By: Wendy Langhans
This is the third in our series on owls – our localnight-flying birds of prey. When youhead outdoors on Halloween night, we want you to be prepared for things that go“whooo…” in the night.
Do you remember the sound of a jump rope as it slices throughthe air like a knife? The “whooshing”sound made at “full pepper speed” during a seriously competitive jump ropecontest?
Or for you movie buff’s, how about the sound of IndianaJones’ whip, the “whew” sound just before the staccato crack at the end?
That’s the sound made by the wing feathers of a raven as itflaps its wings through the air. And ifI can hear it with my middle-aged ears, so can other ground-dwellingcreatures. These feather noises pose aproblem for night-time hunters like the WesternScreech Owl (otus kennicottii), whose rodent prey is especially sensitiveto high-frequency sounds.
Like the GreatHorned Owl and BarnOwl we’ve featured over the last two weeks, the Western Screech Owl foundthroughout much of North America, including suburban backyards. It’s a small bird, weighing about 1/3 lbs,about 8 1/2” long with a wingspan of 18-20”. They vary in color from gray to brown and have a mottled pattern. Theseowls are active at night, hunting small animals like insects and rodents.
So how do these owls manage to fly quietly? The secret is found in the design of theirfeathers; they have two “stealth” adaptations. (1) The first two or threeprimary feathers at the outer edge of the wing have a fringed edge. This muffles the noise from the feather as itpasses through the air. (2) The wing andtail feathers have a velvety pile the muffles the noise as they slide acrosseach other.
We give them the name “Screech Owl” because of the soundthey make: “who…who…who…trill”. But if I were a wary rodent, my name for themwould be “Stealth Flyer”.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Weekend Errands. Nowyou can recycle your compact fluorescent light bulbs at your local HomeDepot Store. Take your expired, unbroken lamps to the returns counter atany Home Depot Store. According torecent Waste Management newsletter, one CFL can save $30 in energy costs overits lifetime, reduce coal consumption by 200 pounds and prevent more than 400pounds of greenhouse gas emission. Butcarry those expired bulbs carefully, because they contain toxins.
Saturday, October 25th 8:30-noon. Make a Difference Day Project at Pico Canyon.
Come join your neighbors at Mentryville in Pico Canyon. We will be pulling Tamarisk from the streambed in Pico Canyon. Bring water and adigging tool. Perfect tools include a round nosed shovel, a pick, or crowbar/rock bar. You must RSVP. For information about Make a Difference Day,click here.
For maps and directions to Pico Canyon, click here.
Sponsored by the Mountains Recreation and ConservationAuthority, City of Santa Clarita, Hands on Santa Clarita, Boston Scientific andCommunity Hiking Club.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radiostation KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and ConservationAuthority.