Elder offspring: Owls in zoos are kind of weird.
Dr. Free-Ride: How do you mean?
Elder offspring: Well, owls are nocturnal, but zoos are usually just open during the day.
Dr. Free-Ride: Hmm, so either the owls are sleeping, or they're awake but they're not too happy about it?
Elder offspring: Yeah.
Dr. Free-Ride: I guess it's possible that they adjust to a diurnal schedule in the zoo so they don't miss their meals. And I bet a lot of the sleeping ones get woken up by people walking by their enclosures saying, "Whoo! Whoo!"
Elder offspring: Who would say "Whoo! Whoo!" to a sleeping owl?
Younger offspring: I would. I said "Whoo! Whoo!" to the sleeping owl we saw at Turtle Bay.
Elder offspring: (with an eye roll) That figures.
* * * * *
Younger offspring: Hey, is that an owl?
Dr. Free-Ride: Where?
Elder offspring: On top of that roof! That would be odd, though. It's not night yet.
Dr. Free-Ride: Oh, I think that's one of those scare-owls people buy.
Younger offspring: To scare away mice?
Elder offspring: Hmm. Maybe the smart mice would figure out that it's not a real owl because it's out during the day. Once they know it's not a real owl, they wouldn't be very scared of it.
Dr. Free-Ride: I don't know. If you're a little critter like a mouse, I'm not sure it's such a useful survival strategy to stop and think about whether the owl-like object you've seen is a real owl or a fake owl. Because what if you get it wrong?
Younger offspring: Gulp!
Elder offspring: Still, it has to be a lot like a real owl or it won't work.
Dr. Free-Ride: I know that the fancier ones have heads that swivel and bob in the wind, so they look like a live owl looking around.
Younger offspring: Do they smell like real owls?
Dr. Free-Ride: My guess is that they don't. That probably means that the critters they're meant to scare away are more frightened by seeing an owl than by smelling one.
Elder offspring: It would be more realistic if it had eyelids that closed when it was light out and opened when it was dark out.
Dr. Free-Ride: That's true. How would you do that?
Elder offspring: Solar cells. Also, I would make it so the eyes glow in the dark.
Younger offspring: That would be really spooky.
Dr. Free-Ride: I'm not sure how realistic glow-in-the-dark eyes would be, but that would be really cool. And at that point, your scare-owl modifications wouldn't necessarily be making the owl more effective at scaring critters away.
Elder offspring: I know. But it would make people want to buy it.
Oh noes! LOLcat spelling has infected my children! Will the full moon's light reveal the tasty bat, or will the glare get in the owl's eyes and allow the bat to escape?
I thought you had smart kids.. but suddenly the image slips. Who in their right mind would say "Whoo whoo" to an owl? Crazy family!
Who in their right mind would say "Whoo whoo" to an owl?
A younger sibling trying to get the goat of an older sibling.
A similar situation that struck me, long ago: a zoo where every adult who approached the roadrunner enclosure let out an audible, "Beep Beep!"
We humans are pretty silly critters sometimes.
The CORRECT way to address an owl, sleeping or otherwise, is "Tuhwhit tuhwoo!".
Growing up I heard lots of Mourning Doves around the neighborhood, and my parents (not being remotely interested in birds) just told me that it was an owl. It seemed there was an "owl" in every tree. I didn't learn that the calls were really from mourning doves until years later, although every time I hear their calls the first thought in my mind is still "owl."
Will the full moon's light reveal the tasty bat, or will the glare get in the owl's eyes and allow the bat to escape?
I'm rooting for the bat. We mammals have to stick together.
...a zoo where every adult who approached the roadrunner enclosure let out an audible, "Beep Beep!"
Let's not even mention people who applaud in movie theaters.
Hold on a minute! There are many people out there that walk around in the woods after dark asking each other, "Who cooks for you?" That's not sooo different than saying, "Whooo whooo" to owls in captivity, but perhaps I missed a joke somewhere.
I wonder what sounds visitors at the Creation Museum make when they approach the dinosaur that walks along with Adam and Eve?
The scare-owl and mice theory has a few holes. One, mice are myopic. They can see clearly for maybe a foot or so, after that it's a blur. They are good on motion however, and anything coming at them fast gets a swift reaction.
Second, anything sitting still, even if they could see it, isn't going to bother them. And once they learn that while part of the object moves the rest doesn't, they'll ignore that object too.
For mice to be scared by something it has to move. If it moves, but does not threaten them, in time they will learn to ignore it too.
"Let's not even mention people who applaud in movie theaters."
Dont worry Warren, plans are afoot. Once I have completed my coup d'etat and am Grand High Emperor Of The Planet, those people will be put to death.
About a week before you had this discussion, my family had a similar one, walking along the coast trail in Monterey/Pacific Grove. My daughter observed that the scare-owl was certainly not keeping away the sea birds, as said "owl" was covered in gull droppings. All of which served to make it look less like an owl.
But the discussion ensued about why they don't work, and what could be done to improve efficacy.