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the owl.

July 16, 2014

I live in Boise, Idaho. Here in Boise, it is quite common to see some wildlife. Certain times of the year, mallard ducks and Canada geese can very often be seen flying overhead. Squirrels live in neighborhoods all over the city. There is a small herd of deer that lives downtown. I haven’t seen that herd, but I have seen one small herd that lives in a large city park south of downtown. I once saw a red fox downtown.

There is a small nature reserve near my house. The reserve is surrounded by busy streets and residential neighborhoods. At the reserve, I have seen several kinds of songbirds, herons, three kinds of raptors, frogs of various sizes, several foxes, and a Great Horned Owl.

Here at home, I’ve seen ducks fly by, and once a pair of mallards landed in our backyard and wandered about for a half hour, even though we have no pond or pool. Geese fly by, various songbirds live in the trees, and squirrels are sometimes quite active. But I’ve almost never seen any owls in or near my backyard.

On the first of July, in the late afternoon, I went outside on the back patio to hit a punching bag for a little while. I had only hit it a few times when I heard the distinctive sound of a very agitated hummingbird.

There is a large tree at the back of the patio. A few days previous, I had heard some agitated little birdie noises. I looked up, and saw a hummingbird trying to chase away a squirrel. I seriously doubt squirrels wreck hummingbird nests. I am guessing the squirrel must have just gotten too close to the hummingbird’s nest, and the bird became upset.

Because of the episode with the bird and the squirrel, I already knew what a troubled hummingbird sounded like. So, when I looked up into the tree, on the afternoon of July first, I expected to see what I’d already seen: a hummingbird and a squirrel.

But this time..

It was a hummingbird trying to scare off a sleeping owl!

Some owls, such as barn owls and screech owls, do live in cities, but in most cities, these owls, as far as I know, are rarely seen. Here in Boise, the last time I saw an owl near the house, it was in 2011. Just before full dark, I noticed a small owl perched on the backboard of a small basketball hoop in a nextdoor neighbor’s yard. I tried taking pictures of the owl, but it was too dark for the pictures to turn out well. Eventually, the owl flew off. Judging by the size of the owl and what it looked like in flight, I was able to determine it was a Western Screech Owl.

How was I able to make that determination? For a bit over two years, I volunteered at a wildlife rehabilitation center when I was still living in California. I spent most of the two years working with owls and other raptors. I liked the hawks quite a bit, but the owls mostly were my favorite. I worked with Western Screech Owls, Burrowing Owls, Great Horns, and Barn Owls. I’m certainly not an owl expert, but have had plenty of hands on experience working with both tame and wild owls.

Even so, the owl in the tree that I spotted just over two weeks ago was one I could not at first identify. It had markings similar to a Western Screech Owl, but was of a different color than the screech owls I’d worked with and seen in the past. Also, this owl looked noticeably bigger than any other screech owl I’d seen. I could not figure out what kind of owl it was until I checked a bird guide and some youtube videos. Yes, it turns out some Western Screech Owls are bigger than others, and there’s some variety of color too.

The hummingbird at times flew quite close to the owl, and sometimes flew farther away. The owl eventually did wake up a little, but still, hardly paid attention to the frantically moving and chirping bird. Even when a squirrel was climbing around a few feet away from the owl, the owl did not seem perturbed.

After spotting the owl, I hurried down to my room and got my camera. I took pictures and made some videos. A strange thing happened while I was doing this.. the owl did not fully open its eyes to look at the hummingbird, the squirrel, or a robin that landed in the tree and stayed briefly. However, when I had my camera zoomed in on the owl, the owl turned to look directly at me! Remarkable.

Also remarkable, and very sad.. the owl had a severely damaged eye. I could not tell the extent of the damage until I put the pictures and videos on my computer and looked at them on a large screen. I was shocked.

I put two videos of the owl on youtube, but decided not to post the video of the closeup of the owl looking at me, which showed its damaged eye. I felt really sad seeing it, and did not want other people to feel sad. But, I will post a still photo of the closeup of the owl here in this entry. My wish is not to make you feel sad, but I still feel I should post the picture. I have some things I want to write about concerning that picture, and the owl.

