Who cooks for you?

Who cooks for you alllllllllll?

That phrase, well the whole phrase- the title and that first line- represents a mnemonic that birdie people use to recognize the calls of the Barred Owl.  It sounds silly, but remembering the phrase can definitely help to identify the bird later on.  I’ve taught that same call to students and they’re always amazed when they actually hear it outside.  Mnemonics are fun that way.  At least with respect to bird songs.  I mean, the phrases that get used are often really odd, random things, but they really do work.  I can walk down the street and hear “What Cheer!” or “Teakettle” or “Cherrily Cheer-up Cheerily” and know exactly who’s around.  Plus, I can secretly entertain myself repeating their little phrases.  That’s why I sometimes walk down the street with an odd smile on my face.  People always wonder about those odd ones who walk around smiling to themselves.

Anyway, I’m drifting.  Soo…who cooks for you?  I was out running in Freedom Park the other morning.  It was just after 7am and I was coming along the greenway portion of the park towards Princeton when I had to come to a stop and turn around.  From the trees right around the Nature Museum came a very loud question, “Who cooks for you?  Who cooks for you alllll?”.   There was a nice Barred Owl sitting in the trees giving it’s call.  As the sun was already coming up and it was quite light out, I was a bit surprised that it was still calling.  Barred Owls, like most raptors (birds of prey) are territorial birds, so that means some pair of birds likely has a nice territory right in that area.

As with many of the birds that I’ve written about already, Barred Owls show the same kinds of individual-level variation in their vocalizations.  One group of researchers analyzed just the “alllllll” part of the “who cooks for you? who cooks for you alllll” call and found that not only could they differentiate individuals by analyzing the calls on the computer, but that untrained people could identify individuals based on recordings of the calls.  Cool stuff, eh?

Freeman, P.L.  2000.  Identification of individual Barred Owls using spectrogram analysis and auditory cues. Journal of Raptor Research 34:  85-92

Given the size of their territories, there is unlikely to be another set of owls right there in the park, but I have heard them in other parts of Myers Park.   I’ll start paying some attention and giving them names, so you can find them later.  Oh, by the way, if you’re listening for them- females will generally have lower-pitched calls than their male mates because in owls, females are usually larger than their men.


About thomasbiology

I'm an Associate Professor of Biology at Queens University of Charlotte with a background in animal behavior with an emphasis in bird song. I've got two secret goals with this blog (well, since I'm sharing them, they're not so secret): 1. To encourage people to look at the natural world around them- not just as a hiking destination, but to notice all the little things moving around them all the time; and 2. To show some of the science that relates to these little things moving around. There's some really fascinating research out there that so few people get to see.
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