Thursday, January 05, 2006
Anatomy of a Hoot
Territorial hooting is a thing unto itself. I prefer to call it "hormonal" hooting, "tail-cocked" hooting, or a "hoot-a-thon" since territorial hooting is also a mate-attracting thing and not just about territory.
Alice doesn't start her tail-cocked hoots until fall, but once they start they continue through until spring. It's a goofy looking thing to see. The first time I saw an image of a Great Horned Owl in this hooting posture, I just thought it was a really bad picture. Now I know better...it was a really GOOD and accurate picture!
This type of hoot is given repeatedly (not always at the same intervals). It is also given while leaning forward with wings drooped slightly and the tail cocked nearly vertically. As with all hoots, the gular sac (or throat pouch) puffs out like a frog with each syllable of the hoot, and the beak is SHUT. When Alice is really in the hooting mood, she sometimes will hold her gular sac slightly out/inflated between hoots, but I don't think it's humanly (owly?) possibly to hold it fully inflated when there isn't the big air movement of a hoot going on.
In between hoots, the head comes up slightly and the tail goes down slightly. Then the next hoot comes, the head goes down, the tail goes up, and the body and gular sac heave with the effort of each hoot.
Apparently just like it's tough to swallow when you're looking off to the side, it's not easy to hoot unless you're facing forward. And Alice always likes to face what she's hooting at--either me or one of the wild owls. If I move around behind her while she's doing a hoot-a-thon, she'll turn around to face me.
The slightest (appropriate) noise can distract a hooting owl, so sometimes you'll hear a long pause between hoots, messing up the normal rhythm. Cats and wild owls are the chief cause of this at our house.
It's funny to watch Alice "come down" from a hoot-a-thon. As she gradually peters out, her tail slowly drops below horizontal and eventually returns to the normal downward position.
So there you have it--more than you ever wanted to know about hooting. Now you're one of the few people on earth that know what a hooting owl and a croaking frog have in common....