First though, the two videos I put on youtube.. I’m currently experiencing a youtube glitch and/or wordpress glitch, so I won’t be able to put up the videos here. If you like, you can go to youtube, and type in Kerkuil’s Channel.. that’s my channel.

Here’s a still photograph of the owl.. click on the photo to enlarge it, then hit the back button to return to this post.

backyard owl 1

I’ve watched the closeup video of the owl many times. It looks at me, and I am trying to tell what I am seeing in its good eye. It looks to me that it might be in pain, but it also looks like it has a certain wisdom. It looks like it has been around awhile. It has a definite peaceful expression, suffering, but peaceful. And it definitely takes notice of me.. doesn’t judge me, but certainly takes notice.

More on that in a moment.

First I want to express surprise at the owl even being alive with a damaged eye. When raptors with damaged eyes were brought into the rehab center, they were treated if they had other injuries, and put down if they were too severely injured to save. Those that could be brought back to health, but that still had a damaged eye or wing were determined to be non-releasable animals. According to Department of Fish and Game rules, these owls or other birds could be kept as display and/or education animals. They could be brought to zoos and other wildlife centers, or, we could keep them as display and/or educational animals at the center, as long as we did not already have that kind of animal in residence.

The educational animals we had were mostly non-releasable animals the staff was able to tame. Those that we could not train lived in enclosures so visitors could see them. The tamed animals were brought to schools and other places for wildlife presentations. Also, several times a year, the wildlife center had fundraising events at the center, and I and other animal handlers brought out the various animals. I also helped with an earth day presentation at a large park, and a presentation at another park. I felt bad that the animals could not be released.

This owl, were it brought into the center, would certain have been determined to be non-releasable.. an animal that cannot hunt for itself or take care of itself in the wild.

But, as far as I can tell, this owl is not young, has a damaged eye, and, considering that it is still alive, must be managing somehow. Perhaps the non-releasable animal rule is too strict?

A few nights before I’d seen this owl, I’d heard a screech owl late at night. The sound came from different places. It was obviously hunting. It’s quite possible the owl I heard was this owl. Owls don’t only hunt by site, they have good hearing as well. Maybe this owl has good enough hearing that it doesn’t need two functioning eyes? Something to wonder about.

Is there a spiritual aspect to this owl?

A few hours after I’d seen the owl, I went to the mental health support group I sometimes attend. I told the story about seeing the owl, and later talked with one of the guys from the group about it. This guy has been into shamanism and paganism for sometime. He didn’t have a whole lot to say, and is somewhat the quiet type, but he did say he thought there was a spiritual aspect to the owl, and me seeing the owl. Owls as totemic spirits, that sort of thing.

I was already wondering about that while looking at the owl. I found it so surprising that the owl didn’t look fully at the other animals in the tree, but, when I had my camera zoomed in on it, it concentrated its attention on me. I made almost no noise while I had my camera on the owl. It was not likely any sound I made attracted it. Something else.. something.. spiritual? Why did it look at me?

And what does it mean that the owl had only one functioning eye? I thought of Odin, the chief Norse god, who has only one eye. But Odin is associated with ravens, not owls, as far as I know. Still, I could not help but think of Odin.

And I thought about nature spirits. Both Native Americans and pagans practicing European traditions believe in nature spirits. Was this a nature spirit.. a totemic spirit?

If so, what does this all mean?

I don’t know.

Some experiences cannot be adequately put into words I suppose. And I’ve not studied enough paganism or Native American spirituality to make a good interpretation of the owl.

Maybe there’s no spiritual interpretation, and it’s just coincidence that I just happened to walk outside at the exact time there was a hummingbird, bothering a screech owl, which just happened to be resting up in the tree above where I was standing. If the hummingbird had not been chattering at the owl, I would not likely have looked up and seen the owl. And is it just coincidence that the owl, after being bothered for over a half hour by the hummingbird, and generally paying it no mind, just happened to look right at me?

I don’t think this is just a coincidence.

I don’t know what to make of all this, but I felt strongly that I should write about the owl.

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