Owl Screams and Elk Bugles

photo of Barred Owl from iStockPhotoEveryone knows that Barred Owls hoot, but have you ever heard a Barred Owl scream? I’m not talking about the hissy screeches made by begging young—I’m referring to full-bodied screams produced by adults? I have only heard this several times in my life and I’ve never been able to record it. In fact, I was of the opinion that nobody had a good recording of this call until my friend and fellow recordist Bruce Rutkoski posted a wonderful example on his NatureGuyStudio web site blog.

What a fabulous recording! Bruce got the owl screams accidently, while gathering recordings of bugling Elk at a remote location in the wilds of northwestern Pennsylvania (where there is an introduced population of Elk). Apparently, the Barred Owl screamed in response to the Elk bugles (the owl screams are indicated with pointers). What an arresting soundscape!:

Elk bugles and a Barred Owl screams. 23 September 2007. Gilmore Trail in northwestern Pennsylvania. Recording © Bruce Rutkoski.

photo of Bruce RutkoskiThank you Bruce for sharing this with us! Also, everyone please check out Bruce’s web site and all the wonderful soundscape CDs he is has up for sale: NatureGuy Studio.


  1. Beautiful recording. I live on the coast of BC, and have had the pleasure of hearing elk bugling. There is a Barred Owl who lives near by, one of it’s favourite places to call is just outside my bedroom. I can honestly say the first few times I heard it, it freaked me right out! You’re right though, I have looked up many Barred owl sounds and haven’t heard that scream caught so well! I was doubting it was a Barred owl the first few times I tried to identify it, as this one seems to love to scream. It also seems to have a sense of humour – flew down and swiped my friend’s fuzzy touque right off his head one night. They are such beautiful birds, so curious and bold compared to most owls!

  2. I’ve never heard a Barred Owl scream, but I have heard the famous “Who cooks for you, Who cooks for you all.”

  3. I commonly hear barred owls where I live in the woods in SW NH. I have heard this scream. The sounds that are the most entertaining and spooky, especially if you don’t know what they are, are when two owls get started making very animated calls that sound like a family squabble. There is a good recording of this kind of interaction here, starting at about 00:40 and repeated at intervals: http://www.birdsongid.com/audio/spectrograms/barredowl/pair_duet/

  4. What a wonderful recording! I didn’t even know Barred Owls did scream until I first read this blog. The elk sounds are amazing and eerie at the same time. If you heard that at night and didn’t know what is was, it would scare the crap out of you.

    My Aunt Patti, who lives in Pennsylvania, visited my family in June this year. I asked her if she’s ever seen elk back in Pennsylvania and she said yes. I should’ve asked asked if she’s ever heard an elk bugle or and owl scream.

  5. What a great sound recording this is! Thanks for posting it for all to hear. Congrats on capturing it.

    Last weekend, I was out at night in my canoe nosed up to the shore, leaning out with my camera shooting a Bullfrog, when a Barred Owl screamed from a tree about 50′ away. My hair stood up for a few seconds, though I knew instantly what it was. I have heard them do this several other times. I’ll bet it was trying to scare me away so it could catch the frog.

    I feel pretty sure this Owl knows me, since I spend so much time along this stretch. In fact it was probably the same one that watched me thread a worm onto my hook about two years ago, then flew out to grab my bobber as soon as it hit the water. It then proceeded to pull me and my canoe around to a log, while I was trying to change my camera from macro to distance while playing / holding the rod.

    I didn’t get the camera ready fast enough with one hand, before it climbed out of the water onto a log, where it cleaned my hook. Sometimes two hands are just not enough. ha

  6. Lang,

    In two years of owl surveys I only heard this once, on my very first night. It was midnight, my last stop, pitch dark – and the Barred responded to the tape with a blood-curdling scream. Scared the bejeebers out of me.

  7. Never having heard either screaming Barred Owls or Elk bugles, this recording could easily be used at Halloween.

  8. Wow. I can’t tell you how fortunate/blessed I feel you are to have experienced that moment. Thank you for capturing it on a recording.

    BTW, this could be a hit if sold to Hollywood for the horror genre…

  9. We had a Bard owl who every morning at 3 AM would laugh like an insane woman. Somewhere, I have that recording.
    It took us weeks to find out what was making that sound. It also imitated raccoons fighting.

  10. Yeah, that was some cool nature recording there…

    I can’t remember if I’ve heard BROWs doing that before. I know I have never heard elk bugle live. Another fun and informative recording. Great job, Bruce!

  11. This is great. A powerful contrapuntal duet. Is this really in PA though? Thanks for posting Lang. I could listen to this for about 1o minutes. (and I loved your talk at SSW at the bird club meeting, it was inspiring and thought provoking)

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