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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.