A Midsummer Night’s Owl

What is wrong with that chicken?  Hens run clucking from all corners of the aviary for their breakfast oatmeal, all except one that is.  It’s off to my right, by itself.  Frozen on the ground.  I look closer and see freakishly huge eyes, a shockingly wide head.

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I gasp.  This is impossible.  It’s a foot tall owl standing there calm as Yoda, a young Barred Owl with closed eyes and a bloody spot on its beak.  I hold my breath to hear any tiny noise it might be making.  The hens behind me cackle over the oatmeal and find their way out the chicken hatch I opened in the tall aviary door.  We built this 30’x30′ enclosure two years ago to keep the predators out.  This is the first owl that ever made it in, and the hens couldn’t care less at the moment.

The owl flexes its talons and I notice the soft furriness of the feathers on his toes.  I could pick him up, he’s that still, but I know I shouldn’t.  He’s wild and wounded.  That beak is quite a hook up this close.

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Maybe he’s young enough to have a mama nearby, I don’t know.  I watch him for a few minutes and wonder what happened.  I remember hearing quite a ruckus out here shortly after daybreak.

Owls love to eat chickens.  They hang around a lot.  There are several different kinds, and all have enormous wing spans.  Barred owls fill these woods with their distinctive “Who-Cooks-For-You?” hoot.  I’ve seen many smaller birds, sparrows and chickadees and nuthatches and towhees, all fly in and out of the aviary through a six-inch gap at the top.  Being young and crazy, this owl must have thought that he, too, could enter at night and eat his fill right off the roost.

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But last night was the super-full moon, and with the Solstice and 16-hour-long days, the nocturnal types among us are bone tired.  I think of the Bearded One and His Majesty, our 22-year-old son, still in bed, cherishing their sleep.  This young owl was tired and his judgment was off.  He obviously crashed into something, whacking his beak so hard it sent him tumbling down into a chicken’s dust bath.  Now he’s trapped inside with a bloody nose.

I talk to the owl in soothing tones.  He rotates his thick head and rolls his eyes, like he has a bad headache.  I see that his eyes are blue and look like the Earth.

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The hens must have discussed this intruder at the top of their lungs — I remember hearing them at daybreak through our open bedroom window.  Here was an arch-enemy, a predator, not to be trusted.  They decided, however, that he seemed harmless enough sitting there with his eyes closed.  Let the humans figure it out.

I race down the hill through the morning mist to offer this amazing once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to the males in my life.  I slip off my boots and my hands are shaking I’m so excited.  His Majesty’s room is first, at the top of the stairs.

“You won’t believe it,” I whisper loudly from his doorway.  “There is an OWL in the aviary!  Who knows how it got in?  But it’s still there, not moving, its eyes closed.”

As are His Majesty’s.  He groans and barely lifts one eyelid.  He is not coming to see the spectacle.  He rolls over.

I have hope that I can stir the nascent wild man in the sleeping Bearded One.  “Sweetheart?” I say, quietly, tenderly, “There is an OWL in the aviary.”  He hears, but he does not hear danger.

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He doesn’t even open his eyes although I can see the pupils quivering under the lids.  I don’t press.  “I’ll take a picture,” I say and tiptoe out.  I grab the camera and the broom.

Back in the aviary, the owl hasn’t moved.  I take his picture.  Then I set the broom down by his toes.  Just like that, he climbs aboard and I carry him outside the aviary and lift him up to the sky.

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Here I am with an owl on my broom.  Just another day in the country.

And with that, the owl stretches his magnificent 5-foot-wide wings and sails thirty feet up into the cedar tree by the trampoline.  Where he stays for 3 hours, long enough for both men to finally get up and have a look.

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32 responses to “A Midsummer Night’s Owl

  1. What a hoot! You are a fabulous, fearless, sensitive farm gal! I hope his beak will heal and glad that the male folk got a glimmer of your awesome morning. Great blog……”owwwwwl in a day’s work!” 🙂

    • It was magical, Seestor. Wild things happen on the Solstice, eh? I thought of you playing Puck in the Wittenberg University production of Midsummers all those years ago. Over hill and dale! Love you.

  2. As always thank you.

  3. What a magnificent post Christi. Owls are special birds and herald things. This one heralded you a chance to help him. It reminds me of the story of the poor Japanese fisherman that catches the huge fish and who has compassion and lets it go when it pleads for it’s life. I am sure there are life lessons here somewhere…He won’t forget it and maybe your chooks might not get raided quite so much now? Lazy sack men! We women are up bright and early and our men snore in somnambulant bliss (although I get the feeling the B.O. might just have been playing possum there 😉 ). The early girl catches the owl and you got a precious life experience right there :). Kudos on the drawing of the owl with the world in his eyes. How magnificent! Not too sure about you with the broom though, it bears a strange resemblence to you using an owl blunderbus!

    • You’re so right about owls and their myth and mystery, Fran. I looked them up in my copy of Ted Andrews’s ANIMAL SPEAK and there are nine pages devoted to it! It’s all about mystery and magic and omens and vision, not to mention the moon, wisdom and fertility! The experience was a blessing, but I hope no other owls get in! This was indeed virtually impossible. 🙂 And the Bearded One thanks you for your drawing compliments. He doesn’t seem to regret not getting out of bed early, either. Can you believe it?!

      • I bet Austin is STILL in bed! 😉 By the way…you might want to make sure that those owls don’t hover around Austin’s window…are you ready for grandkids yet? ;).

