[CT Birds] Reading 5

Dennis Varza dennisvz at optonline.net
Fri Aug 12 07:09:16 EDT 2011

Reading 5
Screech Owl (Megascops asio)

It is an open question how many birds one is justified in including  
among the so-called singers. Certainly the Screech Owl is not on the  
“prohibitive” list of song birds issued under the laws of the state  
(they can be shot D.). But to one who studies bird-music there can be  
little doubt about the Screech Owl; he deserves an important position  
among the soloists, the quivering tremolo of his remarkable voice has  
in  it the very essence of music, the expression of “thoughts too  
deep for words”embodied in tones of deepest mystery, for wether these  
tones are probperly describes as dulcet or blood-curdling is  
altogether a matter of opinion and dependent upon the listener’s  
state of mind.

When one considers the character of this Owl’s song in connection  
with his bill of fare, it is not surprising that the former is  
somewhat indicative of the nature of the latter. What with mice,  
small birds, snakes and frogs as a standard diet, why should not  
one’s song savor of the terrible, and cause the listener’s  blood to  
run cold! To be sure that breathless falling of the voice seems to  
denote exhaustion, and the quivering tines abject terror, but after  
all this is pure imagination, for the next moment the voice suggests  
that of an operatic singer practicing the descending chromatic scale!  
Whatever the the eerie cry seems like, whether the screech of the  
pioneer’s wife as she is scalped by a red-handed Indian under the  
cold rays of an indifferent moon, or the technical practice of the  
“prima donna,” one thing is certain, all who have ever headed the  
strange song agree that there is something uncanny about it! Mr.  
Chapman writes: “When night comes one may hear the Screech Owl’s  
tremulous wailing whistle. It is a weird, melancholy call, welcomed  
only by those who loves Nature voice whatever be the medium through  
which she speaks.”

On one occasion several summers ago I was hurriedly invited about  
sundown by one of the members of the family, to investigate the  
nature of a strange voice that issued from the border of the wood  
near the cottage. Although I know the note of the Screech Owl  
perfectly well, this note was less musical and only remotely  
resembled it by a curious tremolo. So. I concluded to put the matter  
to the test by giving sonorously the full Screech Owl song. In less  
than five seconds there appeared in the dusk of the evening half a  
dozen young, who flew about with silent wings. They had answered my  
call promptly and had come to see “what was up!.” Their notes were  
simply weird, a sort of cross between a sneeze and the wheeze of a  
pair of leathern bellows with the wail of a “half-frozen puppy”thrown  
in to make matters more mysterious. I  shortly came to the conclusion  
that these were young birds which had not yet learned to sing  
properly, so I gave them a lesson or two, at the same time profiting  
by the experience and getting in a few lessons for myself. The  
interview proving satisfactory or unsatisfactory (I do not know  
which) the bird flew away.

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