Photo by Tom Rogers on Unsplash

Inspiration

By Charles Towne

Why do owls laugh?

Here in Florida we have the barred owl, a bird of legend to the Native Americans, and these wondrous birds laugh like no other owls.

If you ever get the chance to go into the wild with my pal Swamp Owl, by all means do so.  Swamp Owl is a Seminole Indian, and it is almost uncanny to hear him talk to the owls.  Sometimes I think the owls have accepted him as one of their own.

Within minutes he will have several of the large predatory birds perched in the trees around him, laughing up a storm.  It is almost like they are telling real funny jokes.  Yes, Swamp Owl is well named.

I am sitting at the edge of the swamp and not far away there is a pair of barred owls discussing what they are going to have for dinner.

Soon another joins in, and then another and…

Life must appear to be a real hoot to these large hunters for it seems that most of their communication is hysterical, demented, even goofy cackling laughter.

Whenever I hear barred owls calling in the night I can’t help but smile, especially when there are several of them calling all at once.  It almost sounds like a convention of Goofy Owls Anonymous.

It is a fact that their calling could better be called “chuckling” than laughter, and it has caused more than a few to conjecture as to its purpose.

What I feel, and my conclusion is the end product of much observation, is that the owl’s call is a means of communication of a sort, and to be honest with you, I like that idea.

My father had a very limited formal education but he had a canny wisdom as revealed in some of his observations concerning nature as revealed in the following: “The best science
is direct observation independent of theory.” He taught me to be an observer.

But then I suppose we could also hypothesize that the maniacal laughter of several owls, coming from various directions at the same time is intended to confuse and frighten the mice, wood rats and other creatures that might qualify as the owl’s legitimate prey
and make them easier to catch.

Yes, this would work to disorient the smaller creatures, even herd them much as wolves would herd elk or bison. I feel this is perhaps the most reasonable and accurate answer.

Imagine that you are Woody the wood rat, and you are out for an evening stroll, when suddenly, right over your head, there is a sinister, cackling laugh.  You freeze as the eerie sound sends shivers up your little spine.  You take a few steps in the darkness, and, right overhead, that insane laugh stops you in your tracks, echoing through the forest, seemingly coming from all around you!  Terrified you start to run. Woody never knew what hit him.

The dark forest falls silent for a moment as one of the owls hungrily gulps down Woody the wood rat. But then, almost as suddenly as it stopped, that insane cackling laughter resumes; after all, there are others that need to feed.

Yes, owls are such fascinating creatures.

They will eat almost anything that’s small enough, but then, as the following proves, size might not matter all that much.

I was sitting in a blind way back on the edge of the big swamp.  It was drawing on close to dusk and I was about to pack it in and head for home when I noticed a movement in a large oak tree mere feet away.  A pine snake six or seven feet long was slowly flowing up the oak.

The large scales on the pine snake’s belly enabled it to crawl up almost any tree easily.

As I watched, another movement caught my eye, and an adult barred owl swooped down and nailed the snake, dragging it from the tree.  The owl obviously had bitten off a little more than he could chew, for the two of them careened down on a sharp angle, to land on the ground with a faint thud, not far away. There was a furious struggle, the large snake throwing suffocating coils around its attacker. But then, from what I could see in the twilight, the owl seized the snake’s head in it’s sharp beak.  After that it was a foregone conclusion as to who the winner was going to be. It wasn’t long before the owl stood and fluffed its feathers, rearranging its ruffled plumage, then, gripping the snakes body in
needle sharp talons, it lowered it’s head as it began to feed. Quite suddenly, another owl, probably the mate of the first owl, flew down to join in the meal of fresh snake meat.

AN OUTDOORSMAN’S PRAYER

Dear Lord, thank you so very much for the wild creatures like the owls. Thank you for teaching me life lessons as I observe them. As the pair of owls seemed to cooperate as a team, and even as a community, help me to cooperate with others.  Help me to be a good father, a good husband, and a good friend, reaching out to others in friendship and in love. Praise you almighty God.  I praise you and worship you in utmost adoration for you are worthy of my praise.  In Jesus most holy and glorious name I ask this, Amen


Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.

18 COMMENTS

  1. The story of how owls confuse their prey reminded me of our current political campaign going on right now…so much chatter and distraction it is confusing to say the least…….hmmm……Maybe that it what they intended all along?

  2. Yes NH, my dear friend, it reminds me of Walt Kelly’s political column that was so popular those years ago. Pogo Possum said it so well, “We has met the enemy and he is us!” When are we going to learn? Not until it is too late i am guessing! God bless us all, Chaz

  3. Chuck when I was in Florida I would have given a lot, just for you to be my Guide through some of your swamps and woods! The only time I wouldn’t have wanted to be with you would have been in bear country. Maybe in another time and place we can wander through some of your woods! God bless you and thanks for your stories.

