In Arthur Ransome‘s delightful series of ‘Swallows and Amazons’ children’s books from the 1930’s, the kids use owl calls to signal to each other at various points in their adventures.
“There was a noise in the wood below them, a noise something like an owl and something like a cuckoo, ending in a gurgle of laughter that was not like a bird at all.
“Here they are,” said John.
“It’s no good their trying to make the owl call,” said Roger. “They can’t do it.”
“What they’re good at is ducks,” said John. “I’ve never heard anybody quack so well as Peggy.”
“Nobody can be good at everything,” said Titty.
— from ‘Swallowdale’ —
I always imagine that they are making owl calls by blowing through their hands rather than too-wit-too-wooing. So how do you do that? Clasp your hands together like this:
If its more natural for you to have your hands wrapping around in the opposite way, thats fine; go with what feels best. Widen the clasp of your fingers so a little cave forms inside your hands. Your fingers can start fairly relaxed as long as they don’t let air escape between them. Now press your thumbs towards each other so that there is only a very small slot between them. The tops of your thumbs should be bent over so the top joints make little ‘mountains’, and the second joints of your thumbs roll inwards towards each other a bit so the fleshy part of your thumbs are pressing together firmly.
Now curl your lips a little around your teeth, and with mouth slightly open, press your lips to the top thumb joints, take a breath and blow through and down into the hollow of your hands. The air seems to tumble around in the hollow and then goes out through a small gap between your palms at the bottom of the hollow. Hopefully you have just made a cool owl call! But its more likely you will have to experiment and practise a bit to get the knack. Try altering the shape of the hollow by tensioning your hands differently, or blow more or less forcefully. Often a more relaxed clasp and a gentler blow makes the best whistle.Once you can do this whistle, you can trill the call by briefly opening and closing the bottom three fingers of the hand that wraps around the back of the clasp, or vary it by making different sequences of long and short calls. The tone is just right for a dove call, too, such as this
one recorded by MatthewJCook
.If you want to learn how to make that kind of piercing whistle that people make with two fingers in their mouth, there are excellent instructions here