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Friday, January 28, 2022

Voices from the Flats – Gus the Stud Muffin

By Wickersham’s Conscience

WC’s house is the home to two owls, a Boreal Owl and a Great Grey Owl. They aren’t a huge inconvenience, once you get used to the frozen mice thawing in the refrigerator. But last night for Alaska Bird Observatory’s Owlapalooza, WC and Mrs. WC hosted two visiting owls from Anchorage, Gus the Great Horned Owl and Ghost, a Snowy Owl.

Gus went into the deck owl mew. Ghost stayed in a kennel in the house. At about full darkness, Gus started calling. And called all night. About 1:00 AM, Gus started getting a response. In fact, as things lightened up this morning and the concert continued, it was apparent he had called in a female Great Horned Owl. Gus is a stud muffin.

An elderly stud muffin; Bird TLC reports he was probably born in 1991, which makes him a grey beard in Great Horned Owl years.

But the lady he called in was beautiful.

Great Horned Owl (Female)Great Horned Owl (Female)

What’s not like about this pretty lady? What’s not to like about Gus, if he can call in a girl like this?

Of course, they were calling (you can’t properly call an owl’s call a “song”) all night. Loudly. In Great Horned Owls, calling is a pretty serious physical effort: you lean far forward, raise your tail, fluff out your white bib and let go a series of hoots.

Great Horned Owl CallingGreat Horned Owl Calling

Birds of North America describes it as a “‘solemn, deep-toned hooting’ with ‘great carrying power . . . likened . . . to the sound of a distant foghorn, soft, somewhat tremulous, and subdued hoot, with little or no accent,’ of 3–6 notes.” The female’s vocalizations are distinctly higher-pitched than the male. And occasionally Gus and his girl sang together, harmonizing, which was utterly charming.

Over the course of an entire night, the charm wore off a bit. WC can only wonder what the neighbors must think.

Inspection this morning showed the deck mew had been chewed up pretty good, from the outside. Great Horned Owls usually breed in late January or early February at these latitudes. Unseasonable owl lust? Or territorial defense? Anchorage’s owls seducing Fairbanks owls? WC will let readers project their attitudes on the story. Write your own ending.

But Gus will spend his second and last night in Fairbanks in his kennel in the garage. If only to let WC get some sleep.



29 Responses to “Voices from the Flats – Gus the Stud Muffin”
  1. Fred says:

    In the late 50’s my dad heard an owl hooting on winter night. He took me out side after getting a piece of fur from my mothers sewing and a piece of string. We stood against the house and dad made a squeaking sound by pursing his lips. he then pulling the fur a few inches while squeaking. A great horned owl came accross the field from about 200 yards away flying straight for the ball of fur.

  2. LA Brian says:

    Every time I hear alarm or sirens or police helicopters in the night I’m going to pretend that they’re just calling for a lady fire truck to respond in kind. Thanks for the stories.

  3. tallimat says:

    Okay, it is 10:30 pm on a beautiful, crisp Saturday night and your leaving Gus in the cage?
    Ah, come on now, let the stud out. Just let Gus stir up the local flavor. How often are the females gonna get called by a Anchorage gent?

    Personally, I think this is a Squarebanks form of deprivation. Perhaps it’s the Chena river water? Did WC drink too much of it and now feels
    obligated to deprive a out of town stud some local flavor.
    Think of the local females WC. Think of them… sigh… Poor gals.

  4. Wonderful photos and a charming story. What could be better.

  5. Sweet story, but I feel rather sad for Gus who worked so hard to find a girlfriend and ended up in the garage.

    • benlomond2 says:

      most husbands can empathize with Gus… the garage seems to be the last “Man Cave” available to us after we get married….

    • mikefromiowa says:

      How do you suppose the “Mrs” feels when she bats her eyelids and sends out that unmistakable “come hither” look and the slob ends up in the garage looking at past collections of Birds Of a Feather with glossy centerfolds?

  6. slipstream says:

    I have tried “solemn, deep-toned hooting” but have not had much success with it.

    • Have you tried fluffing out your white bib?

      • benlomond2 says:

        I don’t want to be around when he “raises his tail”……eeeeeewwwwwwww!!!!

    • juneaudream says:

      Hints from..the to bird tones. Focus upon the bird..and almost meditate..upon the tone. ( For many..not in tune with the real pun intended this will seem is not. It is needfull to ..become ready..for attacking a tonal level/pattern..and timing.) You are outside..walking ..or standing..not sitting. You need your entire focus upon the sounds you are hearing..because you also need to ..start ..feeling the resonance..and thinking of your body as a..tuning fork..and your mind, and concentrate upon using slight body movements..not just thinking that..’vocalisations’ the job. Opening ones mouth..may often create an additional ..vibratory receiving ..station/ to speak. takes time..thus..long times focus..and to learn the times when calling is happening, and the decoding of the single sentry..vs the entire murder of ..say crows. The patterns of quail, the owl..the the yards across the world..are as spices and herbal calmatives. If we seek..we will find..and become gentle when needful..and ..walk-strong..when must. They are all..our Family.

  7. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    At home we have various owls, I have seen great horned, spotted, and one or two other varieties. Here in Brasil I have seen owls when driving late at night but have never been able to identify any of them. I saw my first owl in the wild when I was about 6 years old. It was sitting in a pine tree about 20 feet off the ground and was probably a great horned, it was large and beautiful. Later a falconer came to my school and demonstrated several birds. He had a snowy owl and he flew it from one of his assistants to the stage admonishing us to be quiet and listen to the flight. You could not hear a thing. The owl was like a ghost.He also demonstrated that they cannot turn their heads on their necks 360 degrees but they can turn them so fast if you don’t watch closely you will miss it.

