As daylight breaks at the horizon, my nocturnal little friend is just retiring into the enclosed area in the top of my palm tree. As usual he has left little packages of indigestible bone and fur, wrapped up as if they were gifts from him to me, in the front yard around the base of the tree. Although it can be quite a nuisance, his endangered species status, makes these messes all that much easier to tolerate. I am proud to have a ?special status? ranking animal residing in my tree, and I feel it is my duty to do what I can to protect him.
I often sit on the front porch waiting for twilight, anticipating the moment when he will emerge from the tree to begin his night as the silent hunter. Except for an occasional tree limb falling or the dropping of the nest to make a new one, I never see my barn owl by daylight.
I often wonder what he does all day tucked away in my palm tree.
Every night about one hour after sunset, he comes out, flies over to the nearest phone pole and posts up there as if on guard duty for my yard. Sometimes he sits there for five minutes and some nights he stays for an hour. Irregardless of how long he sits, his behaviors are always the same. He sets himself atop the pole and begins what seems to be a scanning of the fields and homes around him.
The eyes of owls are fixed in their position and cannot move from side to side. Therefore, to see to the side or in back of him he turns his whole head all the way around to scan the different areas around him. Occasionally while looking back he will spot me watching him. Oddly, instead of him being spooked, I spook and freeze right where I sit while he stares at me, often looking me up and down as if he were sizing me up for a fight.
As I sit and stare I anxiously await for him to make a noise, any noise, a ?hoot? maybe, or a ?clicking? like my parrot used to do with is beak. But nothing, he makes not a single peep. I can only assume that this silent creature is hunting for food. Any noise made on his part would not only signal his prey by allowing the victim to hear his approach, but, would also interfere with his own sensitive hearing, which allows him to locate his prey in total darkness.
He doesn?t always stay posted atop the pole for very long. After a few area scans, a little stretch here and there and he?s gone in a matter of seconds. I watch him as he glides through the air, still scanning, flying back and forth, side to side, surveying the fields for potential food. And suddenly, my long awaited noise! Not just any noise, not just a ?hoot? as I had expected, but a long drawn out blood curdling screech. I ponder for a moment on the possible reason for such a horrible sound and then, as if to distract me, he dives straight down into the field of the house next door immediately pulling me from my thought. Now I sit feeling very alone, wondering when my friend will return.
It always seems to amaze me when he has been out hunting and oh so silently comes flying back to his nest. In my research of this animal I have learned that the pile of down feathers that line their wings act as a muffler to the sound, making their flight completely undetectable by their prey. But, then unexpectedly just before he reaches home he makes this other sound, something like a low frog-like ?croak?. I wondered if this could be a burp on his part, or maybe a signal to scare uninvited guests from his nest. Instead of paying any more attention to all the strange sounds coming from the creature I use this opportunity to study in more detail the markings and distinguishing traits of this owl.
He is really a strange looking creature, and yet very beautiful at the same time. He doesn?t appear to have any ears on his large round head, his dark eyes and his off-white beak are placed right smack in the middle of what seems to be like a dinner plate shaped face. The feathers here curve slightly outward from the center and are outlined with a tan shade leaving the owl with a heart shaped outline to his face. This barn owl is primarily white, with some pale yellow and golden shades to its upper side while his underside is freckled in a grayish sort of shade. His upper side also has fine lines of dark brown scattered throughout.
The unique shape and markings of the creature make my feelings regarding its status of ?special concern? even more tragic than I originally expected. Due to human use of pesticides and the declining number of farm structures barn owls are becoming scarce. Why is it that a creature that is actually of some use to us, is forgotten and now endangered because of us? We used to do everything we could to attract one of these precious animals to our barns, to help us with keeping the rodent population down. Now we use pesticides and in return we are poisoning our old friend the owl. I can?t help but shift again to an old childhood character, Owl, from Winnie the Pooh, the one every other character went to for advice. The wise old owl from Winnie the Pooh is living in my tree. But, this is not the Owl we remember, this owl is alone - and although he my not know it, he lives every day in an environment that will probably eventually kill him. This is why I must do what I can to protect him and try to ensure that this wise old owl lives to become a wise old age.