Hoots and Snorts

photo of Great Horned Owl © Wil HershbergerLots of folks say that owls fly so silently that their prey cannot hear them coming. Well, this may be true when they’re hunting, but on a quiet night, when an owl flies to a perch nearby, one can certainly hear the sounds of its wings.

The date is May 1, 1993. I am at Delta Marsh along the south shore of Lake Manitoba. It is the middle of the night and countless Wood Frogs cackle from a nearby marsh. I’ve placed my soundscape microphone in a forested patch near a Great Horned Owl nest, in hopes of getting some nice hoots. Just before midnight, an owl sounds off from about a hundred feet away. Then my attention goes to the subtle sounds of something moving around in the leaves, maybe a deer mouse or some other small mammal …

Hoots of a Great Horned Owl and snorts of a White-tailed Deer, 11:45pm, 1 May 1993, Delta Marsh, along the south shore of Lake Manitoba. Recording by Lang Elliott.N

Holy smoke! That “little” mammal turned out to be one heck of a “BIG” mammal, a White-tailed Deer, who snorted and bounded away into the woods! I am amazed that he made so little noise as he approached. And how about the wing noise made by the Great Horned Owl, both as he flew in close and then flew away about a minute later? Pretty impressive, huh?

Note: As you may have noticed, as of late I’ve moved away from posting “easy listening” recordings in favor of recordings that portray significant sound events. They are still soundscapes, for sure, but more of the engaging type. I’m curious what you think of these recordings. Do you find them satisfying? Would you like to hear long samples, or should I strive to keep these kinds of recordings rather brief, on the order of two to four minutes in length? Let me know what you think!


  1. That’s a heck of a lot of Wood Frogs in the background! I once encountered a group of Wood Frogs in a wetland, imitated their calls, and they responded. They would chase each other while calling, and after a while, a female came in, obviously hearing the males calling. She did an odd behavior. She would puff up these things on the side of her neck that looked like vocal sacks. This was very quick. All I would see was a white flash. Is this a courtship thing? Has this been observed before?

  2. I really like the significant sound events in the longer length! It was so enjoyable to listen, first on my own to try to identify what I was hearing and then after reading your narrative so that I would understand better what I was hearing. It becomes such a complete experience and lets the imagination soar! Thank you for sharing this.

  3. I have five miniature dachshunds who are utterly fascinated, baffled and aroused by your recordings. Other than the very first loud squeak by the Chirp Munk, this recording elicited the most spirited response so far. Sugar, the eldest of the group (8.5 years), has the most to say about it all, and sits on my lap with her ears cocked toward the speakers, wondering what in the world could be making all those noises, up on top of my computer! She is also my best hunter, accustomed to the noises in the Wet Mountains of southern Colorado, from whence we moved to the Union Springs, NY area last fall. The booming nighthawk was a familiar summer sound to her, as were the GHO’s hoots – we had lots of both in our woods.

    One winter night I had the outstanding treat of listening to a chorus of several mate-seeking GHOs around my friend’s little valley, their calls echoing against the hills. One was particularly loud, and I tracked him/her to the top of the power pole behind the house, not but about 30 feet from where I stood, still in the circle of the back-porch light. AWESOME SIGHT AND SOUNDS!!! I didn’t know then, that there were people like you who professionally record such things, or you would have gotten a phone call!

    Then there was the night of the fledgling owlets, screaming like panthers at their parents who would not feed them until they flew. That’s a sound you should definitely capture!

  4. I, too, love these significant sound events. As for length, I would aim for the longer end of 2 to 4 minutes.

  5. I say if they’re already long, why cut them. There is always the option of exiting the page. I personally love long-playing listening experiences…. you get even more variation, and also can spend more time in the mood.

  6. I like these significant sound events too. I could easily imagine the middle of the night deep in the woods when certain creatures are stirring. I’m glad you are there too and can bring it to us while we sip coffee at a sane hour in a comfortable chair.
    Just saw our first RWB at our feeder here in Canadice.

  7. This is beautiful, night sounds so striking and yet peaceable, perhaps because they are familiar ones to me. In an episode of the Kipper TV series for tots, Kipper (the dog) begins reading from his book, “Deep in the middle of the dark. dark wood, there lived a horrible, horrendous, terrible, tremendous…” (that’s all we know, perhaps you will finish the tale for us?)

    I’d enjoy listening to collections of these ‘significant sound events’ with your captions included, a la books on tape. Great both for learning and just the sheer pleasure of being transported into the event. I’d also want the fabulous accompanying images such as this handsome GHO, commingled in some format.

  8. This is cool…when the deer snorted my cats both jumped and ran…there ears went back and eyes got big. I don’t here these owls around here much….mostly barred. I did hear a Great Grey one time while camping in the U.P of Michigan. Brief or long they are all great no matter how many minutes long I love listening to these recordings.

  9. Hi Lang.
    I like the significant sound events as well as the “easy listening” recordings. Both give me windows into behavior and sounds outside of my routine/habitat. As for their length, I vote for two to four minutes in length.
    Thank you for sharing them with us!

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