Thursday, May 27, 2010

May 27: Wicked Cute Owls

Early this morning I had plans to go over to a friend's house before work to see two baby great horned owls that live in the woods around her house. She's observed them since the beginning of May, has watched the mother owl bringing them food and keeping an eye on them. A few days ago, in fact, she watched one of the adults carry a rather large mammal up to the owl restaurant--she was hoping for her garden's sake that it was a woodchuck.

But just as I was about to leave, the phone rang. She hadn't seen them for two days, she said. So, no baby owls for me this morning.

Around 11:30 I got a call at work. The owls are back! Come over quick while they're right here!

So I drove to her house on a hill surrounded by beautiful old pines, with a view of the bay. Perfect owl habitat. She took me to the upstairs room from which we could easily see two fat owl fledglings perched side by side on a pine bough right outside the window. They were back to us, so all I could see was two fuzzy blobs that looked like big stuffed animals leaning on one another as if for support. A few trees away, deeper in the woods, we could see one of the adults, probably the mother. She had a sleeker body shape and her cat ears were more obvious. And her eyes were clearly focused on her two wobbly offspring. I have no doubt that she noticed our movement behind the window, too, though she didn't leave her perch.

A couple of years ago I had spent a few months watching three great horned owls on a web-cam as they hatched, matured, and fledged. When they flew the nest, they appeared similar to the two I saw today, live: ungainly, puffy things that looked like they would bumble through the trees. Yet my friend said when these two spread their wings, you can see their flight feathers are growing in rapidly. Day by day they'll be able to go farther and faster.

My friend told me that the owlets' nocturnal begging calls--a series of insistent shrieks--sound like someone being murdered in the night. The mother owl will watch over them and feed them throughout the summer, until they stop their heart-stopping screaming and learn to catch their own prey. Hard to think of something so cute and gawky maturing into the strong, silent killing machine that is an adult great horned owl. But with luck, they will.

Fuzzy baby owls,
by summer's end you'll both be
silent night hunters.

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