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eye contact with animals – a glimpse of a deeper, untamed reality

October 19, 2009

On the 18th of October,  at the wildlife center, I mostly spent the time doing data entry, but it still had some deep experiences. I can’t adequately put these into words. I am not that gifted a writer, and even if I were, I still could not put into words what I saw today, and who I communed with.

I made eye contact with several owls, hawks, opossums, a domestic rabbit, raccoons, squirrels, 2 snakes, a fox, a skunk, an albino scub jay, and a raven.

Some of the animals I just checked on and observed briefly, some I was in closer contact with.

I held the King Snake for awhile. I visited with the raven and looked into the eyes of a great horned owl just a foot away from me. I went into the enclosure where the fox lives, and kneeled down on the other side of the door of the skunk’s room and let him smell my hand.

The great horned owl is a recent addition to our temporary family. It has a damaged wing, but will likely be releasable eventually, and not a non-releasable resident animal that lives at the center. We already have 2 great horned owls, and are not allowed to keep any more of that type. If we ever get any more that are non-releasable, they will be placed elsewhere -in a zoo or other nature facility.

When animals are first brought in, if they have an injury, they are treated, then placed in a very small indoor cage so they won’t move around much and re-injure themselves. Once they are better, but not quite ready to be released, they are moved to the outdoor enclosures.

The great horned owl I matched eyes with today was just brought in earlier this week, and is in an indoor cage. I knelt down and looked through the bars at it – right at eye level. I believe it is impossible to win a staring contest with a great horned owl. They have the most intense gaze, and not at all friendly!

There was a picnic for the staff on Saturday, and we of course talked a lot about animals. The lady who gives the nature talks at schools said great horned owls are the most vicious of all the owls out here. Great horns will eat other birds, including other owls, even those larger than themselves. They will go after all kinds of rodents, and even stray cats. I know from experience that they attack humans as well.

The eyes of the great horned owl – kind of like looking into the eyes of a god. It’s not that I felt subservient, I could easily kill the owl if I wanted to, and yet looking into that owl’s eyes was a rather humbling experience. It was like looking into the eyes of something ancient. Ancient, angry, contemptuous.. A little scary even. That’s how it felt.

Also amazing… again, beyond words. Most people don’t even see owls in the wild, and when they do, the owls are far away, usually. I got to stare right into the eyes of a great horned owl just a foot away.

The eyes of snakes? Wise, not evil, but very smart, there is a deeper intelligence there as well. Clever, and purposeful.

The raccoons.. I’ve been checking in on those critters and watching them for awhile. We were able to release most of our raccoons but still have several at the center in their special area. They are not afraid to make eye contact. I’ve been thinking about how to describe what they convey with their eyes.  They often look a little sad to me. Even though they have plenty of room to play, I don’t think they like captivity, and because of their stripes, look like convicts in prisons who don’t deserve to be there and are sad about it. And, they still very much have an untamed look in their eyes. Sad, patient, lively, wild, and mischievous..even a little dangerous.

The domestic rabbit – just looked sweet and lonely and sad. Sometimes people bring in domestic animals and we find homes for them. This rabbit has been with us for over a month. I would take it, except I am no longer allowed rabbits where I live – due to them pooping all over the rocks in our rock garden here at home – we don’t have grass in our backyard. Also, I gave away my rabbit cage and hutch to some people who live out in the country who adopted the rabbits and ducks I used to have. I pet the rabbit for a little while, and I hope someone can adopt it.

The opossums – looking into their eyes – they don’t look like they are very bright animals – kind of a lazy look to the adults, and the juvenile opossums – kind of like looking into the eyes of active but semi-stoned teenagers.

The young red tail hawks don’t have a smart look to them either – they have sort of a startled, stupid expression in their eyes. They remind me a tiny bit of cows – kind of dumb expressions, and brown and white speckled feathers, like brown and white cows. The look of deep animal intelligence comes with age. We have an adult non-releasable red tail hawk, and that old and powerful and smart and slightly mad look is there. The red tails awaiting release are not full adults yet.

There is one red tail hawk that is smaller and younger than the rest. That one we raised from the time it was newly hatched, and it has become habituated but not imprinted. This means the hawk is used to people, but doesn’t crave our attention. When one of us walks into the hawk cage, it won’t fly to the other side of the cage, but will stay perched right by us. However, it won’t move nearer to us either. That little one has the look of a smart young kid. I think it is female, but I don’t know why I think this. It is too young for me to tell.

We have red shoulder hawks housed with the red tail hawks. Even though the red shoulder hawks are somewhat smaller than the red tails, they get along well together. The red shoulder hawks have darker eyes, and they look intently at us. They can look really angry. For months we had 14 hawks in the main hawk cage. They had plenty of room to fly above our heads inside the enclosure – it is very large. The only hawk that came after me with talons out was a red shoulder hawk. It looked pissed off – most of them do.

