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A Feathered Visitor

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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73 responses

  1. Miriam

    What a delightful post! Thank you so much.

    March 25, 2020 at 7:38 am

  2. Such a lovely friend. I hope you did not lose him…. Katharine M. Preston

    Author of: Field with a view: Science and Faith in a time of Climate Change.

    Wild Orchard Farm Traditional Mohawk territory Boquet River Watershed 247 Christian Road Essex, NY 12936 518-963-8966 katharine.preston@gmail.com

    >

    March 25, 2020 at 7:39 am

  3. Deb

    Thank you for sharing a heartwarming story and beautiful photographs. You touched my heart with a tear.

    March 25, 2020 at 7:42 am

  4. What a lovely story and a blessing to have a friend so near! And, of course, beautiful photos!

    March 25, 2020 at 7:45 am

  5. Don Mccabe

    A beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

    March 25, 2020 at 7:45 am

  6. Janet

    What a lovely story. It’s always amazing when a wild animal lets you into its life. That his wings gently brushed you as he flew in for a mouse is simply wonderful. I hope your friend returns this year.

    March 25, 2020 at 7:46 am

  7. kathiefive

    Oh Mary. I hope your owl returns.

    March 25, 2020 at 7:48 am

  8. Judy Williams

    Did your friend come back after you found the barred owl remains or do you believe that was him? This is so beautiful How wonderful you are to have been able to make that connection with him. Bless you! Judy Willliams

    March 25, 2020 at 7:48 am

    • I haven’t seen him since I found the owl remains, but he usually disappears by now so I have no way of knowing if it was him.

      March 25, 2020 at 12:00 pm

  9. Dianne Wright

    Fabulous , Mary. I also hope your friend is somewhere good; alive and well. Thanks for helping this beautiful owl.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    March 25, 2020 at 7:54 am

  10. Pam Burnside

    What a beautiful story! I hope your friend is still there. It’s interesting how we can nurture nature and in return it nurtures our souls.

    March 25, 2020 at 7:54 am

  11. Mary Jo Carlsen

    I hope so, too, Mary. What a gift!

    March 25, 2020 at 7:57 am

  12. Deborah Luquer

    Oh, Mary
    How fortunate you both were….touching each other as you did.

    March 25, 2020 at 7:57 am

  13. What a spectacular experience! Whatever the end result may be, you both were enriched by your kindness. The story was lovely, and the pictures were amazing. Thank you for all the moments of pleasure your column brings.

    March 25, 2020 at 8:00 am

  14. Cassie

    Very cool. What an amazing experience

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    March 25, 2020 at 8:07 am

  15. Clyde Jenne

    Here’s hoping it is not your friend. You have given us here in Hartland hope with your feeding practices.

    March 25, 2020 at 8:13 am

  16. Jackie Ascrizzi

    A beautiful story, a beautiful relationship. I, too, hope it wasn’t your friend of all these years….

    Jackie Ascrizzi

    >

    March 25, 2020 at 8:14 am

  17. Jodie Moriarty

    I hope it was not your friend who perished.

    In these strange times I go outside and just listen. I take great comfort from the natural world.

    Thank you so much for your posts.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    March 25, 2020 at 8:20 am

  18. Laurie Spry

    What a wonderful, wonderful post to wake up to today (well, I’ve already been out to feed the horses). What a special relationship you have to this lovely creature, and I know we all hope the dead one was NOT your owl. Please keep us posted!

    March 25, 2020 at 8:21 am

  19. Deborah Luquer

    Mary, Your beautiful beautiful feathered visitor. I hope you find solace in many unexpected places. Deborah Sent from my iPad

    >

    March 25, 2020 at 8:21 am

  20. Nancy

    I hope so too, Mary. What a special connection to have with a wild animal. In times like these we need our feathered friends more than ever. What a special

    March 25, 2020 at 8:21 am

  21. Diane

    What a wonderful experience!

    March 25, 2020 at 8:22 am

  22. Helen Carroll

    mbcarroll2012@gmail.com

    I thought you and Scott would be interested in the above.

