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  • Writer's picturemeredithdownes

Bert the Boobook owl

I'm going to tell you about a friend of mine. Some people called him Bert. But I never paid much attention. To me, he was Hooty and that was that. He hooted a lot. He hooted hello, he hooted goodbye. He hooted when he was excited, flapping his wings and dancing about. He even hooted in his sleep. I would trill my tongue and hoot in return, which always made him happy. Sometimes I would see him at night in his cage, and our quiet hoots to each other would be the only conversation around. Other times, we would exchange a hoot salute in the day as he sat on his perch.

A Southern Boobook owl in the bush.

Who knows? Maybe Bert thought I was a large funny-looking owl or a human who talked better than the rest. You see, Bert the Boobook owl had been around humans for most of his life. When he was a baby chick he fell from the nest and didn’t get the right kind of food. This changed his eyes, so they grew more and more cloudy as he got older with a sickness called cataracts. His carers knew he could never survive by himself if he couldn’t see well. Instead, he stayed at the university to make friends with all sorts of people (like me) and teach us more about his kind.

It's true Bert's sight was never the best but there was nothing wrong with his hearing. I swear he knew it was me every time. If you've got good hearing too, you might hear some of Bert's friends out your window at night. The Southern Boobook owl is one of the most common owls in Australia. That means they're everywhere, even in your own backyard. And you can always tell when they're about. They hoot like this: "mo-poke, mo-poke, mo-poke". So next time you hear one, make sure to hoot right back. You just might make a new owlish friend!

Bert the Southern Boobook owl was raised and cared for by staff at the University of Queensland Vision, Touching and Hearing Research Centre.



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