For the past six winters a Barred Owl has been a daily visitor at my house. For most of these years, he roosted (and slept) all day every day from December through February on a White Birch tree just outside my door. Although I usually try not to interfere with the natural rhythm of things, one year when the snow was exceptionally deep, making hunting quite challenging, I decided to offer the owl a daily treat – one small rodent. Enough to entice him but not to satiate him or make him dependent upon this source of food. (I once opened up the gizzard of a road-killed Barred Owl and discovered five small rodents – they average about this amount per day.) Thanks to the Listserv in my town, I could appeal to residents for small rodents (trapped, not poisoned) which they generously deposited in a specially marked box outside the Town Hall, freshly frozen.
Every afternoon like clockwork the Barred Owl would become alert and open his eyes. If he had left his perch during the day, he would return at dusk, precisely at 4:30 p.m. His timing appeared to be in sync with the amount of daylight, as he arrived a bit later as the days lengthened. Most mornings I would take a mouse from the freezer and let it thaw (when I forgot, the microwave came in handy!). I would take the mouse outside, dangle it by its tail to alert the observing owl, and place it on the railing of my porch. Practically before my hand released the mouse the owl would fly in, grasp the mouse on the fly in its talons and disappear into the woods. More than once I felt the tips of his wings brush against me.
Six years, 60 days a year, comes to 360 days…this owl has spent nearly a year, one-tenth of its life, outside my door. I came upon the remains of a Barred Owl not even a quarter of a mile from my house this week. I can only hope it wasn’t my friend.
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