    On Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 7:34 AM Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: “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 interf” >

    March 25, 2020 at 8:23 am

  23. Ellen Halperin

    What an amazing story. And the photos! I sure hope that wasn’t your friend.

    We had one hovering in the tree over our bird feeder one winter. I knew it was hungry, so I tossed out a raw chicken leg. Which it ignored. It wasn’t till later that I learned that would not appeal to him/her.

    March 25, 2020 at 8:24 am

  24. kat.viaggio@gmail.com

    What a treat for you!

    On Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 7:34 AM Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: “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 interf” >

    March 25, 2020 at 8:25 am

  25. Henry Holland

    Touching story, Mary. Thank you.

    March 25, 2020 at 8:28 am

  26. serenityrose04hotmailcom

    Thank you and way to preserve one of my favorites, my first Owl Prowl that I lead, federal ranger, only once a year so as not to interfere but protect by education, brought a cautious but beautiful great horned owl. It took well after midnight for this owl to encircle all the way down a river channel to our location. Only about 5 adults remained by then, but what a thrill. Coming up on 30+ years of service.

    Thanks for the stroll down memory lane!

    peace, prayers and serenity,

    Stay safe

    Viola ________________________________

    March 25, 2020 at 8:33 am

  27. Gwyn Loud

    Mary, this is such a heartwarming story of a mutual bond you had with the owl. I can only hope it will continue but if not, you helped prolong his or her life for a long time. In this time of angst over the virus ,you rblog means more than ever. Thank you.
    Stay well,
    Gwyn

    March 25, 2020 at 8:37 am

  28. You are AMAZING! Thank You! Do they make a call like a horse? (Naeh, naeh, naeh) I’ve heard them and it’s astounding! 🙂 ❤

    March 25, 2020 at 8:49 am

    • I think you may have heard a Screech Owl – they start their call with a sort of “whinny!”

      March 25, 2020 at 11:52 am

      • Ah! Yes! Screech 🦉 Owl! Thank You! You would think by it’s name it would make some other sound! I found it! This is the one, I heard in a tree above me! I couldn’t find it in the dark obviously! They are small too! Thanks Again! ♥️

        March 25, 2020 at 12:03 pm

  29. Dick Bennett

    Good morning Mary! Thank you as usual for your excellence and exciting sharings!, We tried to send to a pro birder friend but it did not go thru. Do they need to subscribe or is an occasional forwarding ok? db

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    March 25, 2020 at 8:51 am

    • Hi Dick,
      I believe if you send your friend the link, it should go through, whether or not he/she subscribes to the blog or not (but I’m not positive about this). Sorry for the trouble you had, but thank you for trying to pass it on!

      March 25, 2020 at 11:55 am

      • FYI, more than once I have forwarded your posts to friends successfully, Mary. In fact, I did it today. Several of my friends responded with thanks for the post, and one let me know she has just subscribed! All I do is hit the “forward” symbol as I’m on the original message… It should work. With gratitude, Dell

        March 25, 2020 at 12:16 pm

  30. Thank you for this close-up and personal glimpse into the life of this magnificent creature.

    March 25, 2020 at 8:54 am

  31. Alice

    Beautiful photos of a very special and fortunate Barred Owl friend. The end of the story brought tears to my eyes. Even if you don’t see your owl friend again, you had a bond with it that most could only wish for. ❤️❤️ Forever in your heart and soul.

    March 25, 2020 at 8:56 am

  32. Oh, my… what a story to touch all our hearts with just what we each need! Blessings abound in this wild world…

    March 25, 2020 at 9:12 am

  33. Sonya Wulff

    Thank you for sharing your experience of friendship between you and this ‘sweet cousin’ (Mary Oliver’s name for our non-human kin).
    Your level of engagement with the life around you inspires me.
    Of course, it is unknown how many winters your sweet friend had before the six years he/she spent with you. And it is unknowable how much time any of us have here.
    To live with the intention of making the most of what is actual, what is here, real, present… That is the work, that matters.
    I will be thinking of both you and your friend in December…if I’m here.

