by Gene Davis, Museum Facilities Manager
A large bird of prey named the Barred Owl has been found in the early morning light perched in and sometimes on top of the traditional chickee huts at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. This owl has been nicknamed the hoot owl because of its distinctive and powerful vocalization that sounds like someone saying, “Who cooks for you?”
Our institution is situated right on the edge of a dense cypress dome. Reinaldo Becerra, our animal specialist, told me that Barred Owls nest in large trees, but sometimes have been spotted roosting in human-occupied spaces as long as they are adjacent to fields or an open area in the forest canopy that the bird uses as a dusk-till-dawn hunting ground.
One September morning just after 8:00am, Rei walked me over to one of the chickees situated directly behind the curatorial building on our campus. He pointed out what he called a young Barred Owl perched up in the rafters under that open-sided chickee. It just sat up there about eight feet above the floor on a cypress wood cross beam staring down at us through its large brown eyes. Rei told me that this species of owl is the only typical owl in the eastern part of our country that has brown eyes. He said that all others have yellow eyes.
Rei went on to say that the Barred Owl is nocturnal making it easier to be heard than seen. However, the individual bird that has been visiting our campus does not have any fear of humans. It also prefers to perch up inside of the manmade traditional chickee huts rather than trying to find a hollowed out tree trunk.
Just recently I spotted the same owl on the ground during the daytime by a small pool of water in the cypress dome that had been created by recent torrential rains. The owl was feeding on crayfish that were cowered in the now receding water level. Although it was facing away from me; the attractive bird swiveled its head around to look directly at me. But just for a short while. It then silently fluttered off to the supper table while clutching one of the captured crustaceans in its beak.
This same bird was spotted in the early morning just one day later lurking around on the ground directly in front of one of the village crafters’ work areas. Any owl is considered as a bad omen to the tribal members that create and sell their hand crafts back in the traditional Seminole village on the museum grounds. Luckily, peace of mind was restored when the owl didn’t linger long flying off to somewhere else where we might hear it again asking, “Who cooks for you?”