Who is Making All of that Racket?!… Now THAT is the Question!

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Shakespeare the Barred ~ photo by Doug Howe

It was a cold night, around 3 a.m., in the middle of March back in 2009. I was curled up under my blankets, sound asleep, when suddenly a horrible sound, like creepy, maniacal laughter, startled me awake! My heart pounded and I looked around wide-eyed, trying to locate and identify the source of the sound.

“Awgh-awgh-awgh-awgh-oo-WHOO!” called a deep voice from my backyard, followed by a similar answer nearby.

What IS that?!

My brain, still not fully awake, was conjuring up all kinds of images, none of which were even remotely accurate. After a moment, the fog of sleep cleared from my head, and I realized what was actually making all of that racket…

It’s just an owl.

Well, actually two owls courting each other. I breathed a sigh of relief and began to relax. I never actually saw them. It was still too dark and much too chilly (I was nice and toasty warm in my bed) to go looking for them. I lay there listening to them for a while until they finally quieted down… or I drifted back to sleep. I’m not sure which happened first.


“The clamorous owl, that nightly hoots and wonders
At our quaint spirits.”

~ William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream


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Shakespeare ~ photo by Doug Howe

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Shakespeare ~ photo by Doug Howe
My coworker took these photos of a barred owl that hangs out in his mother’s backyard. He and his family named it “Shakespeare the Barred”. I love the play on words! A very clever name indeed! Named after the legendary bard from the 14th century.

The next day when I got a chance, I hopped on the internet, determined to identify the species of owl that I had heard during the night. It had a deep, boisterous voice. It sounded big, but it didn’t sound like the great horned owls I was more familiar with.

I listened to various audio recordings of owls in the Missouri area until I finally found a recording that sounded like my bird. It was a Barred Owl!

The barred owl, at around 20″ tall and weighing about 1.6 lbs, is Missouri’s 2nd largest owl (the great horned owl being slightly bigger and much more aggressive). It has a wingspan of about 3.5 feet. As is typical with other raptors, the females are larger than the males. It is gray-brown with white barring above, pale with dark horizontal barring on its upper chest and has dark vertical streaking below. The barred owl has big brown eyes (unlike the yellow eyes of most owls) and a yellow bill.

Barred owls are common throughout the eastern United States and usually live in mature coniferous or mixed woods, often near water. They are very vocal, using a series of hoots, screams, barks and what sounds like laughter. Although they are active at night, they may hunt by night or day, but mostly at dusk and dawn. In fact, barred owls are more likely to be heard during the day than other owls. Its trademark call sounds like “Who-cooks-for-you? Who-cooks-for-you-all?”

Late winter to early spring is the start of the breeding season. 3-4 eggs are laid in February or March in abandoned bird or squirrel nests, tree cavities or stumps. The eggs are incubated mainly by the female for 4 weeks. The chicks leave the nest at 4 weeks, but they don’t fledge until 6 weeks, so they climb on and hang out on the branches next to the nest before they’re able to fly. This is called “branching”. After they fledge, young barred owls will typically stay with their parents for about 6 months so they can learn how to hunt. Their diet consists mainly of mice, small mammals, birds, frogs and snakes.


To learn more about the barred owl or hear some calls, visit the National Audubon Society’s Audubon Field Guide. I particularly enjoy the “pair hootin-it-up” sound byte! 🙂

Did you know…

  • Barred owls are sometimes called the Laughing Owl or Hoot Owl.
  • The great horned owl is a predator of the barred owl.
  • Barred owls sometimes wade knee-deep into water to catch fish or crayfish with their feet.
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Evening Lullaby

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One of my favorite things to do in the summer months is to sit out on the patio in the evening to unwind after a long day. My yard has always been a peaceful sanctuary for me, especially in the evenings. It’s cooler, for one, especially since my patio is on the east side of the house. The hustle and bustle at the feeders starts winding down and the birds start singing their evening songs. I’ll usually hear the hummingbirds buzzing around the sugar feeder to my right a few more times before they too call it a night. Meanwhile, the gray treefrog that’s been camped out in one of my windchime pipes during the day pokes his head out to start singing, his voice sounding hollow and tinny from within the pipe. More frogs in other yards start answering. The crickets, too start their nightly chorus, a nice backdrop to some of the other evening sounds.

The female bluebird has returned to the nest box for the evening. She’s got eggs. At last check, I counted three, but I suspect there is at least one more. Sadly, this is not my original female. The first one was driven away after her mate was tragically killed last week. I’m not certain, but I believe it was a territorial dispute that went horribly wrong. I was quite upset when I found him and carried him up to his final resting place in the woods. Still, life goes on, and while I’m not seeing the first brood of bluebirds that fledged in my yard anymore, I can look forward to seeing a whole new batch of babies in the coming weeks.

The mockingbird is going through his repertoire of songs. I like to see which bird songs that I recognize from his list. A woodpecker drums somewhere in the woods, while a robin chirps his goodnights. Occasionally, I see a bat flying overhead, busily catching insects on the wing. “Eat all the mosquitoes you want, little one! You’re always welcome over my yard!”

The light is starting to wane now and the moon starts to shine a little brighter. My solar lights throughout the yard are starting to come on. Soon it will be too dark to write, but for now, I will sit here and enjoy my evening lullaby, and let the stress of the week just float away.

gray treefrog sitting on my windchimes

gray treefrog sitting on my windchimes

gray treefrog on my siding

gray treefrog on my siding

Solar lights going on by the pond. There are the windchimes that my frog is sitting on.

Solar lights going on by the pond. There’s the windchimes that my frog is sitting on.

Light by the "bird garden".

Light by the “bird garden”.

Somebody was clinging to my patio door! :)

Somebody was clinging to my patio door! 🙂