Early Sunday morning I woke up to a crow squawking outside our bedroom window. Sadly this isn't a rare occurrence and I was praying that the **^^%%%%**& crow would move on to another unsuspecting neighbors bedroom window. As I was laying there with the fog of sleep slowing lifting I started to notice that the crow was repeating certain calls. As I started listening more closely I realized that the crow was mimicking the call of a Barred Owl. At first I thought I was imagining it, but it kept doing it over and over. The crow wasn't doing the whole call, but rather it had broken the call into distinct pieces and it was repeating them.
After striking out on Google searches I posted my 'observation' to our local state listserv to see if anyone had heard of something similar and I pretty quickly got a reply which I'd like to share with you.
"American Crows are documented to imitate Barred Owls. But I do not know of any records of them imitating any other owl species or raptor. The big unanswered question is: why do they do this? I have no idea. Maybe for one or more of the purported reasons why those other corvids, Blue Jays, mimic hawk vocalizations. This is an area of much speculation and hypothesis, but some have postulated that Blue Jays do this: 1) as a method of deceiving other species (to either claim/clear territory or perhaps to "panic" other birds off their nests); or 2) as a type of "contact call"; or 3) as "dumb mimicry"; i.e., they do it because they've heard the sound and they are able to repeat the sound (think for a minute about the sounds some 6th grade boys mimic). In other words, this remains a big area for continued study. Especially since corvids are so social and intelligent".
Thanks so much. I wonder where this crow heard the Barred owl or whether it was mimicking another crow’s version of it ;-) This is a nice first for me and I’m glad to hear that I wasn’t imagining it!
Barred Owl was a confirmed breeder not too far from you in northern-most Somerset County back during 1993-1997. At that time, they were making a slow comeback of sorts, and radiating out from the areas they'd been found in. Maybe a younger one, or a displaced one searching for new territory, was recently in your area? Although habitat loss due to development is a big challenge. Thanks again for your interesting post.
So there you have it - crows imitate Barred owls! Has anyone else heard of this either first or second hand?