Barred Owl in My Backyard


Barred owl. Copyright : Lynn Bystrom,

I’m always on the alert for animals, even in the city. I spend a large part of my day proofreading and apply that same Where’s Waldo scan to every tree I walk past.


Black and white warbler. Copyright : Marie-Ann Daloia,

Just two weeks ago, I noticed a small black and white bird on the tree that separates my office window from a view of Freedom Plaza and discovered it was a black and white warbler. I have never seen one before, so this was exciting. It moved quickly and the window washers hadn’t been around in a little while, resulting in blurry attempts to capture an image of the little guy. Thankfully, real photographers exist so you can see a picture.

In all my enthusiasm, unfortunately, sometimes I’m the woman who cried bird. While scanning highways and forests, I’ve been known to get excited over nothing. I mistook many white plastic bags high up in trees for snowy owls during the great snowy owl visit a couple of years ago.

But what happened last night was unmistakable. Around 1:30 am (Happy Autumn, everyone!), I was woken up by the clear “who cooks, who cooks for you all” call. At first I just laid there wondering if I had dreamed it. Or maybe some taxi driver who really loves birds got carried away choosing a horn sound for his car. Sure enough, after several seconds I heard the call again, loud and close, from somewhere out back by the trees that line the alley. I couldn’t see anything in the dark from my window, and the neighbor’s house light made any chance of spotting silhouettes impossible.

Then, as I was fumbling for my phone to try to get a recording, I heard squawking and considered there might be two of them. And then they were gone. While I wasn’t able to get a good recording, you can hear the same sounds I heard in the first two recordings on The Cornell Lab of Ornithology site.

My backyard wilderness. Photo by CGIOS

Owls are around. Apparently, they’re known for victimizing joggers in Rock Creek Park. A few years ago, a woman posted on our community listserv that she heard a bunch of commotion at her door and opened it to find a saw-whet owl staring at her. I’m not as jealous as I used to be, now with the barred owl experience, but I’d still really love to see a saw-whet owl sometime. It’s more unusual to hear or see any owl in your backyard, the further away from Rock Creek Park you are.

This morning, while I took a quick stroll through the alley to look for any visual signs of the visitor (owl pellets or tree tracks), I was happy to greet our backyard resident rabbit who is still alive and hopping. Keep on, little buddy. It’s wild out there.

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