“Who cooks for you, who cooks for yooouuu-all” is the handle birders use for the familiar call of the Barred Owl, pictured at right, but our pair usually shriek something like Ho-ho-Ho-HA!” It is a loud, raucous sound heard any time of day or night, unlike the quiet, mysterious “You’re awake? Me too” of the Great Horned Owl, also heard in our area, but mostly at night. Sometimes when our pair team up it sounds like a cat fight. And sometimes they combine all of their calls, caterwauling, around six a.m., just outside our window.
The barred is a large, handsome owl recognized by its round face and brown eyes (Most owls have yellow eyes) and barring across the chest and streaking lengthwise on the belly. Unlike most owls, it is often seen during the day. Our pair often hang around the driveway, giving the impression that they find us humans quite entertaining. One day, as one of our cattledogs was rounding up a litter of baby garter snakes that I was removing, I noticed one of the barreds watching. Later I saw the bird swoop in and silently glide off with one of the snakes.
To identify whether you have a Barred Owl in your neighborhood check www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/barred_owl/sounds, and while you are thinking about owls, keep an eye out for a rare visitor—the Snowy Owl. We are having an irruption in the northeast this winter, meaning that these largely white owls are being seen in record numbers. Irruptions are often caused by a food shortage in the Arctic, but this one may be caused by the opposite—an abundance of lemmings, leading to a highly productive breeding season—which may explain the elevated numbers of immature owls in this irruption.
Snowy Owls were seen at Woodland Pond in New Paltz in December and at the Ulster County Fairgrounds on January 12th. The one above was photographed by David Warg, near Steve’s Lane in Gardiner, on January 25th.