Great Horned Owl

Image by Andrew_N via Flickr

Outside again at 4 am after failing to convince the dog that needing to pee was all in her head. Not as cold as the last few mornings but cold enough — clothing choice is fleece not parka. Brilliant moon is on its slow arc downward in the night sky. Lots of activity out there tonight. At least one fox wailing into the darkness. Is it calling for a companion or identifying itself to the world at large? Whatever its purpose, I find a fox’s cry unsettling. Raw and urgent in its wildness, yet sounding at times almost vulnerable, like a creature in pain.

In the dark, with flashlight off now, I stand quietly, sharpening my senses. I gradually pick out other sounds — an owl in the distance, an odd clicking high up in a nearby tree, some rustling in the Bramble, an occasional small squeak. Though I love owls, their skill in total stealth flying has me glancing skyward more than once.

Years ago I volunteered at a bird rescue center and one of my tasks was cleaning out a great horned owl cage. I would remove the previous night’s entrée (dead mouse stuffed with vitamins) and replace it with a fresh one. I had been given a laundry list of what to do, and not to do, while in the walk-in cage. Don’t look the owl directly in the eyes (it might interpret my look as a threat) and always know where the owl is and what it is doing. Now at first glance (and second and third) those directives seem counter to one another. How do I know where the owl is if I can’t look at it and how can I look at it without  looking at it if you get my  meaning. And of course the clincher delivered dispassionately by my trainer, the owl is totally silent in flight and attack. In other words you won’t know it is on you until it is. No warning growl, no raised hackles as a visual cue. Oh and once they sink their claws in its impossible to get them to let go. They don’t respond well to ‘drop it.’ They are after all an apex predator, nothing screws with them. Well, except humans of course.


To add to the fun I was entering the cage with dinner in my hand, and removing the remains of what, for all I knew, the owl had been saving to snack on later. I felt like an overeager waiter, clearing the table way too soon and pissing off the still-hungry customer.

So basically the entire time I was in the owl’s cage I kept my head pulled as tight down into my shoulders as I could. At the same time I would whip entirely around at odd moments trying to get a feel for where the bird was.

In retrospect, I am surprised the great horned owl didn’t fall off its perch laughing.

I came across this amazing owl video not too long ago. The end of the clip when the owl unfurls its claws is absolutely chilling,  just imagine it from a mouse or bunny perspective.