The screeching had been going on for at least an hour by the time I let my dog outside at around 11 p.m. But with the windows closed, I had ignored the muffled sound, assuming it was the washing machine squeaking down cellar or some other household noise. It wasn’t until I opened the door that I heard the sound full blast. The loud, drawn out screeches were coming from the trees.
“It sounds like one of your dinosaurs,” said my husband, Derek, alluding to my enthusiasm for the new Jurassic Park movie.
I grabbed my camera and a flashlight and crept into the backyard, toward the sound, which became louder and louder as I approached the trees. As I stood there in the tall grass, I registered a screech to my left, then to my right, and I realized, it wasn’t just one animal, but at least two.
In the dark, a big, brown bird launched from a nearby tree and disappeared into the leafy foliage of another tree.
“It’s an owl,” Derek called from the porch. “I have my light right on it. It’s bobbing its head.”
Joining Derek on the deck, I could see the owl clearly, illuminated by the beam of the flashlight. It was a barred owl, easily identifiable by its dark eyes. Other Maine owls that are present in the summertime have bright yellow eyes or just have a completely different look and are rare, like the barn owl. The barred owl — a fairly large bird — is common throughout Maine and produces the distinctive call often described as sounding like: “Who cooks for you? Who cooks you all?”
To get a better look, Derek and I headed to our home’s second story porch. (I like to joke that our house is a treehouse because of the way it’s constructed, perched on the side of a hill, surrounded by trees.)
Once on the porch, Derek searched for the owls with a flashlight as I did the same with my camera. Though they moved around in the trees, we were able to confirm that there were at least three owls, if not four. And they appeared to be screeching at each other, not us. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to shine a light on them for too long, so after shooting a short video and some photos, we retreated inside and went to bed.
Of course, it was hot that night and since we don’t have air conditioning, we needed to keep the windows open. So as we lay in bed listening to their shrill voices, I did what any novice birder would do — I searched for barred owl calls on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. There I matched the website’s “juvenile call” with the screeches outside, which lead me to believe that we were witnessing young barred owls, just hatched this spring, expressing some teenage angst. Perhaps they were yelling at mom for not feeding them, or maybe they were in a sibling tiff. Whatever the case, they didn’t let up for a good hour more, then finally settled down.
As I drifted off to sleep, I thought, “I wonder if Hollywood records the sound of a young barred owl to pair with their CGI pterodactyls?” If not, they should.