Bird Watcher's General Store

The 10 P.M. Screech - 08/16/02


Dear Bird Folks,

You guys have to help me. Every night I hear this screeching out in my yard. It starts about 10 pm. Then once every minute or so I hear a short screech. This goes on all through the night and now no matter what I do I can't find out what it is. I've become obsessed with knowing what is making this sound. Is it a bird or what?

Rod, Dennis

Relax Rod,

You have come to the right guy. About 10 summers ago, I, too, heard the same screeching, and just like you, I was obsessed with trying to find out what it was. Only at my house it started much later, usually around 3 a.m. But no matter what time it started, it always woke me up, like some spirit speaking to me. OK, maybe that spirit thing was a little over the top but it was really starting to bug me. I would sit up in bed and stare into the darkness listening to that weird call. Suddenly, I would hop out of bed, grab a flashlight, my binoculars and head out.

I ran through my neighbors' yards trying to find that mystery call. I must have trashed about 50 flower beds stumbling around in the dark. Sometimes I'd find myself miles from home when the sun came up. I would then have to race home and sneak back into the house before my family woke up and started asking questions. I even made a tape of the screeching call that I played for every naturalist who would listen, but no one knew what it was. I had to solve this soon for it was ruining my night's sleep, plus lots of flowers.

Finally, I asked local wizard Peter Trull and he told me instantly what I was hearing. I was hearing the begging cries of a young great horned owl. I thought, "Owl? Yeah, right." The great horn's voice is deeper than the voice of James Earl Jones. There is no way that sissy screech is coming from the mighty great horned owl." But a few nights later, when I was once again chasing this strange call in the dark, the silhouette of an owl flew out of a tree and across the moonlit sky. Old Peter was right.

It seems young great horned owls do have a high squeaking voice and they spend the first five months of their life begging food from their parents. Great horns can't fly until they are about two months old, but that doesn't stop them from being active. Even before they can fly, the young owls leave the nest and are called "branchers." Just like the name implies, these fat fluffy birds awkwardly move from branch to branch and tree to tree just to keep from being bored. All the while they are climbing they give off a screech, just in case the parents have forgotten where they live.

Even after learning to fly, the young owls don't venture very far. Often times they sit in the same tree or area and beg and beg and beg all through the night. (Hmmmm, sounds like a few dates I've had.) Finally, just to shut them up, the parents arrive with some yummy dead creature and the baby owls are quiet for a few minutes.

I know you are probably disappointed that you haven't discovered some new bird or haven't found a family of aliens living in Dennis, but still the owl thing is kind of neat. It is hard to imagine that those weird sounds are coming out of the mighty great horned owl, but I'm sure that is what you are hearing. Unless you have neighbors who have money in the stock market, then those screams are probably coming from them.



Artwork by Catherine Clark


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