    March 25, 2020 at 9:21 am

  34. John Liccardi

    What a WONDERFUL experience, Mary!

    March 25, 2020 at 9:22 am

  35. Thanks for this story. It is a lovely tale of both the owl and you, Mary.
    I so enjoy your postings and beautiful accompanying photos.
    Thank you so much for the work that you do for nature and for us humans!

    March 25, 2020 at 9:25 am

  36. Doreen Morse

    Wow! Such a wonderful treat for you. Let us know if you keep seeing him….here’s hoping.

    March 25, 2020 at 9:33 am

  37. B Kelly

    What a beautiful post.

    March 25, 2020 at 9:40 am

  38. Kathleen Mahoney

    Hello Mary, I am Kathleen Mahoney, I am a facilitator for Growing Up WILD and a naturalist educator. I have all of your books and enjoy your posts. I was extremely touched by today’s post. I hope your owl friend is OK. I also have a Barred Owl friend who visits during those same times. (see attached photo) I also wanted to share the owl pellet my 9 year old son, Otis and I found in the woods about a mile from our house. It has taken us hours of dissecting and we are still in progress. The pellet seems too big to belong to the barred owl, we are thinking a great horned owl. I wanted to share some of the photos as we are stumped by two of the findings. 1) What is the black hair from? As we go through the fur clumps strands of coarse, black hair about 2-3 inches in length appear. 2) Our second question is it appears that we have three skulls and several jaws. The larger jaws measure just under 2 inches. They seem awfully big for those little skulls. What do they belong too? We would love to hear your thoughts. Kathleen & Otis

    On Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 7:35 AM Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: “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 interf” >

    March 25, 2020 at 9:49 am

  39. Wallie Hammer

    I was happy to read all the positive thoughts and good wishes regarding your owl- I put out a variety of foods from my compost and my new web cam has recorded a gray fox, large coyote and of course the usual cast of evening characters- skunk opossum and raccoon- if I put the compost out early I get Crows and Blue Jays- all are welcome- I know there are detractors who believe we shouldn’t be feeding
    these wild creatures but I feel strongly that they need all the help we can give- after all- they were here before we were and we have disrupted their lives in so many ways-
    Bravo Mary!!

    March 25, 2020 at 9:55 am

  40. Kathy deGraaf

    What a lovely story Mary. Your skills of observation and compassion, and the owl’s recognition that you were someone he/she could trust, allowed this friendship to happen. A wonderful example for us to learn from.
    And whether or not the remains were of your friend, and regardless of the reason for its passing, to everyone who is reading this: PLEASE do not use rat poison! It kills more than rodents!

    March 25, 2020 at 10:04 am

  41. Mary Brass

    Beautiful

    March 25, 2020 at 10:05 am

  42. Sue S

    You felt the tip of his wings feather your cheek? Oh my, what a gift you were given. We now can sit still for a moment and live vicariously through your shared wonder. Thank you so much. Hopefully your friend is alive and well.

    March 25, 2020 at 10:14 am

  43. What an amazing, breathtaking, story. It is truly a gift of nature. Thank you!
    Linda Higgs

    March 25, 2020 at 10:29 am

  44. Frances Howes

    And I, too, hope it was not your friend. What a saga. I have been trapping mice in the garage all winter and putting them out with the crow food( dog kibbles to keep them from eating all the other ground food) for a treat. First come , first served mouse. Carry on the good work. Take care and stay well. Hugs, Pogo

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    March 25, 2020 at 10:46 am

  45. Sheryl L. Honig

    What a gift you have been given!

    March 25, 2020 at 10:52 am

  46. Fred Oswald

    Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing.
    Hope your friend is still around

    March 25, 2020 at 10:55 am

  47. Barbara

    Gorgeous bird! I hope not too, Mary. But what a good life and time for you both.

    March 25, 2020 at 11:00 am

  48. Alexis Jackson

    I’m hoping it wasn’t. What a beautiful story.

