Shrieks in the Forest

Forests can be a spooky places. Even during the day, the trees can block out the light and there is a real chance to become lost. But a forest would be all the more scary if blood curdling shrieks came out of nowhere.

In Sri Lanka, there are stories of Ulama, a devil bird whose hideous cry is portentous of death. [ref] [/ref] The Ulama is meant to be the spirit of a grief stricken mother whose child was murdered by her husband in the most horrific way.

Meanwhile, in Irish mythology, a banshee is the spirit of a woman whose wail or scream is a harbinger of death. The name, banshee derives from old Irish and means ‘woman of the fairy mound’ [ref] [/ref] a reference to the mysterious earthen structures that dotted the Irish landscape.

Now, when a person was far from home and suddenly heard screeching and screams on a dark night, it would be terrifying. But there might be a less fantastical source for the screeches.

There are multiple theories for what creature makes the cry of the devil bird. While numerous birds have been suggested, in 1968 research by Dr. R.L. Spittel suggested the source of the cries was either the crested hawk eagle or the forest eagle owl. [ref] [/ref]

Equally it has been posited that the inspiration for the hideous cry of the banshee, is the cry of the barn owl. [ref] [/ref]  Barn owls fly silently, so if a person didn’t happen to spot the owl, the scream would seem to come suddenly out of nowhere. [ref] [/ref] On a dark night, you couldn’t blame anyone that didn’t sit around looking for signs of an owl, but just got as far away from the place as possible.

Barn Owl, Kent, UK. Photo by Lee Elvin
Barn Owl, Kent, UK. Photo by Lee Elvin

Species of Owls are distributed around the globe and are still making people think of the supernatural. As recently as 2017, some builders in India filmed what they thought were aliens on a construction site. The creatures were small, skinny and their large eyes gave them an otherworldly appearance. But the three turned out to be adolescent barn owls. Unfortunately an infection had caused their feathers to fall out. [ref] [/ref]

                Owls are majestic and amazing creatures, but who knows how many people alone in the dark they have terrified over the centuries.

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