Hoo, hoo, boo

Hoo, hoo, boo

By Rod Myers

By Rod Myers

It was a warm night in late October, and a moth that had escaped two frosts was hovering directly under a street light. Suddenly, a large, flying object flew up under the street light, grabbed the moth and flew into the cemetery. At that time, I didn’t know screech owls did that, but since I was kid, I knew they liked cemeteries. Our family lived next to a cemetery in a small northern Illinois town, and we always heard screech owls in there, especially around Halloween.

When I was seven, we moved into another place that was across the street from Cedar Bluffs Cemetery. We lived in an upstairs apartment, and my bedroom window faced an old silver maple tree. The tree had a large dead, trunk-like branch with a big hole that directly faced my window. The first afternoon of the day we moved in, I looked out the window at the tree cavity, and guess what was looking at me? A screech owl! I was entranced. I watched the bird for hours and for days right up until dusk, when it would fly off into the cemetery.

Owls have been associated with Halloween for several reasons. For starters, because of their nocturnal habits and their affinity for cemeteries. Actually, owls occupy many habitats, not just cemeteries. Screech owls are the main owl species that inhabit cemeteries in the eastern half of the United States. However, these small owls will inhabit an entire city if there are enough trees in it. Experts estimate that a population of a pair per city block is possible.

Because of their large and nocturnal activities, owls are thought to be wise and mystical. Superstitions abound about owls, and some say they are psychic. Personally, I don’t believe owls are psychic, but I’ve seen and heard some unusual occurrences. In the house I grew up in near Rockford, two blocks from Cedar Bluff Cemetery, an owl once came down the chimney on Halloween night.

Across the street from the south side of Cedar Bluff Cemetery lives a lifelong friend of mine. Last year, this friend was putting some Halloween lights up on the front of his apartment when two very large owls flew into a tree in his front yard and watched him put up the lights. My friend, Paul, said, “After 10 minutes of being watched, I got scared and ran into the house, where I hid under my girlfriend for an hour.”

My friend, Bob, has had an owl nesting box up on a pole in his driveway for seven years. Each year, he has a different owl that uses it in the daytime to sleep in. Two years ago, a screech owl died in the box. Bob didn’t discover it till some time later. Bob removed the bird, which probably died of natural causes, and then cleaned the box. To his dismay, no owls have used the box since. The owls in Bob’s neighborhood must have labeled the box taboo. It sounds strange, but some mysterious connection was made. The owls sense death, and they will not go into that box. If anyone has a hunch or theory about why the owls stay away, write me in care of the newspaper.

My most unusual experience with an owl occurred when I was visiting my uncle in the winter of ’62. A screech owl landed on the roof of his car and sat there for 15 minutes. After it left, I went around the front of the car, where I noticed something in the grill. Lo and behold, the grill held a lifeless, frozen owl. No doubt my uncle was guilty of racing through the cemetery. Happy Halloween!

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in nature and the environment. He is a member of the Rockford Amateur Astronomers Club, the Sinnissippi Audubon Society, Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and the Planetary Society.

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