, until you’re on the edge of the woods. Then you play a CD of owls hooting and wait for a few moments, silently marvelling at the beautiful starry night and the almost magical stillness, at which point drunk people on snowmobiles roar past incredibly noisily.

You wait in silence, holding your breath, until the sound of snowmobiles and the hoarse singing and yells of the snowmobilers has finally died away, and then, in the pregnant, perfect stillness, you play the CD of owls hooting again, and, after a few moments, as if by magic, from nowhere you hear the sound of another bunch of drunk people on snowmobiles coming toward you.

I don’t think anyone’s done a proper scientific study on the way that recorded owl-calls can summon snowmobilers, but I think it’s pretty much magical.

[12:02 PM]
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Comments on You probably didn't know owls could do that.:

Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 12:23 PM:

I wonder: if you play the Minnesota Vikings horn-call in the same situation, can you summon owls?

janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 01:26 PM:

Obviously he lives in the wrong part of the universe. Must take him owling here in Massachusetts some time.


David W. ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 01:50 PM:

Someone needs to get Neil G. a map showing where the snowmobile trails are, so he can go owling elsewhere. I know there are places in his neck of the woods one can go where all you hear is the silent passing of cross-country skis.

FWIW, I had fun yesterday oogling a bald eagle not 50' away feasting over a deer carcass. If only I'd had a camera with me!

rea ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 04:01 PM:

The advantages of country living--we don't allow snowmobilers on our property, so we get to hear the owls uninterrupted (my neighbor claims one killed and ate his cat)

janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 07:42 PM:

Your friend may be very right. Owls--especially large ones like Great Horned--do kill and eat cats. My friend Barry Moser found his cat's head--and no body--out in his woods.

GHO also take skunks, the only major predator to do any such thing. They can't smell, so the skunks do not bother them.


Murph ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 12:25 PM:

We get drunken snowmobilers starting out across the street and then flinging themselves into the greenspace just behind our house. The space where the kids and I like to walk the dog. There are also a fair number who go for quick rides while tinkering, hood off the front of the machine and apparently no muffler. So it doesn't require owls to call out the idjits.


Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: February 26, 2004, 04:32 PM:

For me, it seems the magical birdwatching sites are the California freeways. I've pulled off 1-5 in the southern part of Los Angeles, looking for a restroom, and instead saw a barn owl swoop down and catch a rabbit. Then a few days ago, I was driving up 280 to San Francisco when I passed something out of a pre-Raphaelite painting: an egret, standing posed in the grass beside a picture-perfect grouping of daffodils. I then drove across the Stanford linear accelorator.

Then there are the vultures that circle the parking lot of the new mall in Newark, and the snowy egret (yes, the rare one, not the great egret) that likes to perch on the roof of the 7-11 around the corner from my house.

lisaargos@aol.com ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 11:25 AM:

what is the correct name for a group of owls

lisaargos@aol.com ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 11:25 AM:

what is the correct name for a group of owls

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 06:42 PM:

To while away any length of time you choose, put "collective nouns" into your search engine of choice, then compare & contrast the information you get.

One link traces the proliferation of them back to "a fifteenth century parlour game", but doesn't give sources.

I like 'host, quarrel or tribe' for sparrows. The loudest natural noise I've been in for some years was the recent evening I walked between buildings under a group of trees where thousands of local sparrows were settling down to roost for the night. Very loud to start, reflected & amplified in the space, it quite drowned the traffic noise.

Kinda the exact opposite to listening for solitary owl hoots in silent snowy woods.

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2004, 06:52 PM:

Hmph! Rechecking original, "by snowy woods".

Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2004, 08:27 AM:

Somewhat late, may I bring to your attention, if you haven't seen it yet, a cartoon from David Horsey's second Pulitzer-winning set of cartoons?

seattlepi.nwsource.com/ horsey/photo.asp?SubID=430&PhotoID=20408
(Note that space if you're copying the visible link, rather than clicking on it.)

The Republicans are coming. Published Nov. 10, 2002 (April 07, 2003 [I s'pose this is after the prize was awarded.])

Steve Neves ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2007, 12:33 AM:

I was walking in a field behind our house around two in the morning and heard a pair of owls communicating in sequences of 4 hoos. I managed to spot one, it was very large. The next night my wife and I woke up to the same sound and looked outside. Two great horned owls where perched on the framing of the house going up next-doors. It was awesome, we watched them look around, fly off and then swoop back to their perch. We are excited to have them around but have since started to put a leash on our 15 pound westie when he goes out at night to crap. I know that horned owls can take racoons. do you think I am over reacting about the dog on a leash?