Listening to the sounds of night can be rewarding and sometimes scary (see Lang’s post). Armed with some knowledge of what these sounds are will assuage your fears, creating a feeling of joy and reward when you hear something that you recognize.
Among these amazing night-time sounds are the calls of the Eastern Screech-owl. These diminutive denizens of the dark are heard far more often than seen. About the size of a robin, they spend the day tucked up against the trunk of a tree or hidden within an old woodpecker hole. Occasionally, you might see an Eastern Screech-owl sitting in the entrance of a hole or nest box, seemingly sunning itself late in the afternoon.
Once the sun sets and the woods become quiet, the little screech-owls may start to call. Although they can be heard calling year-round, Eastern Screech-owls call more often from late June through mid-November. There are several calls that are used for different purposes: the tremolo is used for pair and family contact; the whinny call is used in territorial defense; and impressive squeals and bill snaps are given when there is a perceived threat to the nest or young.
Tremolo and whinny calls of a pair of Eastern Screech-owls. Frederick Co., MD. 1998 ©Wil Hershberger
A pair of Eastern Screech-owls engaged in squealing and bill snapping (the so-called “chuckle-rattle calls”) in response to my imitations of their tremolo calls. Frederick Co., MD. 1998 ©Wil Hershberger