Since early October I have been hearing owls calling at night at the West Gainesville USGS center in Gainesville, Florida.  The calls somewhat resemble a scream and tonight I thought they vaguely resembled calls made by some wading birds.  I assumed that Barn Owls were making these odd calls.

However, today I realized that the calls were being made by Great Horned Owls.  I watched one Great Horned Owl sitting on a utility pole and could see the animal’s body move when hearing the calls coming from the same direction.  After the owl flew to a different perch I heard similar calls coming from that direction although by then it was too dark to see the bird..

I did not realize that Great Horned Owls would frequently make such sounds on a regular and protracted basis.  These calls, it seems, are being made literally hundreds of times every evening or night for months on end.
I just checked the Birds of North America issue for Great Horned Owls and did not see what I recognized as a description of this type of calling.  I did read there that owls will utter screams particularly during nest defense, but I saw no nest defense today.  I also read that young birds may issue screams to communicate with adults.  I do not know how to age Great Horned Owls, but these birds looked full grown to me.

I cannot rule out that these could be full-sized young birds communicating with adults.  Nevertheless, the calling that I have been hearing for months now seem to be the rule rather than the exception, and have completely changed my impression of the Great Horned Owls typical vocal repertoire, so much so that I felt it deserved a post here. 

Mark Miller

Gainesville, Florida


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