A Song for August 15

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If the playback aborts before the end, trying playing the sound from inside the checklist.

Great Horned Owls are common and tolerant of people. I hear them often in my neighborhood, which is solidly residential. But, they often seem to be in the distance. It's easy to record them, but not easy to record them up close. On this occasion, I heard one nearby and followed it down McBeth Road until I could get a clear "shot" at it. It's a majestic sound. The cut below is after it had moved off a bit.

Great Horned Owls are birds of lore. I will repeat one yarn here, told by fellow South Carolinian Alexander Sprunt. As I recall, I read it the A. C. Bent series, Life Histories of North American Birds, a wonderful source of anecdotes. But, I may have read it in Sprunt and Chamberlain's South Carolina Birdlife. In the days of raptor persecution, which Sprunt and many other conservationists opposed mightily and ultimately successfully, the raptor-haters would use pole traps to kill the hawks on their land. They didn't mind that they also killed owls. A baited leg-hold trap would be secured to the top of a fence post in an open field. When a raptor landed on the post to take the bait, its feet would become entangled, and there it would remain until dispatched, or more likely until it starved to death.

Sprunt once visited a property that deployed such traps and happened to see a Great Horned Owl flying around in broad daylight with a fencepost trailing below it. He was very impressed that an owl weighing three pounds was strong enough to pull a fence post out of the ground and then carry it off. He was even more impressed to return some time later and see a Great Horned dragging around two fence posts. Great Horneds do kill skunks, which are pretty big animals. Maybe the the traps were deployed on tobacco stakes or some other lightweight stock rather than a heavy fence post. Or maybe it's just a good story. Either way, don't take Great Horned Owls lightly.


In writing the commentary for these posts I have made extensive use of the invaluable bioacoustic resources listed below. For phylogenetic information, I often start with a web search of "Phylogeny of x," where x is an avian genus, family, or order. That is a hit-or-miss proposition. A recently-released resource that makes phylogenetic queries more systematic is the Birds of the World website from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. If you follow the link and type the name of an avian family into the search box, you will be able to visit a home page for that family that presents the number of genera and species, and an illustration for each genus. If you subscribe, you will get more information. Also available to subscribers is the Birds of the World species accounts. Rolled out in 2020, this is currently an amalgam of the Birds of North America series, that was initiated by the American Ornithologists' Union around 1990, a recently-initiated online equivalent for Neotropical Birds, and the Handbook of Birds of the World series that was produced by Lynx Edicions, also beginning in the 90s. BNA has been hosted by the Lab of O for some time, and they recently added HBW to their portfolio. Especially useful for my purposes is the Systematics History subsection of the BNA accounts. EBird still has its separate species pages for all the birds of the world. These feature photos, recordings, range maps, and numerical eBird statistics, but little text. Overall, the abundance and availability of resources is astounding. Never has so much been available to so many for so little.

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Email: web at archmcallum.com

Nathan D. Pieplow. 2017. Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Nathan D. Pieplow. 2019. Peterson Field Guide to Bird Sounds of Western North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Donald Kroodsma. 2005. The Singing Life of Birds. Houghton Mifflin.