Published on May 26, 2020
We all gave a hoot about the little owl
A few summers ago, Roy and I (and our adjacent neighbors) were both blessed and cursed by a pair of Barn Owls nesting in the attic of the neighbor’s house. The owls entered through a soffit vent dislodged by strong winds and made a nest in the attic of the house.
I don’t know how many eggs were laid – or how many owlets lived to maturity – but I suspect that the hot drought conditions that summer resulted in less-than-optimum conditions to rear a brood, and we only saw one owlet come out of the nest in the process of fledgling.
At first, the owlet hung out on the railing of our neighbor’s upstairs porch and cried for momma or daddy to bring him a mouse or two with his loud squeaky-hinge sort of cry. He called for his parents non-stop all night long, interrupted only by feeding on the prey he was delivered, making it rather noisy when we were trying to fish under the lights. Mom and Dad were constantly flying overhead and over our house, guarding the baby and looking for prey. I know I chased off the owl, diving for our old dog, more than once. One time getting a wing in my face, and another time, the owl hitting the closing patio door as I marshalled the pups in the door as testament to the gravity of the owl’s intent.
As the young owlet began to stretch his wings, it ended up hiding for a week or so between the plywood sheets on a rack we keep downstairs to board up when hurricanes threaten. Again, he called his parents all night long, looking for supper. The call got on our nerves after a while, and we’d have to go in the house to get some peace and quiet. But during the daytime, we’d sneak up and play peek-a-boo with the owl. We’d catch his attention and move from side to side – and he would follow our movement with his head and body. We also took a few portraits of him, but we stayed at a distance doing this because – well, even at this young age, he had talons and a beak that were not to be messed with. Even though his nocturnal dinner parties were rather messy, leaving disgusting owl pellets around, it was hard not to get attached to our owl baby. He was so adorable!
But, I guess the little owl did not like the cramped accommodations at our house, because after about a week, he tried his wings again and ended up in the store room of another neighbor who almost had a heart attack when he opened the storeroom and found an owl staring back at him. That visit lasted about a day, and it appears that when the little owl was stretching his wings that evening, he ran into some power source – we surmise – as he was found dead the next day under the power lines with no visible wounds.
That’s when I really felt for the little fellow and started to find out a bit more about Barn Owls. I learned that Barn Owls feed mostly on mice and small mammals and frequent grasslands to hunt for food, so the wildlife refuge and open marsh across the river was a perfect place to look for food. There is no specific breeding season for the Barn Owl, instead depending upon a steady abundance of food. Barn Owl populations increase rapidly when mouse populations go up and may produce several broods when the hunting is good.
Barn Owls are known the world over and have numerous names: Monkey-faced Owl, Ghost Owl, Church Owl, Death Owl, Hissing Owl, Hobgoblin or Hobby Owl, White Owl, Night Owl, Rat Owl, Straw Owl, Barnyard Owl, or Delicate Owl.
Barn Owls may look big with their 42-inch wing span, but an adult weighs only about a pound. The Barn Owl can turn its head about 270 degrees to look at things because it cannot move its eyes. But here’s the surprising part – they live a very short time. They become sexually mature in less than a year, and in the wild, they only live 1 to 2 years, and many of them (like our owlet) do not live to see their first year through.
Our owlet’s parents only stayed around a couple more days after the little owl died - grieving, I guess. Then they left and did not start another brood. Even though the little owl’s raucous cries were disturbing, and his parents’ fly-overs were unsettling for us and our small dogs, Roy and I and our neighbors were sad to see that the little guy did not make it. So who gives a hoot about our little owlet? I guess we all did.
(Write Jan in care of The Bulletin. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)