At this time of year, the barred owls are very vocal. One of my favorite things to do, when riding in the late afternoon is follow their calls and try to find them. This is a somewhat futile endeavor, as they are difficult to spot, especially at dusk, but when there are two owls calling to each other, the echoes of their cries through the woods, is magical. Note: the photo on this page is a barred owl, but it was taken in the spring when I disturbed it during a walk.
This week the owls have been particularly loud. Zelda and set off to search for them. I think she enjoys the calls as much as I do. Or maybe she likes when we stop and listen for the owls. I thought we were getting close, when the next sound was a howl. Then several more. It seems that in our pursuit of owls, we had disturbed a pack of coyotes.
The change in Zelda’s demeanor was immediate. She halted and refused to go forward. No way, mom, she said very clearly. I guess owls are one thing and coyotes are another. Rather than surprise several of them out hunting, I decided to listen to her; we left the owls to their serenade and hoofed it back home.
Her reaction made me think of an article I read recently, Do domesticated horses still respond to the cries of predators? In a paper just published in the journal BMC Veterinary Research, researchers exposed 19 horses to the recorded vocalizations of the gray wolf and the Arabian leopard to test whether domesticated horses have a genetically encoded response to threats from predators.?
The answer was yes, but not much. The responses to the vocalizations was weak. In fact, changes to the heart-rate levels recorded in the study suggested that the horses were more interested in the sounds rather than frightened by them.
The researchers conclude that by domesticating horses, we’ve made them dependent on humans and less able to react to threats on their own. However, given Zelda’s response, she certainly found the coyotes calls to be a deterrent. Of course, there may have been a lot more going on than I could here.
I think we will stick to owling.