Whooo goes there?

I had been sound asleep because it was the middle of the night – just after two a.m. – when suddenly, I was wide awake and very confused.  I thought I had heard a noise; a very loud noise.  But as I lay there with my eyes open, listening, all I heard was the sound of the crickets through the open sliding glass door of my bedroom.  But suddenly it came again, WHOOO-WHOOO-WHOOO.   It was the loudest owl I have ever heard in my life.   Then, way off in the distance, I heard another owl answer it, whooo- whooo- whooo, which caused the loudest owl to grace the planet to respond WHOO-WHOO-WHOO.  Seriously, I had never in my life heard an owl that was so loud.  At first, I thought it was fascinating, even funny, lying there listening to the two owls converse. But after an hour I didn’t think it was so funny; I couldn’t fall back asleep.  Every time I’d start to drift off, I’d be awakened again by the loud WHOOO-WHOOO-WHOOOing of the owl.  To try to drown out the noise, I closed the sliding glass door.  But I could still hear it so I put the television on and when that didn’t drown out the noise, I put a pillow over my head.  Eventually, all got quiet and I fell back asleep. 

The next morning, I asked the kids if they had heard the owl in the middle of the night.  Neither one had; although how they slept through it, I couldn’t imagine.   The next night, at approximately the same time, the same thing happened.  The loudest damn owl to ever grace the planet was WHOO-WHOO-WHOOing to, what I assumed was his girlfriend, who would politely and quietly, and most importantly from very far away, whoo-whoo-whoo back.  After several minutes of this, I turned on the flood lights, which lit up the backyard, and went out onto the deck to look for the instigator.  Of course, I had no idea what kind of owl I was looking for, but I searched all of the trees as best as I could.  I couldn’t see him.  He hooted and hooted some more while I was out there and I thought that maybe he was in the dogwood tree next to our bedroom, but I couldn’t see him.  I went back to bed, shut the slider, turned on the television and covered my head with the pillow.

By the third night, I was tired of the owl.  I was tired of the noise.  I was just tired.  So that night, when he began his crazy owl love call, I acted like the crazy tired person I had become.  I got a flashlight, turned on the floodlights, opened the sliding glass door, went out on the deck and yelled, “Go away!  Just go away!  She’s over there somewhere!  Damnit, shut up!”  But he didn’t.  He just kept WHOO-WHOO-WHOOing.  I shined the flashlight all over the dogwood tree as I was fairly certain he had to be in it.  But I couldn’t see him.  He kept hooting and I hollered at him some more to go away.  But he didn’t, so I went back inside and fell asleep again with a pillow over my head.

Mr. Hooty Owl, the loudest damn owl to ever grace the planet, visited every night for about three weeks.  My husband Steve, who had been away on business the first week, didn’t mind the owl.  But then, he has hearing loss and he couldn’t hear the owl as well as I could.  It drove me nuts.  Over the course of those owlish weeks, I went outside to yell at Mr. Hooty Owl several times – although it never worked, he just kept hooting away – and no matter what I did, I could never spot him; I couldn’t see him anywhere, and I couldn’t get him to shut up.  Then, finally, one night…quiet.   He just stopped showing up.  And I forgot all about him.

The following year, in September, we got a Cocker Spaniel puppy, Jo.  She was the cutest little eight pounds of fluff I’d ever seen.  One evening, just as it was getting dark, I took her outside to go potty.  As I stood there watching her, a large bird flew and landed on a branch of an old large oak tree in the backyard.   At first, I thought nothing of it as I assumed it was one of the broad-winged hawks that had taken up residence in the pines behind our house.  But as Jo headed under the branch the bird was perched on, it turned its head 180 degrees to follow her movement.

Instantly, I knew it was a great horned owl and I knew my little puppy, so tiny that she fit in my hand, was in trouble.   I took off running, waving my hands in the air over my head and yelling, “No, no, no, go away!” over and over while keeping my eyes on the owl.

Hearing the commotion I was causing, the owl turned his head back to look at me.  I kept waving my hands over my head and yelling until I was able to reach down and scoop Jo up off of the ground.  The owl didn’t move.  He just sat there as I walked right under him and headed back to the house with the puppy.

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Great Horned Owl photo by Devra

That night, Mr. Hooty Owl, the loudest damn great horned owl to ever grace the planet, took up hooting somewhere right outside of our bedroom again.  And again, I resorted to turning on the television and covering my head with a pillow.  But I knew his M.O. now.  I knew he’d be back.  So the next day I bought some ear plugs.  Mr. Hooty Owl did come back.  He was there every night for the next two or three weeks, but every night when his calls woke me up, I’d put in my ear plugs and go back to sleep.  And then one night, he just stopped showing up.  And I forgot all about him.  Until the following year.   And the following year.  For at least four years Mr. Hooty Owl, the loudest damn great horned owl to ever grace the planet, visited us for about three weeks each end of September, early October.

The following September, over Labor Day Weekend, we set about putting a new roof on our house.  My husband, his friend Joey, my son Aaron and two of his friends were doing the work themselves.  When Joey went to the area of the roof that is over our bedroom, he yelled over to Steve, “Hey, there’s owl pellets here!  Lots of them!”

An owl pellet is a lump of undigested fur, claws, teeth, bones, feathers, etc. of the animals the owl has eaten.  Because owls cannot digest those parts of the animal, they regurgitate them back up.   The roof over our bedroom was full of those pellets.  As Joey began kicking them off of the roof onto the ground, I looked at them all and said, “Those are from Mr. Hooty Owl!  That’s why I can’t ever see him and that’s why he’s so darn loud!” I said.

I couldn’t believe it, all those years, that loud bird, the loudest damn great horned owl  to ever grace the planet, had been sitting about 10 feet over my head, hooting away for his girlfriend while digesting his dinner. 

Mr. Hooty Owl, the loudest damn great horned owl on the planet, stopped visiting a year or two later.  I like to imagine that he finally found that female off in the distance…

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