We have an owl on the farmlet. Maybe even more than one, in which case we’d have a parliament of owls, but I think it’s just one.
This Great Horned owl is a stunning creature with a 4-foot wingspan. Both the Bearded One and I have seen it on several different occasions. It’s playing a game of chicken with the chickens and the chickens are winning. So far.
“Awkkk!” Each of the 13 chickens sounds off and the Bearded One hears them from where he’s working in the barn. This is an unusual noise and he leaves the new, bigger roost he is constructing for the coop to check on them.
He sees the owl in flight right at the top of the southwest corner of the aviary, its body sideways, wings vertical. It is mottled grayish-brown, has a white throat, prominent ear tufts which really aren’t ears but feathers, and yellow eyes. There’s no question what it’s there for. It angles laterally and slices silently through the forest, staying about 10 feet off the ground. Great horned owls are one of the best hunters on the planet — cats with wings.
In and around the aviary, the entire flock is frozen stiff. One chicken is out front, most are crammed into a corner. It’s a freeze frame, with every chicken absolutely still, locked in action poses as if they’d been flash-frozen, especially the ones more nearly caught out in the open. They don’t do this with Garfield, but they do it with both owls and chattering chipmunks.
It’s a good five minutes before the chickens move. Maybe ten. The Bearded One walks among them and tells them everything’s okay now but they do not move…at…all. Do chickens have heart attacks?
Then it’s dusk and I’m on the deck calling Garfield in when a giant dark cape sweeps smoothly and rather slowly through the trees from west to east, a Harry Potter apparition. I hold my breath. I try to hear something, anything. Not a sound. The bird book says the front edge of the owl’s wing has a fringe that silences the flight. I can’t even hear leaves rustling as the ghost-bird floats away. Our chickens have escaped Death another day.
Garfield actually always comes when I call him, but he is wired and it’s going to be another long haul for him inside. We help him decompress. Tonight our Twenty-Something son gets the flashlight and Garfield chases the light beam across the couch, behind the chair, up the wall. Again and again and again. He is single-focused and fierce, the stakes always life and death.
I think of the time we saw an owl pick a chipmunk off the side of a tree, its great wings vertical to the ground as it grabbed the distracted chipmunk — which was talking to Ruby — with its talons. I remember watching it glide away through the trees holding the meal like luggage or landing gear.
I felt sorry for the chipmunk. And I’ll feel sorry when this owl catches one of our chickens. But with a creature so ethereal, it’s hard to cry fowl.