First discovered in Virginia, their Latin name is Bubo virgianus, after Queen Elizabeth I, the virgin queen.
I've learned to stand on the deck and mimic them, and invariably the one on the top of the cedar tree off the kitchen will crane his or her neck (for their necks turn 270 degrees) and talk back to me, sometimes carrying on a lengthy conversation. How stupid, I thought. I've sometimes focused a flash light in their yellow eyes, meanie me. They are quite huge, and when they alight, which is silent, the top of the tree bounces. I marvel at the wing span, three to five feet. They have excellent sight, which improves in the dark, and their hearing is even better. Strangely the ear tufts, from which they get their name, have nothing to do with hearing, being just tufts of hair. What makes their hearing so good is that the right ear is set higher than the left, giving better sound (up and down) elevation.
Last Wednesday night about midnight the first arrival of the season started hooting, only this time from the rose garden side and the call was hoo hoo hoo hoo. I found that terribly disconcerting. It took me two hours to get back to sleep, as it puzzled me so. Was this my same talkative owl? Was she hurt or lost or looking for her mate? I've since researched and found that it is a known variation. Of course an owl's life span in the wild is 13 years, so in the almost fifty years I've lived here, I calculated, I've probably hosted four or five generations. This awareness came in the night, as I tried to unweave the puzzle.
Synchronicity rears its head again. For the last twenty five years or so, I've been troubled with a hearing loss, a rather strange one, so the experts say, which I experience as stressful. Audiologist after audiologist has tested me and pronounced my loss so slight as to be untreatable.
Recently I've been consulting a Walnut Creek audiologist, who is very much into the science of sound. After eleven hours of testing (believe me, I've counted) he fitted me today with temporary hearing aids. He explained that it remains to be seen if my brain will learn to accommodate the difference in sound from what I am used to hearing. Hmm. I had always thought of hearing as in the ear, not the brain. When I told him my owl story of this week he shared his own back yard owl story, which was not so different than mine. Perhaps I am going to revise my opinion of Great Horns as being more than giant dumb birds!