  4. ‘Magical’ is the word! Thank you – my day has started brilliantly reading this!!!

  5. Marie Overturf

    I’m impressed that you offered a broom to the owl to get out of there.

    • I was impressed, too! lol I only thought of it because we’d used the same broom the day before to herd a little meat bird chick after he accidentally got out. I saw the broom there on the porch and thought I might herd the owl, too. Turns out I just set it down in front of him and he climbed aboard!

  6. What an amazing experience!!! It is very powerful when a wild animal trusts you to do the right thing 🙂 Predator or not, I’m very heart-warmed to hear your story of assistance….. however I hope you found how he go in to keep his bigger friends out of the chicken house 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment, lifeBelle. Wild animals crossing our paths is significant,I agree, and I’m grateful for this experience — I hope my owl friend recovers fully from it!

  7. Wonderful post with pictures Christi. I love owls. All of them. I remember one of my favorite stories was called “I heard the owl call my name”. Can’t remember by who but it was a true story written by a minister/pastor in the canadian wilderness somewhere.

    • Thanks, Cathy, and it’s so cool that you mention that book! I thought about it when I was thinking about titles with owls. I remember the book from my high school days — Margaret Craven is the author — and they made a movie in 1973. Yes, it’s set in British Columbia, Canada, which is just north of us here in the greater Seattle, Washington, USA area. I don’t remember the story, but I just might look it up again. 🙂

  8. I’ve never seen an owl before (I mean not in real life – I’ve seen pictures.) What an awesome experience! I’d get up to see it 🙂

  9. I love this. A barred, too–that’s a big owl. We had our own owl moment here last year, and I’ll never forget my delight and surprise when I looked a little closer in the tree and saw those huge round eyes watching me, no blinking, no fear, just watching. We didn’t have any other birds last year, but it was worth it.

    • I keep going over in my mind the “delight and surprise”, as you so perfectly put it, JK. That moment of recognition, my eyes refocus and clear and I can see what I’m seeing. Delight. Yes. 🙂

  10. I love the way that you tell a story – and owls are always worthy of a story in my book!

  11. Christine Widman

    Christi, I love this story. I also would love to have seen the barred owl. That’s one I don’t have a photo of. Anyway, I love both the incident and how you wrote about it. It’s interesting how animals/birds are afraid of humans yet somehow know when a human is trying to help them. I’ve had the same with hummingbirds. Den
    Hi Christi,
    I think you and Dennis are “Animal-Whisperers”.
    I continue to be amazed at your ability to tend to your farmlet creatures – great and small. And I look at Den’s wildlife photos seeing bears, coyotes, bobcats, coatis, hawks, lesser gold finches…almost all of them looking directly at Dennis with complete calm in their eyes.
    “I see his eyes are blue and look like the earth.” Exquisite language and drawing.
    Dennis and I continue to be dazzled year after year by the pair of Great-Horned Owls that live and breed and die and regroup as male and female pair in our wonderful 80+ year old neighbor’s towering eucalyptus trees across the road from us.
    Sending joy in living things,
    Christine

    • Den — Oh, if you had only been there with your camera!!! You could have snapped the most amazing photos. I actually thought of you and my brother, who has similar talent and a big camera, when I tried to snap a decent photo. The flash kept going off, which I’m sure the owl did not appreciate, yet he stayed still. As you say, he must have known I wasn’t a threat. Christine — I’m a huge fan of Den’s photography, as you know. Shoot, his incredible bear-in-a-tree photo is the cover of my novella A BEAR TALE. He is sooo good, and I’m tickled that he commented. 🙂 I have great memories of Ursula’s Great-Horned family. I could never forget. Love you, ck

  12. Oh my gosh this is amazing!!! Love this. And “Who-cooks-for-you” is exactly what they say! I’d never heard a Barred till moving to these Bainbridge woods. I think your new name is Dances with Owls…or no – Flies With Owls On a Broomstick.

  13. WOW!!! You SAVED him!!!! I can’t believe how many comments you got on this one, but they are all right, very magical, mystical happening!!!! Do you have Ted Andrew’s book? What a great story!…and the blue eyes, wow…loved the owl sketches!

    • I went straight to ANIMAL SPEAK, Suzanne. lol Nine pages long. And the blue eyes were mottled, like the Earth appears. A huge surprise. It was that inner eyelid thing, I understand. Thanks for adding to the comments. 😉

  14. Another great tale from the Farmlet! I love that the Bearded One was able to draw the scene with you and the owl and the broom so accurately. He must have been envisioning it with his eyes closed.

    • Envisioning with his eyes closed…the Bearded One’s favorite position. Ha! Thanks for commenting, Rural, and hope you’re keeping cool on your farmlet.

  15. Great story! I love living in our little piece of wilderness, when the creatures come visit. We have been lucky and excited to see an eagle come swooping down, light on a thick madrona branch, throw itself down with a pump of its wings, and – crrr-ack! – break the branch off, flying away with it. And I mean an 8-foot branch, easily. Nesting season. You have such a wonderful way of weaving your tales so that the rest of us can envision them. Maybe you’ve made a friend. 😉
    Becky

    • Madrona! That is the hardest wood, I swear. The B.O. carved a spoon out of it once. Never again. Hard as rock. The eagle must have chosen a slightly rotted one! I love the critters, too, and it’s a large part of why we live here. Nice to know your name, Stuck. I like Becky. 🙂 Thanks for the compliment, too.

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