Children Of The Night, Shut Up!

Children Of The Night, Shut Up!

Spooky sounds may be wildlife living wild life

Halloween is almost here, a time when the innocent, soothing nights full of fireflies become the dark, cold and creepy witching hours. Never fear; most of the scary stuff is all in our minds. There’s an educational opportunity to be found by shining a light on what goes on in the dark. Lately, it sounds like there’s a lot going on at night in Northwest Arkansas, and I’m not talking about the urban nightlife — although the red fox and raccoon would have lots to contribute to that subject.

In the middle of an otherwise calm night, you might be startled by blood-curdling screams or the wail of a banshee. It may sound like a fierce fight is going on outside the bedroom window. Should you investigate? What in the world is happening out there?!

If it’s not a domestic dispute in need of police intervention, it’s probably the wildlife doing their thing. Winter months are when owls find or reunite with mates, and as the weather turns colder, hooting will escalate into something less peaceful and more riotous. Great horned owls are regularly calling in the fall, but not on their cell phones. They transcend the distance to their loved ones using only their voice. Barred owl duets are an acquired taste, but nothing to be alarmed about.

Bobcats are rarely heard, but when they do vocalize, they have a diverse repertoire that can sound disturbing at times. They also may leave scat next to a “scrape” or basically a section of dirt or leaves pawed at the way a cat covers its business in the litter box. Mountain lions have been described as “screaming,” in an identifiable way distinct from bobcats.

A more common experience is the sound of raccoons fighting or mating. Their skirmishes can be prolonged, and it isn’t always obvious raccoons are the culprits. Their cacophony can sure wake the dead!

Coyotes can be difficult to distinguish from dogs at times, but their howls and yips are a common nocturnal song in our area. Other canids like the red fox are infamous for a type of call, mistakenly labeled the vixen’s scream, that both sexes are known to emit. It sounds to some like a woman screaming, which is haunting and alarming to those who hear it.

So if it’s not Sasquatch outside your door, how do you find out what it is? To be honest, it isn’t always easy, especially for distant sounds. Various phone apps, like the birding app called Merlin, can help identify bird calls. Recordings found through an online search will certainly help narrow the options, but often, it’s a subjective guess unless you’re a wildlife biologist or ornithologist very accustomed to working with the creature calling nearby. Regardless of whether or not you can pin down an ID, exploring the exciting possibilities can be fun and educational — and only a little bit scary.

Amanda Bancroft is a writer, artist, and naturalist living in an off-grid tiny house on Kessler Mountain. She and her husband Ryan blog about their adventures and offer tips to those wanting to make a difference at

Categories: Making Ripples