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.