A few months ago, a friend pointed me in the direction of a great horned owl in Oklahoma City. The family in the building Mama Owl chose were streaming video to more than six million people across the world. I was fascinated.
I respect this family–apparently, when Mama chose them, they used the opportunity as a teaching moment for their daughter. The owl has returned to their small balcony for six years. With the exception of putting out the cameras and adding a yucca plant to the container where the nest was, the family has left the owls undisturbed. They quiet their own activities in their home when the owls are there. They have refused to profit from the birds in spite of many opportunities to do so (though they have raised money to benefit wildlife). I watched an owlcam a few years ago where the exact opposite was true, and that situation stopped me from watching any wildlife cam for many years. The family has also refused to do many of the “improvements” that viewers wanted. They sought out the advice of experts, and in this process, are becoming experts themselves. In fact, the little girl, now ten years old, has been invited to speak about the owls. I watched her video presentation with interest. She did brilliantly, I thought, and I hope she is loving these opportunities as much as she appears to be.
Last week, all three owlets fledged. I saw it happen for the last two, and I had an opportunity to hear the wonderful hoots from the owl parents and siblings as they encouraged the youngest to go. He was timid, spending a few days on the balcony alone. When his turn came he flew to a second balcony, out of camera view. The chatline was filled with questions of “Is he there?” “Did he go?” and “Is he okay?”
You know what? Even if he hadn’t been, the family would not have interfered. Alessondra’s parents were showing their daughters that sometimes life is wonderful. Sometimes it isn’t. And death can be a part of it.
I am grateful to have had an opportunity to watch. The owls became part of my evening and morning routine, and sometimes I ate my lunch while appreciating them. There were moments when I laughed loud enough to startle the cats. Once, the youngest owlet slipped off the railing and clearly stunned himself. I laughed at the moment, and then became instantly concerned when he didn’t move. I breathed with relief when he was okay, and then laughed at him some more that evening as he bounced around the balcony.
There was much to be fascinated by…
- They grew so quickly (roughly two months from the day they left their shells to the day they left their nest).
- The parents faithfully delivered rabbits and rats. These are parents who worked together. Nothing was wasted, and several meals were “nest-overs.” The provision of food didn’t slow down until the owlets were old enough to fledge.
- There was no wing sound, especially from the parents. I heard them land. I never heard them fly. Owls of course, have the quietest wing sounds of all the birds. On the balcony however, the owlets were rather clunky. They were heavy-footed as they pounced and ran.
- They are delightfully curious creatures, especially when they seemed to be checking out the cameras. Some great birds-eye views there!
- Daily wing-ercise stretches developed and strengthened the owlet’s wings. Once there was a hailstorm, and three pairs of wings were raised to protect three little heads. Then, one owlet appeared to duck under the wing of another–and his own moved back to protect the rest of him.
- Owl feathers are fascinating. I looked for changes every day. Once the feathers started to replace down, they came in as rows from the bottom of the wing upwards, and then from the top down. They accent owl eyes brilliantly. I’ve had an opportunity to pet a rescued owl, and I was struck by how soft they are. Soft and strong–I wouldn’t mind being that way myself!
Perhaps what intrigued me most, however, is how the owlets stayed within their own self-imposed boundaries. With the exception of the one who fell off the ledge (and thankfully, back into the nest), they never appeared to be in danger of straying too far. When the world outside them became busy for daytime, they hid in the back corners or under the yucca greenery. Sometimes they took that time to nap, other times to watch and explore. Each owlet stayed safe within the confines of the balcony until the moment each decided to fledge.
And it was a moment. A heartbeat. A blink. For the last owlet, my husband and I were both watching but he fledged during a flicker from one camera view to another. We missed it anyway. The sense of loss was immediate. They are all safe, I knew. They were all doing what they were supposed to do. I knew that too.
They had become part of my every day, and I miss them. Since the fledge, I often find myself wondering how they chose their moment. How did they know that all of their practicing and wing stretches and hops and running along the balcony rail had adequately prepared them to fly?
It’s made me wonder too about my own self-imposed boundaries. Do my perceptions prevent me from soaring in areas just because I’ve held on to what I think has limited me? Or do those perceptions keep me appropriately grounded because I’m not yet ready?
I suspect it’s a bit of both.