Alert readers will recall that I was blathering on recently about Blakiston’s Fish Owls and their haunting, low-pitched, flute-like duets. There were some details about the haunting, low-pitched, flute-like duets that were still bugging me so I got in touch with Jon Slaght PhD. Dr. Slaght literally and figuratively wrote the book on these somewhat shaggy owls and their musical proclivities.
I was curious about the sequencing of the hooting so I put this question to him via email:
Some sites are saying that for the call, the male issues one note that is answered almost simultaneously by its mate and then the sequence repeats for the “answer”. I feel like the mate punches out two hoots, then the female answers those with her two hoots. What sayest thou?
He obligingly answered:”Why are you using archaic English? That seems kind of weird to me. Also, don’t you have anything better to do with your time than email owl experts?”
I made that up. This was his actual reply:
Thanks for your email and the comments about the book! As for the calls: well, the owls kinda do it both ways. In Russia, where I work, it is definitely MFMF. But in Japan, it’s more of a three-note call: MMF. The female almost adds a second part to hers (MMFF) but it’s often barely (if at all) noticeable. I’m giving a free Zoom talk on Tuesday night, 7pm Eastern, that includes a video of the Russian duet. You can clearly see it’s MFMF…
And he’s right. Here’s the lecture. Personally, I think you should listen to the whole thing but if you’re the type of person who just wants to get to the bottom of things, jump in at about 23:58 where you will see two owls perched on a branch. The male is on the left and Judging by the large swelling on his throat, he either has a thyroid problem or he’s preparing to hoot. The tension continues to build until 23:49 (give or take) where you will be rewarded with a MFMF duet.
There. Wasn’t that great? I promise I’m almost done with these owls. Almost. I just have one more thing to get off my chest.
Below we have James Spader, aka notorious criminal mastermind Raymond Reddington, in a posh restaurant, saving the life of what he claims is a Blakiston’s Fish Owl. (It was about to be cooked and eaten.) Per the subtitle, “Red” actually does say, “Nobody touches the bird.” (You can see the clip at: https://www.facebook.com/NBCBlacklist/videos/2259916850972054/)
And yes, the man holding the owl is wearing night vision goggles in case you weren’t sure.
But that aside, you have now joined the ranks of a relatively small group of people who will be deeply moved when they happen to watch that Black List episode. At the critical juncture you will get up out of your chair, go to the window, open it and start ranting like Peter Finch in Network: “I’m as excited as hell and I can’t take this any more. I totally know about these owls! Thank you Lateral Thinking Department!”
You’re welcome. The pleasure is all mine.
I just want to leave you with an excerpt from a site that lists spirit animals according to birth month, according to Native American tradition. Owls made the list for Sagittarius (mid November to mid December):
I guess I must have been born under the wrong stars because according to that site, my spirit animal happens to be the woodpecker. Oh well, you play the hand you’re dealt and you dance with the spirit animal that brought you.
And just remember the old proverb: “Better to be a woodpecker living in a forest full of pine trees than to be a fish owl living near a river with no salmon.”
I may have made that last bit up.