The skunk – I couldn’t make clear eye contact with the skunk, because we were separated by a thick screen door that is not transparent – just has lots of little circles within the metal so I can see what is on the other side of the door. The skunk looks and acts lonely – he likes people, and seems desperate for attention. When  I talk to him on the other side of the door, he rapidly paces the length of the door and makes smelling noises – really wants to smell me.

The fox. I am not supposed to spend time with the fox, since I have not been vaccinated, a preventive series of 3 vaccines being necessary for safe contact with mammals we have that are not rodents. However, I wanted to visit with the red fox, who really likes people, and get a clear look at her, so I went in her room. She is tame, and to be safe, I was careful not to try and pet her.

She was ecstatic to see me! She still acts like a puppy somewhat, and makes high pitched noises and wags her tail a lot, and stands on her hind legs and puts her front paws on me like dogs do. However, even though she is tame, she certainly did not look like a dog. Not at all the same look in her eyes. The eyes of a fox are different and unique to foxes – it’s hard to explain, but she has a definite wild look to her and something that just is the essence of a fox. I somehow understood a fox for the first time – not fully understand of course, but somehow see into what a fox is. This was somewhat startling.. I was expecting her to have more a look in her eyes like a dog, but noooo. Definitely a fox.

The barn owl – the one who lives at the center. (Actually, we have 2 non-releasable barn owls – one is tame, and the other we are allowed to keep because she is an excellent surrogate parent for baby barn owls which are brought in each spring and summer. The surrogate parent barn owl is mean!)  The tame barn owl was happy enough to see me today – made little chirpy noises when I said hello to him. He tends to have the look of a smarter being that is just tolerating us. This is his more sleepy look – sort of a deeply wise old man that is not overly fond of children, but is ok with us. That’s how he looked at me today.

When I first saw him some years ago, it was quite different – he looked right at me for awhile, and quite intently, like he could see into me somehow. He looked like a very wild animal and sort of like looking into the eyes of a powerful wizard. I could somehow tell that he chose to accept me.

The picture of the barn owl I have as my banner for the blog is the tame one that lives at the center. Tame, and yet, still wild.

The great horned owl I have as my gravatar picture for use when I make comments is a wild owl that stayed with us for awhile, but was eventually released.

The little burrowing owl – has a permanently startled look to his eyes – and sometimes indignant, especially when I walk into his cage Once on my glove though, he doesn’t look as indignant, but still startled. He looks around a lot when he sits on my hand. I didn’t hold him today, though. This may sound strange, but he has sort of a stuffy, British look to him – like a bald head butler who looks down on people.

The albino scrub jay – all white, pinkish beak, red eyes, looks like a very clever bird. He is not friendly – try to pet him and get pecked or bit! A very sneaky bird. He has started to make singing-like noises though – jays are not songbirds, so I was surprised to hear him attempt to sing. Jays belong to the corvid family – the other corvids in North America are magpies, crows, and ravens. This jay was once released, but flew back the next day, and was pecking at our front door, so we kept him. Albino animals tend to have trouble in the wild, and he seems happy enough in his big cage.

Our non-releasable crow is a very sweet but somewhat forlorn looking fellow. He had been fed improperly as a young crow, before he was brought into the center, and therefore his feathers never grew in right and look ragged, and he is small for a crow. He is very nice, and likes to be petted. There is no look of a wild animal in his eyes anymore – just a shadow of how a crow would appear if you saw one in a field somewhere. Our crow is kept in a large cage in our lobby, and gets lots of attention from the staff. He is a great doorbell too. If somebody comes into the lobby, he makes a lot of noise.

The raven – smart and tricky. I am always wary when I pet him. He let me pet him today, but didn’t duck his head down much at all, so I really had to be careful. But then, whenever he lets me pet him, I feel I have to be careful. What was great about visiting the raven today was that we carried on more of a conversation. I stood quite close to his long wood perch, and he hopped right over and stood close to me. He made little noises, and then I’d talk to him, and he made much more eye contact with me than usual – paid much more attention to me – which was great! He’s non-releasable, and has been in our care for years, and yet still, a wild bird, as if he had just been brought in, and would soon be leaving. That very very smart wild intelligence.. again, it’s a humbling experience to be in the presence of these animals and look into their eyes.

Before leaving, I had to have one last quick peak at the red shoulder hawk in an indoor treatment cage, and then kneel down at eye level with the great horned owl and just look at it, into its eyes for a little while. After a few seconds, it stopped clicking its beak at me and settled down a bit, but still, that look..

I’ve never gotten a truer look into these feathered or 4 legged beings before. They posses an intelligence and reality that is deep, and beyond us and in their own way greater than us. I am incredibly fortunate to have made eye contact with them.

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