We hadn’t been standing outdoors in the dark for long when a loud shriek pierced the night air just beyond the glow of the street lights. Without a second thought, and having heard it before, I remarked decisively, “That’s a young great horned owl begging for food”. And that was that. Mystery solved.

    Yogi Berra, a Hall of Fame New York Yankee catcher who went on to become a successful manager and coach as well, was also widely known for his nonsensical and humorous quips such as, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” and, “It’s déjà vu all over again”.  

    One expression that I’ve always thought should’ve been a “Yogi’ism” goes something like, “I’ve never been wrong once in my life, except that one time that I thought I made a mistake”. I’ve always enjoyed the utterance, and have said it often, but with a smile on my face while saying it.  

    The Becida Bar & Grill, a nice pub and family eating establishment located in the unincorporated village of Becida about 15 miles southwest of Bemidji, can also lay claim to a resident owl or two.  This summer, patrons have come to know—or hear—a strange winged screeching creature that most everyone that heard or saw it believed was a screech owl.

    One night while I was in Becida and enjoying a walleye sandwich, a friend walked in and asked me what kind of bird is making the screeching sound outside. Only just then becoming aware of the “mystery bird”, I then got up off of my stool and followed my friend outside.

    He explained that the bird was always around, would fly from place to place, even landing on nearby fence posts, and always screeching. Like others, he, too, believed the bird was a screech owl. I told him that I’d be surprised if it was an screech owl because they’re not common to this part of the state, and, adding, “I’ve only seen two eastern screech owls in my life—one as a boy on the Otter Tail County farm I grew up on, and the other [coincidently] one mile south of Becida over 25 years ago”.

    We hadn’t been standing outdoors in the dark for long when a loud shriek pierced the night air just beyond the glow of the street lights.  Without a second thought, and having heard it before, I remarked decisively, “That’s a young great horned owl begging for food”.  And that was that. Mystery solved.

    But I believe I was wrong. When I got home to search my favorite bird information website, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “All About Birds” to listen to great horned owl vocalizations, I wasn’t so sure anymore.
While very close to sounding like the Becida bird, the squawk of the female great horned owl wasn’t quite as raspy a call as the bird I had heard in Becida. Maybe the bird was a barred owl instead of a great horned owl. And so I listened to the fledgling begging call of a barred owl.
Bingo. New verdict. The Becida Barred Owl.  

    Most folks are familiar with the distinctive call of the barred owl. The, “Hoo, hoo, too-HOO; hoo, hoo, too-HOO, ahh".  Its call is even better described, remembered and written as, "Who, cooks, for-you? Who, cooks, for-you, all?"  No other owl gives a hoot like this owl’s hoot. Even so, there are at least six other barred owl vocalizations described and recorded on the Cornell website.

    The barred owl’s hoot is the reason for another of its many common names—hoot owl.  Other not-so-common names include rain owl, wood owl, eight-hooter, black-eyed owl, striped owl, swamp owl, and laughing owl.  Notwithstanding these other names, the barred owl gets its common name from the horizontal barring of the upper breast and the vertically streaked plumage pattern of its belly and flank.

    Barred owls have perhaps the widest variety of vocalizations of any species of owl.  Those of you unfamiliar with the nighttime language of barred owls are either in for a real treat, a real scare, or both.  Barred owls are known to screech, scream, hiss, squeak, whisper, whistle, cry, bark, buzz, growl, and even laugh.   These other, more bizarre sounds are produced anytime throughout the year, day or night.  Yet it is during the late winter/early spring breeding season when barred owl couples become especially raucous.

    In February and March when barred owls commenced nesting activities, usually choosing a cavity inside a tree or, sometimes, an abandoned squirrel, crow or hawk nest, barred owl hens laid two to four eggs.  After an incubation period of around 21 to 28 days, the youngsters hatched.  
Feeding them beak-to-beak tiny bits of flesh they tear from prey items, both parents tend to the nestlings until the young birds fledge about four to five weeks later.  And there’s some evidence that barred owl parents continue feeding their offspring for up to four months of age.

    Given this fact, that adult barred owls feed their young for so long, it was not surprising that the begging Becida barred owls, having been accustomed to being fed by their parents, were probably on their own for the first time in their young lives, hungry, and therefore were screeching at their parents for more free handouts.

    Indeed, the barred owl, one of a dozen species of Minnesota owls, can also be found begging for food next to the Becida Bar & Grill as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

    Blane likes to hear from his readers. Email him your favorite outdoors experiences and wildlife encounters at bklemek@yahoo.com.