Nature’s Calls and Responses

Recently I’ve been privileged to hear owls hooting in the night.

I have no data, but it seems there were far more owls here ten or fifteen years ago than in the past few years. Once, I enjoyed listening their hooting regularly. Lately, it’s rare. I’ve missed it.

Maybe they’re back.

Great horned owl. Photo: Wikipedia

Nature’s Calls

This morning I was up early and thought I’d record the birds singing in the dawn. When I stepped outside (keeping the dogs inside so the recording wasn’t overwhelmed with their panting), I heard owls hooting up slope. It’s faint, but you can hear the Whoooo, whoo-whoo of their calls in this recording, with red-winged blackbirds, flickers, robins and who knows what other birds ushering in the new day with their songs in the foreground. (I’m just starting to learn to recognize various local bird songs.)

Owl hooting at 28-30 seconds and again (two of them) at the end, starting about 46 seconds.

One spring – Memorial Day weekend in 2011 – I was walking through the forest not far from the house. I was lost in thought while keeping an eye on my three dogs (Finn and Conall’s predecessors, two female Malamutes named Maia and Meadow). We walked along an old dirt logging road that cuts across a fairly steep slope while meandering in and out around the contours of the mountain.

Suddenly movement just up slope caught our attention. All three dogs and I stopped and watched, transfixed, as two great horned owls swooped out of the trees up hill of us, flew across the dirt road just in front of us, and disappeared as they wove effortlessly through the trees below us until out of sight. Their “horns” – actually short tufts of feathers – were clearly visible, identifying them as great horned owls.

The fir and pine trees in this spot are large and grow close together, with lots of wide branches. According to the National Wildlife Federation, the wingspan of a great horned owl is 4.6 feet. That’s almost as wide as I am tall! (I’m 5’4″.) Their ability to navigate flawlessly through close-growing trees and branches at such speed took my breath away.

Great horned owl in flight. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Nor did they make a sound as they flew past, one to the side and slightly behind the other.

Ravens, crows, geese, red-tail hawks, all make some degree of whooshing sound when flying, whether gliding or flapping. These owls are truly silent fliers. No wonder they’re such good hunters.

I knew in that moment that I had been allowed to witness something special since they primarily hunt at night.

If there’s reincarnation and I can’t come back as a wolf, the great horned owl might be my second choice.

Nature’s Responses

Wanting to verify that the hoots I’m hearing at night are indeed great horned owls, I did some research. I found a video on YouTube called Owls of North America and their Calls. It verified what I hoped. The greats are back.

As I was watching the video, listening to the various owl calls, my dogs were snoozing nearby on the floor. I wondered whether the sound of the birds – especially those owls that screech loudly rather than hoot – would pique their interest. Nope. They didn’t even lift their heads off the floor.

But then, in the background of one of the owl call segments, there was the brief, faint bugle of an elk.

OMG, dog alert! They jumped to their feet and made a dash for the dog door, sure there must be elk just beyond their fence.

There weren’t, of course. Although, ironically, coming up the road toward home yesterday two elk crossed in front of us, moving from one pasture to another, jumping over the barbed-wire fences. I see plenty of white-tailed deer here, but fewer elk, so that was a pleasant surprise. The boys watched them intently from inside my car.

The boys’ reaction to the elk bugle in the owl video reminded me the time Conall howled from the deck, near sunset, in response to the high-pitched elk bugling down the hill in the same pasture where we saw the two elk yesterday.

Talk about instinctual response! Animal communication – call, response – never ceases to amaze and entertain me. I may not fully understand what’s being communicated, but I can enjoy it. (Side note: editing and previewing this post, when this above video played the boys again dashed out the dog door, sure elk were nearby!)

While Conall offers his wolf-like howl in response to elk bugles and the yips of coyotes, he also howls when small civil airplanes and Forest Service helicopters fly overhead. Quirky, that, and a bit off kilter from nature’s usual call-and-responses. My earlier Malamutes always howled to urban fire and police sirens, though. Never understood why but it was fun to watch and hear. I guess because Conall has spent all his life in rural Idaho where sirens are few and far between, low-flying airplanes will have to do. (Please excuse the dirty windows and screen door.)

And just for grins, a video of Conall as a pup – five months old – trying out his “talking” skills (with some encouragement from me).

