Gift Review: Owl Hoot Call
If you've been identified by your family as "the one who likes birds a bit too much" you're bound to get some bird-themed gifts around the holidays. Having been outed as a birder by my family several years ago I can't escape receiving them. Some are incredibly thoughtful and have provided hours of enjoyment, others are... less inspiring.
Here's a gift review of one of the more dubious items I received this year:
Flights of Fancy is a UK based company that makes a number of products, including bird calls, out of "Supply Chain Assured" wood. This particular piece of wood, the packaging assures me, has been fashioned to "imitate the authentic hoot" of the Tawny Owl.
First, I don't think the North American store that is retailing these is aware that they are selling a call for a European owl. Nor do I suspect that the person who purchased it for me knew that. However, it just so happens that I'll be returning to Europe to bird (and do some non-birding things my wife refers to as "vacationing") this summer, so there could actually be a chance that I'll get to test this in the field someday.
Onto the gift itself:
Aesthetically, the gift is very pleasing if you like sticks. Excess stick-y bits have been shaved off, and the bottom has been slightly whittled and rounded and hit with a bit of sand paper to get it down to a nice cylindrical shape. It smells great, and very much like a stick.
Male Tawny Owls have a relatively simple two-note "hoo, hoo" call. They will allegedly respond in the field to people calling them by simply cupping their hands and blowing through their tightly pressed thumbs. So this stick doesn't exactly have to excel to bring in the birds. Which is good, because at first glance the stick does not seem to be designed with a lot of finesse.
So, in the name of science, I gathered some ornithological resources and headed out into the barn for some tests.
Here's me trying to imitate the call of the Tawny Owl, as found on the bird's Wikipedia page.
As you can see there's a little bit of a pitch issue here. The call sounds a little weaker and a little higher-pitched than the "authentic hoot" it's trying to imitate. It also has no way to vary the pitch, and when you try to vary the velocity of the call it breaks the vortex that creates the tone causing the call to sputter out. This isn't much of a surprise as the design of the call seems a bit hasty. I tried to imitate the longer tremolo "hoo-hoo-ooo" by rolling my tongue with mixed results. With no real way to change the pitch of the whistle, this charming stick seems to be a one-trick pony, good for hoos, but not for hoo-ooos, and I didn't even try to kewick.
Some further internet research has revealed that the same company also has produced a Haggis Call to summon the "shy wee Haggis" a three-legged bird of the Scottish Highlands, so the whole operation over at Flights of Fancy seems to be pretty solidly in the novelty gift camp.
Even with the best of calls my chances of calling in a Tawny Owl in Maine are rather slim. (There have been no records of them outside of the Western Palearctic.) So in the name of humor and experimentation I decided to try out some local owls on my new novelty stick...
If you're reading this and have been eyeing this gift for yourself you're probably better off using that $15 to buy birdseed. If you're thinking about getting this for a bird-lover in your life, you could do worse as a stocking-stuffer gift. I'd just make sure to also get them what they really want.
GIFT RATING: 4/10 (5/10 for Western Palearctic region)
SCIENTIFIC ACCURACY: 2/10