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WHAT ARE THE OWLS SAYING? DO LOONS HAVE TEETH?

One of the things I most enjoy about writing the novels in The Art of Murder series is describing the involvement of my main character and amateur sleuth Kate Corliss with the natural world. Sometimes I draw on my own knowledge; sometimes I do research, which is a pleasure.

Early in the first book, Drawing Fire, Kate and three men hear a barred owl hoot at dusk, and Kate correctly identifies the owl as female:

“I thought owls just asked Who?” Farley said.

“That’s the call of a barred owl,” Case said.”Bird-watchers identify it by its rhythm, which matches the rhythm of ‘Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?'”

“I thought owls just said Who,” Farley said.

“That would be your great horned owl.”

“Not my owl. I don’t have owls. I’m a city cat.”

“The barred owl is smaller, but asks more pointedquestions,” Case said. “I don’t know what he’d think about our cook tonight, or our dinner of broiled snapper.”

“That wasn’t a he,” Kate said. The three men looked at her. “The last note, or hoot, of the call? Did you hear that shaky quality, that—”

“Vibrato?” Farley asked.

“Yes. That’s a female. The male’s call stops short on ‘you all.’ It sounds clipped compared to this guy—er, gal.”

“Women do ramble on, don’t they?” Case said to Gabriel.

Kate felt stung. Then she realized Case was joking about the female owl’s longer call, not criticizing her own comments. Lighten up, she told herself.

In Boat Camp Killer, the second book, a character named Roger tells Kate and her friend Ellen about the table manners of loons:

The three of them stopped for lunch beside a creek and Roger told them more about Adirondack wildlife. How loons have solid bones, unlike most birds’ hollow ones, because the weight helps them be good divers. How they contract their feathers to press air out, making them less buoyant, more like underwater torpedos.

“They can really snag those fish,” Roger said.”They’re fast, they can turn on a Manhattan dime, and they have these one-way teeth that keep fish from getting loose once they nab them.”

“No way. Teeth?” Ellen said. “Aren’t loon’s teeth as scarce as hen’s teeth?”

Roger laughed. “Okay, spiky bones in their mouths.”

Kate liked this guy. She said, “I’ve seen loons periscoping around—you know, swimming with their heads down so they can see fish to catch?” Roger was nodding. “And then they dive, and come up with nothing. Most of the time, they don’t catch a thing.”

“Ah, the plot thickens.” Roger handed her asandwich. “They catch a lot—they’re aces—and they eat the fish right away. Downstairs. Underwater.” He laughed. “Fresher that way.”

If you enjoy nature, mixed with murder now and then, join me and Kate!

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