I rely on Conall’s keen senses of hearing and smell, his ability to interpret the sounds and scents of wildlife around us that are beyond my ability to sense. It all came naturally to him; I didn’t teach him a thing. Watching his body language as he listens and smells, then keying into his responses – howls, barks, growls or uneasy silence – lets me know instantly what’s nearby and whether to be concerned. It’s a symbiotic relationship that keeps us both safe (and Finn, too).

What I’d love to know is: What do the wildlife think of Conall’s howls and woofs?

18 thoughts on “Nature’s Calls and Responses”

  1. When I played the video of Connel howling, both our dogs jumped up onto the sofa and stared at my laptop. Oliver rested his head on the laptop and started whining as if in anticipation of something. Same whine he does when we’re going for a walk or getting his meal ready.

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    1. Wow! You never know what sounds/sights will make dogs react. My Malamaute Maia would always watch wolves on TV/computer screens; mere dogs never held her interest. My other Malamute Meadow showed no interest at all, wolves or dogs. So interesting, the individual responses!

      I guess you’d better take Oliver for a walk!

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    1. I’m surprised you don’t see owls there; you’ve got so much wildlife, and trees. Sorry you don’t; they’re fascinating. And elusive, so I feel very lucky when I do get to hear or see one.
      Thanks! Conall’s quite the chatterbox!

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  2. Wonderful post. I was privileged to hike “with” a barn owl one early evening in California. He was hunting along a little seasonal stream and the trail ran parallel. He flew silently beside me watching me, hoping, I’m sure, that Molly would chase something out from under the bushes beside the trail. The light was tinged with gold and pink and the moment was pure enchantment. I miss my huskies and their conversations. We would howl together, something that somehow made us all feel good. I love Conall’s speaking to you — he seems bewildered by what you’re saying, though… 😉

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    1. Owls are fascinating. A smaller owl – not sure what kind – followed me and Finn as we walked along a forest trail on morning, flying ahead to land on a branch, watch us go by, fly past us again to land on another branch and watch us approach. He was watching me from just 8-10 feet at times. His chest faced away from us (for easy escape, I guess) but his head turned all the way around toward us, eyes watching. I’ve got fuzzy photos of that owl somewhere on my computer. I wish that happened more often!
      One of the reasons I’ve so loved having Malamutes in my life is their talking and howling (and very little barking). I rarely understand what they’re saying, but I love their accents 😉

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  3. Hmm, now that I think about it, I seem to hear fewer owls as well. Ten years ago, we’d hear conversations of two or three barred owls flying around the wooded tract behind my house. I wonder what’s changed. Not the woods, that’s park land.

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    1. Thanks, Andrea!
      These videos of Conall make me wish I’d gotten a video of my two female Malamutes howling. While living near Seattle we’d often be walking on a street sidewalk when a police or ambulance with siren blaring would go by. They’d wait until it was close, sit, and start howling along with the siren, first one, then the other while the first was catching her breath again, back and forth until the siren faded. Vehicles that had to pull aside to let the emergency vehicle go by would roll down their windows and watch/listen to my girls, their necks stretched, noses pointing to the sky. People smiled and laughed. So fun!
      That must be hilarious, watching Winston make his toy squeak and then howl, his version of nature’s call and response. Our dogs are so entertaining, aren’t they?

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    1. In general, Mals love all people (infants and small kids especially), and all other dogs – so long as they’re socialized to them from the start. And so long as that socialization continues regularly throughout their lives. Not quite as sweet in temperament as Goldens, but darn close. I always tell people that Malamutes aren’t “starter dogs” i.e. not a good choice for a first-time dog guardian because they’re independent thinkers and sometimes stubborn, but you’ve got tons of experience with big dogs. All of my Mals have loved meeting and hanging with others dogs; it’s why I started my dog camp, to give them even more opportunities to do so. But, if they have bad experiences, which sadly happened with my girl Maia at an off-leash dog park, then they can become fear/aggressive, so it’s important to be proactive in making sure all their social interactions are good ones. At home, they’re mellow, playful and respectful, and they’ll never knock anything over – very spatially aware! Oh, and they’re the world’s worst guard dogs if their person isn’t in the house with them 🙂 What’s not to love?

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