An encounter with owls

Four children stand in the walkway, huddled together against the cold.  Two came out without a jacket.  One didn’t bother with shoes.  It’s hovering just above freezing.  They stand silently, listening.  It is a rare moment of quiet.

What do they sound like, Mommy? [Whoo whowhowho Whooo]

“Whoo whowhowho Whooo,” I call back. Partially to let Bug know what she is listening for, partially in hopes the owl will answer.  The sun hasn’t set yet, but they’ve been calling to each other since I came out to lock up the chickens.

Are they in our woods?  {Whoo whowhowho Whooo}

No, I whisper back.  I point to the treeline where the calls are coming from.

Will it eat me?  {Whoo whowhowho Whooo}

Her timing is impeccable.

Bear starts to giggle.  I have no idea why. {Whoo whowhowho Whooo} I raise my eyebrows at him, ask him if he wants to go inside.

Silence is his answer.

They all answer with silence.  A minute of total silence as they strain their ears.  Bug and Bear look off into the woods, as if hoping to see something.  Mouse stares at the ground, concentrating only on listening.  L.E.Fant stares at me.

Another minute goes by.  A dog barks in the distance.

Another minute.  The setting sun is beginning to turn the sky a fiery red.

Are the coyotes coming out, yet, mommy? {Whoo whowhowho Whooo}

Shhh, I answer reassuringly.  Hunter is right here.  He’ll let us know if any come this way.

Another minute.  They are straining their ears, standing on tiptoe.  And finally, echoing through the silence of sunset:

Whoo whowhowho Whooo Who Who Whooo, calls a Great Horned Owl.

Their faces light up.

Whoo whowhowho Whooo Who Who Whooo, answers the prospective mate.

I don’t have to ask if they heard, their eyes are beaming with excitement.

“It is breeding season for the Great Horned Owl,” I tell them as we go inside to warm up.  “They will lay their eggs in an open nest at the top of a tree while there is still snow on the ground.”

“Won’t the babies get cold?”

“The owlets have their mommy and daddy to keep them warm and to feed them.  Mommy will stay on the nest and brood them, while daddy hunts for food.  That’s why we have to take extra special care to lock up our chickens.  They would love a nice juicy chicken for dinner.”

The children giggle. I tell them about the Great Horned Owl’s range, its habitat, how it uses the nest of other birds or even squirrels to raise its young.  I tell them how I once “talked” to an owl for twenty minutes before it flew in for a closer look.  Suddenly, there was a huge owl perched on a telephone pole, looking menacingly down at me and I wanted to know what I had been saying all that time.

Apparently, I was neither threatening its territory, nor particularly attractive in owl terms for it flew off almost immediately.  But it was the closest I had ever come to a wild Great Horned Owl, and it left an impression on me.

The children’s questions taper off as they get absorbed in other tasks.  I tell them the owls will likely continue to call for some time, while they lay eggs and rear their young.  Owl calls can be heard for miles, I say, but they don’t sound that far away.

If we keep listening, maybe we’ll get to hear their babies.  I’ve never heard a baby owl before.

They smile, and go on with their play.

More on the Great Horned Owl if you are interested.  Now is a great time to take children out to try to listen for them because they will be calling frequently until they have bred.

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0 thoughts on “An encounter with owls

  1. wonderful, wonderful moment!

    I grew up surrounded by orange groves, and in the evenings my dad would often take me walking, watching the Owls “come out” for the evening. I miss that.
    I’m always on the lookout in the evenings for owls, but living in the middle of Orange County, Ca…I don’t find them. We do have a few hawks in our neighborhood (they have been eating/chasing the wild parrots here..which is ‘interesting’) but they are just not as mysterious and as exciting as I think owls are.

    thanks for sharing, I felt like I was standing right there!

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