    WC – I read your blog daily but I cannot comment there and can’t find any evidence of an email that is accessible. Keep up the good work. Your perspective is interesting. One final curiosity. I missed doing a doctorate at UA Fairbanks in geophysics by a gnat’s eyebrow. I would have had a different life I am quite sure. Instead I ended up at U Mass in igneous petrology. Small world.

  8. leenie17 says:

    Don’t think I’ve ever heard an owl around my house, but I did have sparrows nesting in the attic vent just above my bedroom window for several years. They built the nest in between the vent slats and the wire mesh that was supposed to keep critters out of the attic. Apparently, if they pushed it just a little, it became quite the perfect spot to build a first class abode (safe from all predators) and raise some babies.

    Unfortunately for me, once the young ‘uns hatched, they made quite a racket every morning, just as the sun came up, yelling for their breakfast. Since I was out of school for the summer and back to my natural sleep cycle (reading until the wee hours and sleeping late), I did not appreciate being awakened at the crack of dawn by a chorus of surprisingly loud cheeps. Amazing how such tiny lungs can make so much danged noise!

  9. Zyxomma says:

    Lovely photos. I didn’t know owls could be supermodels.

  10. jimzmum says:

    We share our woods with a Great Horned Owl, name of Orson, who more or less let us know that we are just here on his benevolence. I adore him. We keep chicken livers ready for him when he lets loose with his song in the middle of the night. He was tempted by a hussy from down on the river, alas not long ago. He just drops by now and then to claim his liver. I just love that feller.

  11. the problem child says:

    Such a lovely lady that stud owl called in. I’ll bet he slept well the next day.

  12. mikefromiowa says:

    Growing up I reveled in the tales of Bubo the owl,Vulpes and Fulva the red foxes and Vison the mink,characters created and written about by Jan and Jean George.The books were informative and interesting as I had all those critters and more hanging around NW Ioway for my enjoyment. In his book-Wild Animals I Have Known-Ernest Thompson Seton descibed the call of the Saw-Whet-Owl as tonka-tonka-teenk,if memory serves. I have screech owls and some hig hooters around the farm in the winter time. The screech owls used to follow me around about dusk,when I did cattle chores towards dark. I would often catch mice in the chicken house and leave them on a snowbank for the owls. Come morning the mice would be gone. I love the mostly nocturnal birds of prey. The Little River Band wrote the song “The Nightowls” about yours truly,although they would never admit in public. Them there owl pictures are prettier than Ashton Kutcher,just like me.

    • Mag the Mick says:

      Big hooters around the farm? Sounds like Mike is getting lucky!

      • mikefromiowa says:

        Mag-next Friday I am heading in your general direction. I have an appointment in Dakota Dunes(South Dakota) to see a neuro-specialist for my aching lower back,right knee and hip.It is about 80 miles from my place in a general South Westerly direction. Maybe I will see you there. Gotta a nooner with the doc.

        • Mag the Mick says:

          I will stand in a high sopt and wave towards the north-east.

          • mikefromiowa says:

            The Ocheyedan mounds, just a short snort North of Mikey is the highest spot in Iowa at about 6 inches above sea level. Used to be an Indian ski slope or something way back when.. Have a pleasant everything from Iowa.

  13. Moose Pucky says:

    Awww. Love this. Photos and story.

  14. Mag the Mick says:

    Here in the Southwest, in the Hispanic and local Native cultures, owls are troubling figures, and hearing their calls is not a good thing. However, I loved hearing and seeing them up in Alaska, and I love anyone who has anything to do with the Bird Treatment and Learning Center, one of the most worthy non-profits in the state. Thanks for these pictures.

    • mikefromiowa says:

      The owl is a messenger. It means someone is gonna die. The owl told Grampa Reaches about Leo Fast Elk. Mr. Magoo is crazy. He needs to go up to the mountains and get himself focused. Don’t trust Mr. MaGoo.

    • BeeJay says:

      I saw four ravens playing in the breezes out here today on the flats (mesquite-type, not mud – Mag knows!). An unknown number of hummingbirds stopping by the feeders today for some road food, Black Chinned, Rufous, and a horde of immatures, all looking alike. The Harris’ hawks are back in good numbers up in the central valley, royally looking over their domains from high atop the power poles. Lots of Yellow Chats around here, generally mucking things up too.

      Fall is here at long last!

  15. juneaudream says:

    Smiling have…assorted barn owls..who go through a couple of periods of ”chatting up”…each other. .Usually a couple..but sometimes a couple o couples..and yes..the conversation ..can go on..for awhile. My dad could call in any bird on the traplines..and I learned only owl and crow. I speak now..rather bloody-poor owl..but decent crow. Thank you so much for the storyline, and the photos..lovely ‘touch’ the real world. One can..almost smell that ..haylike, warm..feather dander.

  16. AKPetMom says:

    We have a Saw-Whet Owl that resides in our forest. Last Spring he outdid himself, he was vociferous, all night, for almost an entire month from mid March thru mid April. We’ve only seen him once; all 8 inches of him perched on a branch near our back deck. We hear him much more than see him!

    Thanks for the photos of the Great Horned; what a beauty!

    Here’s the link to the Saw Whet Call:

    On the same page there are sounds for the Great Horned Owl but none of them are from Alaskan Owls.

    We used this page to identify the Saw Whet that was keeping us up nights.

  17. Lynn in VA says:

    Amazing photos… thank you for sharing