For the Birds: Halloween in nature

Photo by Chris Bosak Praying mantis at Highstead in Redding, CT, summer 2019.

A little late for Halloween, but whatever …

I’ve always liked Halloween. It’s kind of a silly holiday if you think about it, but maybe that’s why I like it so much.

As a kid, trick-or-treating was the highlight of Halloween, of course. It was fun to find a costume and dress up, but it was mostly about the candy back then. As I got in my late teens and 20s, Halloween parties become the highlight of the season. I’ll don’t think I’ll expand on that one. We’ve all been there.

Even as an adult I still like Halloween. I don’t trick-or-treat, and I don’t party as much, but I still like the imagery and aura associated with the holiday. “It feels like Halloween tonight,” I find myself saying on many walks in the fall. Something about those chilly nights with clouds and a bright moon remind me of being a kid trick-or-treating or taking my boys around the neighborhood when they were younger.

One such night recently prompted me to dedicate a column to Halloween. I’ve alluded to the holiday in previous years, but I’ve never written an entire column about it.

Birds play a major role in the imagery of Halloween, of course. Haunted scenes always include ghosts, a black cat, jack-o’-lanterns and a witch, but owls, vultures and crows are regular components as well. Bats are other flying creatures that are an integral part of any spooky scene.

Owls make for good Halloween visuals, but any multi-sensory scene should also include the sounds of these nocturnal birds of prey. The typical hoots of a great-horned owl or barred owl are always good but throw in the begging calls of young barred owls and you’ve got a real chilling soundtrack. I remember wondering what the heck could possibly make that eerie noise the first few times I heard that.

Now, mix in a fox screaming and that will make anybody’s hair stand on end.

New England has plenty of other scary, weird and even bizarre animals that could easily be associated with Halloween.

Opossums fall into the so-ugly-they-are-cute category, for me anyway. When they bare their teeth, though, they can fit into any creepy scene. Opossums are harmless (unless they are cornered or otherwise provoked) but I can see them becoming a Halloween scene staple.

I remember years ago when my son Will was about 5 years old and was running down a sidewalk to a friend’s house. There was an opossum in the middle of the sidewalk and Will didn’t see it until the last second. He deftly side-stepped the opossum and the animal just sat there like nothing ever happened.

I don’t get scared very easily, but there have been a few occasions when raccoons have jumped out of trees at night and got my heart racing. One night I was walking home after working until midnight at a small newspaper in Vermont when three raccoons jumped out of a tree about 10 feet away from me and ran into a nearby parking lot. That was definitely a Halloween moment for me.

Perhaps the best candidates for Halloween scene fodder come from the insect world. Spiders (I know they are arachnids, not insects) are already popular subjects for haunted scenes, but how about praying mantises, centipedes, earwigs or katydids? Katydids can also provide a familiar background for the soundtrack. The other day I walked by a co-worker’s office and a huge stinkbug was crawling up the door. It looked like a live Halloween decoration.

My website,, has a feature called Stranger Things that highlights some of the many odd creatures found in New England. If you look closely enough, there is plenty of weirdness to be found in nature in our region. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know what I’ve left out.

Happy Halloween. Have fun and be safe.

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