Mid-Winter Wildlife Night Sounds

On otherwise quiet winter nights, the sounds of animals carry far with the leaves off the trees. Owls and foxes calls are often loud, and deer also can disturb the quiet.

The banshee-like calls of foxes at night can bring to mind all sorts of animal mayhem. While foxes, both red and grey, are seen during daylight hours, they are mainly nocturnal animals. Red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) mostly have red-colored fur with white under the neck and belly and on the tip of the tail, but variations in color seen in our area range from darker to nearly blond coloration. Grey foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) are typically grey in color, and can display some reddish or brown coloration on the sides and belly. Grey foxes have claws that enable them to climb trees to pursue prey. The calls of both species of fox are similar; sometimes described as a baby scream, or banshee-like high pitched howl. Winter is the time of year that foxes mate, and much of the screaming on dark winter nights is related to fox mating calls.

View a short YouTube video of a screaming red fox

Owls can hold their own with loud calls. Common to Frederick County are Barn Owls (Tyto alba), Great Horned Owls (Bubo virginianus), Barred Owls (Strix nebulosa), and Eastern Screech Owls (Megascopa asio). Female owls are slightly larger than the males. Barn Owls are grey with dark coloring and white underneath, are about 12 to 15 inches tall, weigh about a pound or more, and have a wingspan of about 3-1/2 feet. Courting calls at night are a spaced, loud “awk – awk –awk –. “ Barn owls typically nest in tree hollows, but are also will nest in lofts or barns.

Great Horned Owls are the largest in our area, averaging about 22 inches, with an over 4 ft wing span, and can weigh more than 2 pounds. This owl gets its name from its large ear tufts. Great Horned Owls call with an evenly spaced “hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo-oo, hoo-hoo-oo” of 4 to 8 syllables, but will repeatedly screech while mating. In midwinter it is likely the repeated screeching of a Great Horned Owl you are hearing at night, as they are the earliest owls of the season to mate.

Barred Owls have a “hoot-hoot-who-who” type of call similar to the Great Horned Owl, and will also make short screeches while mating. A large owl, they are typically 18 to 20 inches tall, have a wing span of up 4 feet, and average 1 to 2 pounds in weight. Barred Owls do not have ear tufts, and they get their name from dark cross bars on their neck and chest.

Eastern Screech Owl calls are not screeches, but more of a warbling, tremolo trill. The call can be pleasant and melodious. At about 8 to 10 inches, with a wing span of up to 2 feet, and weighing about ½ a pound, the Screech Owl is the smallest in our area. It can have grey to orange-red coloring and small ear tufts. Like other owls it nests in tree cavities or abandoned nests.

Whitetail Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) also contribute to the mid-winter night sounds in our area. Snorting and stomping can be heard when a deer is disturbed by something.

Nature Notes for 2/3/2013