For the Birds: Scary Halloween Birds

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Barn Owl by Kervin Keatley

By Christine Southwick

You’re walking in the dark in your Halloween costume, the wind is slightly blowing, making the trees groan, when you suddenly hear a loud scream and hiss! What was that??? And is that floating white thing coming toward you???

Coming to get you! - not really
Barred owl by Sandra Rothenberg

For centuries, the innocent, farmer-friendly, Barn Owl has been scaring people out of their wits with their “ungodly” screams and other sounds. Almost any unidentified night sound can be frightening, especially if it seems to come out of nowhere, and then disappear into thin air!

Floating eyes moving in the night—is that a ghost, or one of our local Barred Owls silently moving through the forest? And beware! During breeding and brood dispersal seasons, owls will hurry intruders out of their territories by strafing them with their talons, their only weapon. So leave quickly. Once they stop chasing you, you can turn around and watch as they return to their favorite roost. They have definite boundaries which they inforce, and don’t seem to mind trespassers once they have been expelled.

Leucistic Fox Sparrow (Discovery Park)
by Kathy Slettebak
Owls and Northern Harriers often hunt at dusk or early dawn, and their ethereal ups and downs can either awe you, or run chills down your spine. Add wisps of fog, and night winging-creatures can become downright creepy.

What about common birds that seem to be ghostly tinted instead of the normal coloring? Are this cursed birds, or just look like they are possessed?

Some birds are leucistic, meaning that some of the species-normal pigments are missing, creating white feathers, often in patches. If this leucism is caused by genetics, then that bird will stay that way for life.

If the colors are strange due to nutrition, then after the bird’s next molt, the feathers may come in the commonly accepted colors. (Albino birds lack melanin, creating permanently white birds with pink eyes.)

leucistic chickadee
And why are Common Ravens often associated with witches? Could it be that people fear birds that will feast on exposed bodies—animal or human, perhaps even vampire bodies?

Really, for most humans, any unusual noise at night sets our nerves on edge. Peoples have created all types of stories and myths about night-travelers, scary sounds, and unexplained happenings that can cause people to start running, fall down and even hurt themselves. At least they thought they were alone…



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