Thursday, May 22, 2014

Owl Action

Admittedly, it's been a long time since I've posted, and my bird action has been erratic at best, while the flight paths of my thoughts are equally erratic. But there have been good moments, learning moments, and teaching moments. One of them in recent weeks comes to mind...

There is a western screech owl in our neighborhood, and I've seen him a few times. Most recently, he visited my yard in a most insistent manner - despite my curiosity and enthusiasm for photos (which didn't turn out particularly well, as you can see), he was determined to stay nearby, flitting between the fence on the property line, to the pole that holds a feeder or two, to a tree near the kitchen window that holds another feeder. But owls don't eat birdseed, so why wouldn't he leave? Mind you, I was thrilled for the guest, but confused about his unusual behavior.

Confused, that is, until another piece of the puzzle fell into place. I have mouse traps on the deck regularly (mice are a fact of life with platform feeders), and after watching the owl for several minutes and several angles, I thought to glance at one of those traps - and it wasn't empty. It wasn't filled, either, not completely - a mouse had been caught by the tail but was still alive, and the owl was obviously aware of the prey and its availability. What amazing hearing owls have, as I was far closer to that trap several times than the bird, yet I never heard the mouse nor suspected its presence. Yet the owl knew, and wasn't giving up!

Obviously, both the bird and the mouse couldn't win the standoff. I had to give props to the bird, but I gave the mouse the tiniest bit of a fighting chance, and we released it in the yard, enough of a distance from the owl that it could run. It didn't run far, but it chose the exact wrong direction, and the owl got an easy meal that night.

What a wonderful experience, and one few birders get without provocation. I was in no way baiting the owl and deliberately attempting to draw it in with incapacitated prey (the mouse was genuinely caught, though I'd far prefer not to have mice nearby at all), but with the opportunity, I had to enjoy it. I'm sure the mouse didn't, but you win some and lose some.

Owl - 1, Mouse - 0.

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