Guess Whooo’s Coming to Dinner

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.

New bigger roost under construction in the foreground, aviary through the barn doors in the background, Ruby in between.

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.

Stick drawing of the owl showing its position when sighted

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?

The new roost accommodates the entire family tree: Kimber the banty hen mother alone on the top branch; Kimber's chicks on the middle branch in this order -- Dusty, Stevie, Marilyn, Steve, Spot, Tux, Blackie and then, on the end is Leah, a Rhode Island Red chick; the bottom branch has the two Wyandottes, Anna and Danielle, then the two Ameraucana chicks, Jane and Cheetah. Note the conspicuous size difference between the bantys and the "normal" chickens.

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.

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7 responses to “Guess Whooo’s Coming to Dinner

  1. Hooo…exciting! Happy all are safe.

  2. Lorie and Keith

    I know where you can get a really good price on aviary safety netting!!!

    • We may come to you for that information yet, Lorie, but we haven’t quite got there. They are safe in the aviary…and they don’t leave it in bad weather. Thanks!!

  3. Excellent story told!!! It was exciting….the new roost was so dang neat, and the parliament of stick owls was dang cute.

  4. Christine Widman

    Our neighbor across the street has had a pair of great horned owls nesting & living in one of her huge eucalyptus trees for over 10 years. The pair living there now are a second generation.
    The male and female hunt together on our property at night.
    I hear a deep Whoooo whoo and then a return lighter Whooo who.
    I wish you a pair of them.
    Perhaps this sounds like the wish of the 13th fairy in Sleeping Beauty, but I think not.
    To hear their call to each other is a mystery and a blessing.
    And will tie your Farmlet even more deeply to the cycle of life.
    Christine

  5. What a wonderful story! I’ve never seen an owl except on tv or at the zoo. How lovely to see, but not hear, one in person! I’m glad to hear that all your creatures are safe and sound. I hope the owl won’t go after Garfield. I’ll be in touch soon, Christi….maybe even after I write this! ❤ Love to all of you at the Farmlet!

  6. Christi, I can see this so clearly and love the similes: “I remember watching it glide away through the trees holding the meal like luggage or landing gear.”

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