, Salem, MA


March 13, 2014

Calling all owls

Whole family can have a hoot at Audubon sanctuary

Owls do more than just hoot.

“The screech owl makes a whinny or tremolo,” said Angela Walsh, a field teacher at the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary. “All owls have a lot of different sounds, like bill-clicking noises when they’re annoyed.”

Visitors will get a chance to practice owl calls tomorrow night at an “Owl Prowl for Families” at the sanctuary, a Mass Audubon property in Topsfield.

“With the barred owl, we put a mnemonic to it: ‘Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?’ That’s the hooting,” Walsh said. “Then the great horned owl does: ‘Who’s awake? Me too.’ The kids like it, and it’s easy for them to remember.”

The event will begin with a slide show and discussion of the 11 owl species that nest in this part of the state.

“The kids get involved,” Walsh said. “We let them listen to ‘Owl Moon’ on tape, a book about a child owling with their grandfather. Then, Scott and I will divide them up, and we’ll each start calling on our own side.”

A group led by naturalist Scott Santino will head toward the boulders and bushes of the rockery, which rises next to a pond, while Walsh will lead a second group in the opposite direction, toward a canoe landing on the Ipswich River.

“We’ll try different owl calls, then meet at the end and let the kids practice owl calls at the top of the hill,” Walsh said.

Ornithologists believe that owl calls are related to both territory and mating, Santino said.

“They want to have a nesting area, an area to forage for food with as little competition as possible,” he said. “Vocalization is to claim your territory.”

It also helps to attract a mate, which owls do earlier in the season than other bird species.

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