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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

BirdNote®: Screech-Owl

Air Date: Week of October 26, 2012

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Eastern Screech-Owl red morph (Photo: © Diane E. Newbery.jpg)

Of all familiar birds, the Screech-Owl has the spookiest and scariest calls, as Mary McCann explains in this week's BirdNote®.

Transcript

CURWOOD: From the noble eagle, to birds of a very different feather. At this time of year thoughts turn to things ghostly and strange. And as BirdNote®'s Mary McCann points out - the avian kingdom has its own scary actors.

[EERIE TRILL OF AN EASTERN SCREECH-OWL]

MCCANN: Sometimes, owls strike us as downright spooky. The spine-tingling call of an Eastern Screech-Owl is a case-in-point.

[EERIE TRILL OF AN EASTERN SCREECH-OWL]


Western Screech-Owl (Photo: © James N. Stuart)

MCCANN: Equally eerie is an owl’s seeming ability to rotate its head in a complete circle.

[THERAMIN MUSIC THAT SOUNDS LIKE OWL CALL]

MCCANN: Are spectral forces at work here, enabling an owl to spin its head 360 degrees? Or do its neck feathers hide some anatomical secret?

Well, an owl’s apparent head rotation is part illusion, part structural design. To begin with, because an owl’s large eyes are fixed in their sockets, it must rotate its neck to look around.


Eastern Screech-Owl (Photo: © Anne Bennett)

And an owl will frequently perch with its head turned, looking over its shoulder to prevent predators from sneaking up behind. Hearing a noise from an unseen source, the owl rotates its head to the front and then around to the opposite shoulder in one quick, smooth movement, in what appears to be a full circle. Uncanny.

The actual rotation is about 270 degrees. With 14 neck vertebrae – that’s twice as many as you have – an owl can turn its head 90 degrees further than you can. Even without any occult forces at work, this is a marvelous anatomical feat.
I’m Mary McCann.

CURWOOD: For pictures and more - glide on over to our web-site, loe dot org.

[Eastern Screech-Owl audio provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.
Recorded by W.L. Hershberger.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2012 Tune In to Nature.org October 2012 Narrator: Mary McCann]

 

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