    • My dear friend Don, I will be your guide if you agree to allow yourself to be hobbled to assure that I can outrun you while hiking in bear country. This is to ensure that I can outrun you in case of a bear attack. This is a standard agreement to ensure longevity and life expectancy of guides. i am reminded of the young lady calling to Forest Gump, “Run Forest, RUN!” And Forest Ran!

  4. Well, again, what an interesting and delightful story!!! It just makes me want to be a member of the GOA!! I have heard owls talking back and forth in the woods next to my backyard.
    They are loud!! They even had my dogs barking late one night, so I shined the flashlight up in the tree to see him perched on the lowest branch of a pine tree. He was watching the 3 of us on the ground, while I was watching him spin his head around. Well, not exactly spinning, but you get the idea.
    Intriguing, to say the least!!
    Thanks Chuck! God bless you!!

    • Well CSG, owls really do turn their heads to almost appear the head is seemingly going to twist off. I really do like owls, especially the great snowy owls! SO BEAUTIFUL! Bless you, Chaz

  5. What a great tale of the oddities nature. We loved it as always. Stay healthy and stay safe Chuck.We can’t wait for next week. Keep them coming.

  6. Dear Herb and Susette, I am always pleased when you dear folks enjoy my articles feeble efforts. Nature teaches us so much about the creative power of our loving God. He never lets us down or disappoints us does He. May you folks always be blessed, your friend, Chaz

  7. Congratulations! You’ve done it again. You wrote an article that is educational and brings to the uninformed (me), knowledge of one of the marvels of nature. Thank you.

    In the article, you said, “It is a fact that their calling could better be called “chuckling” than laughter, and it has caused more than a few to conjecture as to its purpose. Well, after a brief Google inquiry, I’d like to add my conjecture to the existing suggestions as to the purpose of their call (hoot). Go to the following website to hear their call https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fppKGJD3Y6c I think you’ll agree that the barred owl has a sense of humor and is asking his fellow owls, “Who cooks for you?”

    I anxiously await your next article.

    EdG

  8. And I thank you EdG, I am pleased that you enjoyed the article. Not long ago I was walking in the woods one night. I had stopped for a moment and right over my head a screech owl screamed! It took a few minutes for my heart to settle down again and I knew what it was. It really surprised me! I really enjoy owls. We have at least four owls of various species that live close by. Barred owls, Great horned owls, Burrowing owls, and Screech owls. Several years ago I saw a snowy owl over at the cape, but that was rare indeed. That big boy had to be blown way off coarse by a storm. Thanks again EdG. Bless you and yours, Chaz

  9. Very interesting article. It is not that long ago that I realized what good hunters owls were. However, I never have thought about how the vocalization of many could be used to distract prey until it is too late. Reminds me of how a relative minority of people are making so much “noise” today to distract the many in hopes that they can cause this great country to fall prey to socialism. Time to wake up and be very aware or it will be too late.

  10. I love to hear them calling to one another. I never thought about it being a way to confuse prey but maybe that’s cuz I hear them from several directions spaced quite a ways apart. I, having inherited a love of nature from my parents, often walk and hope to see or hear the critters of the wild. One special memory a few summers ago, was the awesome experience of having one of those grand owls silently glide less than 5 feet from my face and land in the tree outside my bedroom window! I could hardly stand it!!! Too dark to capture it on film so I have to be content with the memory! God is an amazing Creator!!! Love to read your stories….you always were a great storyteller….I recall being enthralled by your tellings many times!!!

    • Faith, my dear little girl, as much as you enjoyed listening to my stories I took as great a pleasure in the telling. It is a sad thing that the storytelling art has been to a great extent lost to the more recent generation. People today have lost so much that my generation took for granted, imagination for instance. Blessings to you dear one, Your daddy.

  11. Mike, my friend if only more people could tell the difference between horse pucky and the truth we might still be able too save our grand old country. It is not too late. Bless you guys, Chaz

  12. Again thank you for sharing another keen observation. I’m blessed to live in a forested region of northern Wisconsin and frequently hear them calling to one another, one close and another far away – especially in mating season during early spring. Several years ago one perched on the crook of a bird feeder shepherds rod at dusk – it was close enough to see its very large black eyes. I believe it is one of few owls that has entirely black or dark brown eyes – allows them to keenly in the dark. Here are two links with barred owls calling: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fppKGJD3Y6c and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cp2FEA1yU7A.
    Blessings my dear naturalist brother.

  13. Dear Dr. Judy, Not a day passes that I am not thankful that mom and dad gave us such a deep appreciation for all aspects of nature. One of the greatest joys of my life is listening to a clan of owls calling as they hunt in the night. Blessings sis, Chaz

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