    On Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 7:34 AM Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: “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 interf” >

    March 25, 2020 at 11:10 am

  49. Virginia (Ginny) Irwin Jenks

    Keep us posted! Thank you for your email! Hope your friend is ok?

    March 25, 2020 at 11:13 am

  50. Sally Grassi

    Mary, I am still wondering if you got my photograph of the beaver chew? Wondering if this is the right way to reply to you. Would you mind letting me know? Thanks Sally

    >

    March 25, 2020 at 11:24 am

  51. Frances Henry

    😦 let us know what you learn…

    On Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 7:34 AM Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: “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 interf” >

    March 25, 2020 at 11:56 am

  52. JJohnson

    I love what you do and have always appreciated your work, but you of all people know this was not ok to do, even during a deep snow winter. Sharing the story gives others the idea it is ok to feed wildlife.

    March 25, 2020 at 12:24 pm

    • I wrote about my experience because I wanted to give readers a brief reprieve from the challenging times we’re having. As I said in the post, I did not create a situation where the owl was dependent on me for food. Barred Owls were dying of starvation left and right the year I started doing this. As I also said, I rarely interfere with the natural world, but I made an exception for this one creature. I believe I explained adequately the circumstances under which I did what I did, and have no regrets. I agree with your main premise, however, that in general, feeding wildlife is not something that should be encouraged.

      March 25, 2020 at 8:32 pm

  53. Ellen Ackerman Putnam

    I hope so, too, Mary!

    March 25, 2020 at 12:43 pm

  54. Mimsy

    Wonderful. My sister, a lifelong mammal rehabilitator in N.E., calls those precious treats “mousicles.” 🙂

    March 25, 2020 at 2:01 pm

  55. What a lovely, wild and winged friend. I hope he’s still around but if not you certainly helped him get through the tough winters as best you could.
    (((Hugs)))

    March 25, 2020 at 2:15 pm

  56. John Russell

    Hi Mary,

    Great story and photos.

    We abut conservation land in Alton. Our back porch has a sliding glass door to the dining room. As I walked through the dining room, A Barred Owl was perched on the porch railing staring at me. I froze and we looked at each other for about 30 seconds, 20 feet apart. The owl turned slowly to face the woods and did a slow dive towards the ground. As he picked up speed nearing the ground, the wings slowly opened and flight began.

    Of course, no camera available, but I will never forget this sighting.

    A favorite follower, John

    >

    March 25, 2020 at 2:41 pm

  57. Joanne Cohn

    Do owls have predators or did it just did of old age?

    March 25, 2020 at 3:00 pm

    • Yes, owls do have predators, especially the smaller ones. I’ve heard of other barred owls, great horned owls and goshawks attacking barred owls. It could also have died from old age!

      March 25, 2020 at 8:26 pm

  58. Touched by an angel… a blessing indeed.

    March 25, 2020 at 3:06 pm

  59. Gianferrari Maria

    I truly hope it’s not your feathered friend :(.

    March 25, 2020 at 3:12 pm

  60. Kathryn

    What an incredibly handsome bird.

    March 25, 2020 at 3:14 pm

  61. Shirley Weinberg

    THANKS. She has really great adventures. Nature TV tonight has a program about pangolins ! Who knew !

    >

    March 25, 2020 at 8:47 pm

  62. Avery

    I loved this. How special.

    March 26, 2020 at 6:41 am

  63. Charlotte Hanna

    I have always wondered whether an owl would take prey that was not alive and moving. Perhaps your initial dangling made it seem alive? Perhaps the owl was just really hungry? (I have witnessed an owl swoop onto a clear field of snow about 2 feet thick, and after a few seconds lift off with a vole in its claws. Astounding!)

    March 26, 2020 at 10:05 am

  64. Mary, What absolutely stunning photos and a wondrous story. I don’t like the ending, if it’s true, at all!
    Thanks for this and all your posts! ~Beth

    March 27, 2020 at 2:20 pm

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