Calling the Barred Owl

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(Host) Commentator Alan Boye has been practicing a new skill lately – and he thinks he’s gotten rather good at it – but so far without the desired results.

(Boye) Ahem. You’ll have to excuse me, but I just have to do this [imitate call of the barred owl.] Go ahead and laugh, but that’s not a bad imitation of a barred owl. It’s easy enough to do, just remember: “who cooks for you, who cooks for you too.”

I learned the call so that while just walking the hills of Vermont I could get a real barred owl to answer me. One evening about week ago, I set out bound and determined to hear that wild call. I took a familiar trail not far from the village. This marvelous path climbs up a hill to a steep ledge where I can get a spectacular view of the village below. I swear it was every twenty steps that I’d stop, lean back my head and call out.

Dead silence.

The barred owl is very common in Vermont. And it is supposed to be easy to get one to answer your call. They sometimes will even answer in broad daylight. According to my worn copy of A Guide to Birding in Vermont – and I quote: “The Barred Owl is very vocal and curious and may be lured into view by a simple imitation of its call.”

I’m embarrassed to admit this but I’ve even practiced the call by listening to a recording of the real thing. It isn’t that hard to do, just hoot. “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you too.” I called and listened. I walked another twenty yards and tried again. Nothing. Not even a feeble hoot answered my call. Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed.

At the top of the hill I stood beneath the rocky ledge and stared out at the lights of the village below. The only thing I saw that looked even vaguely like an owl was the squat, round tower of the old south church perched on top of the distant hill. I leaned my head back and called again. Nope, nothing doing. I walked back down the hill and wondered what in the world could be wrong with these woods. Maybe it’s the wrong kind of trees for barred owls. I think I heard barred owls in every dream that night.

The next morning, golden sunlight filled a sky as blue as a robin’s egg. I decided to climb to the ledge again in order to enjoy the spectacular morning. I’d almost forgotten all about my failed attempt of the night before, and never once did I try the call. Just as I started up a steep part of the trail something moved. I looked up just in time to see – you guessed it – the brown swoop of a barred owl sailing away into the bright woods.

It’s all right though. Only now when I attempt to call barred owls on my nighttime rambles, if nothing answers I’ll take it as proof that there that there must be one near-by.

This is Alan Boye just walking the hills of Vermont.

Alan Boye teaches at Lyndon State College.

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