Each morning I have been waking just before dawn. To the left is a picture of what I think my alarm clock looks like: an Eastern Screech Owl.
Whoever named these birds ‘screech’ owls must have been writing for a tabloid accustomed to exaggerating the truth. When I think of the word screech I imagine someone screaming horror film style or tires braking suddenly on a highway. Chalkboard nails. Record scratches. The long e suggests urgency and shrillness.
The sounds I hear from the actual bird are more like a percussion instrument. It makes a kind of rattling sound. Like dry bones. A skeleton laughing. The dry humour you might hear in emergency rooms, I suppose. Check it out. Click here and go to the ‘monotonic trills’ if you want to experience the magic for yourself.
Just before dawn — I assume just before it goes to sleep — it kind of goes mad with delight. It sings and sings and sings. Remember when Dracula tells us about wolves, the children of the night … what music they make … blah.blah.blah … well, Dracula was dead wrong on this point. I have nothing against wolves but it is the owl who is the star performer of the night.
Like everyone else nearby, I listen and wait. There are lots of false stops. Eventually, some mourning dove will lose patience and drop a tentative questioning coo into the darkness. Finished, yet?
Its work done, the owl exits the stage and magnanimously allows the sun to rise. The day shift may begin.