What Measures 20cm and Keeps Us Awake at Night?

Mallorcan sunset

Sunset over the hill in our valley – tune-up time for the Scops Owl

I guess we’ve all heard stories of people who move to the countryside or a rural village, in search of peace and quiet, then do nothing but complain about the noise – whether it’s tractors, church bells or cockerels.

When we moved to our little piece of Mallorcan countryside, it was with our eyes (and ears) open. We expected agricultural equipment, sheep bells and bleating (rather comforting sounds, I think), the occasional braying from a donkey or two, and the chorus of barking that spreads around the valley when one dog is disturbed by something unfamiliar and his canine neighbours are compelled to join in.

We don’t mind the call of the peacocks that live close by, or even the fact that the nearest cockerel seems to live in a completely different time zone and thinks it’s time to wake everyone up at 3pm. There was even a quarry on the top of one side of the valley, which was operational from 8am in the morning. We were surprised how quickly we got used to the sound of stone being wrested from the ground.

Smaller than a Little Owl

But there’s one nocturnal noise that can drive us nuts – and its source is less than 20 cm high. I’m talking about the Scops Owl, which is even smaller than the Little Owl. Not that we’ve ever seen one. But boy, can we hear this little dynamo!

For the past couple of years, we’d not heard a single one, but this year they’re back in the valley again. This little creature begins his call shortly after sunset  . . . and often continues into the night. Its call sounds rather like the sonar used on a submarine (not that I’ve been on many of those – but I’ve seen the odd movie or two).  The short, deep whistle (described in Collins Bird Guide as a ‘tyuh’ sound) is repeated constantly every two or three seconds. Not only has our little feathered friend got stamina (it can go on for hours), it can also be heard up to a kilometre away.

One night, a Scops Owl sat in one of the almond trees in our field – probably the closest it had ever been to the finca. You wouldn’t believe how loud and piercing that relentless sound could be. The Boss eventually jumped out of bed, pulled on his boxers, slipped some shoes on and headed outside, where he ran around the field, waving his arms and making strange noises – yes, there was a full moon – in a bid to persuade the Scops Owl to relocate to a tree further away. Sure enough, the bird flew away and silence reigned . . . for 20 minutes.

The next day, we bought some earplugs.

Jan Edwards©2012

One thought on “What Measures 20cm and Keeps Us Awake at Night?

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