The Cry of the Wild

Barred Owl

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.

3 thoughts on “The Cry of the Wild

  1. It’s interesting that you mention the study of horses exposed to wolf howls. Not far from where I live is a wolf sanctuary, “Wolf Haven” in Tenino, Washington. They have grey wolves, most of them having been released by stupid people who think a pet wolf is a really great idea. Or worse, crossing them with domesticated dogs, which inevitably means disaster.
    The grey wolves and wolf/dog crosses never leave Wolf Haven.

    Wolf Haven is involved in breeding red wolves and the grey wolf subspecies, the “Mexican” wolf for eventual reintroduction to their historical ranges (the red wolf in the Southeast US and the Mexican into New Mexico and Arizona.

    Coyotes are very common here, most horses I know ignore their calls.

    Horses definitely know the difference between a wolf and a coyote, despite tens of generations without ever having heard a wolf.

    An acquaintance of mine bought a farm near Wolf Haven, with a barn and pastures for her horses. When she installed her horses in their new pastures/barn, the first several days and nights, the horses reacted with fear and panic when they heard wolves howling. These weren’t recordings,they were live howls, and the horses knew it.

    But, of course, once they realized that the wolves weren’t near them, they’ve subsequently learned to ignore them.

    1. I hope those wolves are well contained! Friday afternoon, I found a very large coyote sleeping in Freedom’s pasture. In the rain. When I walked down to check it out, he reluctantly exited the field, only to return a few minutes later to roam the girls’ pasture. He looked like he was hunting mice. None of the horses paid him a bit of mind, so I wonder if there was more going on with the howling that night. They are certainly comfortable with a single coyote.

  2. I seriously doubt the coyote will hurt your horses. Equines are, one, far too big and two, even being domesticated horses, they still have the instincts to protect themselves against smaller predators like a coyote. As you note, they’re fabulous mousers. As are your barred owls.

    I have barn owls living in a nest box we put up years ago. They produce a brood every every year, in fact, this year they bred twice and at this moment still have two babies in the box. I don’t have rodents, even though we feed the wild birds. The owls…and we have several species here, not just barns…do a great job at keeping the rabbits and small rodents down.

    Barred owls call is the “who cooks, who cooks for you allllll”.
    There’s a woman who does raptor rehab near my home. She has several different species of owls in captivity, all of whom can’t be released as they’ve been injured so severely that they could no longer survive in the wild. For instance, her great horned was blinded by flying into a wire. The ones that are brought to her to for medical care and that can be released, are. The captive ones she takes to schools to teach kids about owls and how we need to protect them.

    The barred owl she has is like a dog. He’s friendly, demands head and neck scritches, PLEASE, and does a little dance if he doesn’t get them!!

Leave a Reply