Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

The nightbird

Otus scopsPhoto from

Our proximity to the mountains and trees, when they’re not on fire every summer, makes it possible to breathe clean air and enjoy sounds reminiscent of a village, despite the main road nearby. I await nightfall and the sound of the nightbird.

I came to know the nightbird’s call when I lived in a village outside Olympia. The first lesson I got — delivered calmly, as if to explain drinking a glass of water — was how to handle a snake when (not if) one falls on me in the garden. Not easily frightened, but not a lover of snakes either, I paid close attention and tried to stay away from all trees and arches with growing vines. A half hour later, a snake fell on my boyfriend’s father; he beat it with a stick and paraded around the limp trophy before throwing it in the trash.

Later, I had the chance to view a tzitziki (cicada) from up close after my boyfriend scouted an unsuspecting target on a tree, pounced like a panther and caught it gently between his fingers. “No kill,” he said. After being deafened many a times in summer, I was surprised to see such a small bug, and a rather adorable gray spotted one at that. Observation complete, he was free to go.

After sundown, there was a distinctive ‘birp’ noise in the distance, which could be heard at consistent intervals and sounded solitary. “What kind of bird is that, and is it calling for another bird?” I asked.

“It’s the nightbird. Maybe he’s calling for a mate,” said my companions. “Sorry, I don’t know the English word.”

Night after night, this nightbird called out, only to hear nothing in return. And yet, his call never weakened or ceased. It was many weeks later when one ‘birp’ was finally answered by a higher pitched ‘birp,’ going back and forth for hours, until silence fell into darkness. We assumed it was a happy ending.

For the past month, that cute little ‘birp’ has come back to make me smile. Thanks to Spyro, who is a birding expert, I now know this is a gionis or Otus scops (Scops owl) and what it looks like, but I still like to call him the nightbird.

No matter what chaos I experience during the day, I can come home at night and listen to the persistent, simple and sweet ‘birp’ of the nightbird, reminding me that some things change a lot, but others remain happily the same.


*Sadly, I moved away and can no longer hear him calling. Miss you, birdy.

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  Peter wrote @ April 13th, 2008 at 22:55

Is the bird known as a “nychterini”?

Kat Reply:

P – In Greek, it’s known as Γκιώνης or gionis. That’s a good question. I’ll ask Spyro or he may show up and answer himself.

  FMS wrote @ April 13th, 2008 at 23:16

The tzitziki is also known as Yoghurt with garlic and cucumber! [We xenoi find great amusement in what seem like similar names]

Kat Reply:

FMS – LOL! A decade ago, I thought they sounded too much alike as well, but can now joke about it like you — in fact, I put it on the “You know you’re NOT Greek if…” list to poke fun at those who don’t know the difference.

P.S. Even sites like the Food Network spell it wrong. Can you imagine a recipe for bug dip?

  Maria wrote @ April 14th, 2008 at 00:16

Thanks for the Gionis sound! Made me feel a little happier and a little homesick…


Kat Reply:

Hi Maria, focus on the happy part 🙂

  Cheryl wrote @ April 14th, 2008 at 01:00

That’s really a great bird-what a dreamy “birp”. It’s much better than the screech owl that sits outside of my room and scares my daughter. Want to trade?

Kat Reply:

C – Isn’t it cute? Sorry, I don’t want to trade for a screech owl, especially after you made it sound soooo good! 😉

  FMS wrote @ April 14th, 2008 at 01:10

The tzitziki noise is less nice, although it is the ring tone of my Greek mobile [called cicada on the menu].

I have also encountered this nyxterini name [and call] and I told Greek friends that it was an owl, so I suppose it is a popular name for the Gionis. Perhaps it is another species of owl, though.

Kat Reply:

FMS – I have that ring tone as an option, but I think it sounds terrible. I’d rather hear the real thing if given a choice. After seeing how adorable they are, I’m a little more amiable with their noise. Spyros told me he hasn’t heard the name nyxterini before in reference to this gioni, so I suppose that’s a question left unanswered at the moment.

  rositta wrote @ April 14th, 2008 at 02:37

Sounds a little like the owls we hear up at our cabin, quite soothing…ciao

Kat Reply:

R – It is nice. Might be the same kind of owl. They’re not only in Europe and Asia.

  The Scorpion wrote @ April 14th, 2008 at 08:17

The tzitziki is also called “Tzitzika” “gee-gee-ka”.

Kat Reply:

When written for pronunciation purposes, it must be literal so I believe it’s more like, “dzee dzee ka” or “jee jee ka.” I realize you meant gee as in “gee whiz” with a ‘j’ sound (which is an exception). But without qualifying it as such, the ‘g’ assumes regular pronunciation, as in ‘go.’ In any case, this post is about the very adorable Otus scops owl. 🙂

  Martin wrote @ April 14th, 2008 at 12:01

It’s all Turkish to me.

  spyros wrote @ April 14th, 2008 at 13:18

About bird names in Greek: ”Owls” are called “κουκουβάγιες” (or “γλαύκες” in ancient Greek-καθαρεύουσα).

The 3 most common species of Owls in Greek are:

1. Scops Owl (Otus scops): Γκιώνης
2.Little Owl (Aethene noctua): Κουκουβάγια. The bird that represents goddess Athena and the city of Athens, which is also the bird in the 1 euro greek coin!
3. Tawny Owl (Stix aluco): Χουχουριστής (because of the characteristic call whoo-whoo)

Kat Reply:

S – I love going to your site and looking at the photos, and it’s a learning experience. The whoo whoo owl is near my house also in a different tree.

  dubaibilly wrote @ April 14th, 2008 at 17:24

It’s a lovely sound.

Kat Reply:

DB – Isn’t it? 🙂

  melusina wrote @ April 14th, 2008 at 19:21

Dag nabit, it isn’t loading for me (nothing on YouTube is at the moment)! And I loves me some birdy noises. I have yet to see an owl here, they were my favorites back home.

Is that cicada like Southern U.S. cicadas? I can’t really tell from the picture. The kind that leave their shells behind on the trees?

Kat Reply:

It is a cicada, but there are so many different types that it may not be quite the same.

  melusina wrote @ April 14th, 2008 at 19:24

Finally! How sweet sounding, and a little forlorn. Here’s hoping it was a happy ending.

Kat Reply:

Mel – Hopefully it was a happy ending. I like to think so.

  Laurie wrote @ April 15th, 2008 at 11:26

Hey Kat – love the owl sounds. Also your story, which brought back some funny memories. We once spent a year in a village house that had a bunch of almond trees in the avli (and yes, I did see snakes drop out of those trees). One day, we heard a cacaphony of bird sounds, frantic, wild bird sounds coming from one of the almond trees. The sounds kept getting louder, so we went to look. A snake was up in the tree, and was surrounded by the screeching birds. More birds kept arriving in the tree until the snake finally fell out of the tree and slithered away. Bird power in action.

  Stathis wrote @ April 15th, 2008 at 13:08

I know exactly what you mean as I was raised in a village 4 km away from the city of Veria! Especially the concert of the tzitzikia in the summer brings back memories!!!!

As for the owls, when i did my military service in the Forest of Dadia in Evros, I saw a Eagle-owl(Μπούφο!) at 3 metres! It was very impressive!!!


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