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blizzard warnings - 13:52 , 03 October 2013

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22 June 2002 - 15:33

an owl in the hand is priceless

Well, I got my hands on a couple baby great-horned owls this afternoon.


We were watching Blackhawk Down in the bedroom after lunch when eldest son came in.

"Door. For Mom."

For Mom? Who is it?

"A cop."

Now what? I'm expecting a cop visit soon, but why would they want to see her?

I follow her to the front door, where yes, there is a cop on the porch. One of the young ones, with the wrap-around, cheek hugging sunglasses on. Cop explains they have a baby owl on the sidewalk at the hotel.

"Then I think you need to talk to him," is her response, pointing to me.

I suspect the cop was following the newly devised "if the owls fall on the street or sidewalk" procedure and fetching someone from our outfit, but he expected to be getting the warden for this area, who is female and has the same name as my wife.

But we figure out who is doing what. Wife grabs me one of the dog towels, I grab boots and gloves. And, as an afterthought, ask her:

Want to come along and rescue an owl?

So we both drive over to the hotel. Cop drove clear up onto the sidewalk, to barricade the little owl in, I guess. Two men watching the little thing from the median. One the DJ for the local radio, who happened to be covering the Hamm radio exposition going on in the caboose in the park.

The other, one of our candidates for Governor.

As I suspected, the one owlet (I was wrong, it was the little one) had been hopping along the terrace/flower boxes. But it hadn't accounted for the wind, and missed the last jump trying to get home.

And now it is on the window sill a few inches above the sidewalk, jammed as far into the corner as it can get.

So I have a dilemma I hadn't anticipated. My plan was to take whomever fell out and put them in the big spruce. But if this one was already trying to hop back into the nest box to be with its sibling, won't it do the same if I put it in a tree? Which will land it smack dab in the middle of the west-bound half of the street.

We need to have these two owlets in the same place. So either I need a ladder to put this guy back up in the flower box terrace, or...

...I need a ladder to get the other owlet down so they can both go into the blue spruce.

Either way I need a ladder.

Wife volunteers to walk home to get boys and the 20' ladder.

So I drop the tailgate, sit down, and have a nice chat with the DJ and a man who may be our next Governor. We talk about deer (City council of the main city is trying to draft a letter requesting that our outfit remove all the deer from town. Ain't gonna happen. Been here before. Citizens got up in arms at the very thought of the city not letting people feed the deer. Imagine what they will say when we tell them the council wants us to kill the deer ('cause there is no other practical way to get them out)), budgets, the hotel, and of course, owls.

When the crew returns with the ladder, I still haven't made up my mind where the owlets are going to end up. Brief discussion of options with the wife, and we agree. Their best hope is in the tree. As hot as it is, it will only be a matter of short time before one of them bails from the window box again.

I walk over and quickly scoop up the owlet on the sidewalk, taking care to grab both feet above all else. As the wife helps tuck the flapping wings under my arm, the clacking starts.

Owls warn and threaten by clacking with their bill. And it is a serious threat. With the owl tucked under my arm, its pupils shrunk down to mere pinholes in those pure yellow eyes, we cross the street to the spruce. Wife and Governor-aspirer prop the ladder against the tree to get to higher branches, and I climb up.

Not really an easy thing to do, when one hand has a death grip on two sets of talons, and the other is holding the wings down.

As I reach up to a good branch, the owl tries to fly across the branch, which will land him flat on the ground again. Have to take the right hand and cup it over the head like a falconer's hood, and then set the feet down on the branch until they get a grip.

And all of a sudden, we have an owl in a tree.

Carry the ladder back to the hotel, and the Governor-aspirer helps me set it up. Don't know if I will vote for him, but he is having a great time, and is a good hand.

Second chick is less than thrilled about this intrusion, and soon ends up perched on the railing. With the "One more move, Copper, and I'll jump!" kind of look.

And not where we set the ladder, naturally.

I go up slowly, warning everyone below to not try to catch the owl if it falls. The fall won't hurt the owl, but someone grabbing its wing or leg might. Not to mention they might get a talon buried in their arm.

As I near, the owl hunches down and throws the right wing up over its head, in the classic "I am big, huge and nasty" owl defensive posture. Kind of intimidating, because there is no way to see the feet I need to grab.

Then I unfold the towel.

Owlet drops the fluffed up pretense and cocks its head to look down at the towel. With a "what in the hell's that?" kind of look.

It was about this time that a shadow swooped over our position.

Mama owl has charged in from somewhere, and lands herself on the roof above me and her kid.

"Please tell me if she swoops in." I say to the wife as I swing the towel over the owlet. I miss the head, but at least get it turned so I can see the feet.

And lean way out from the ladder to grab them. Drop the towel, reel the owl in, tuck the wings in, and we are set.

As we cross the street with the second chick (also clacking like mad, literally), Mama owl flies over to the big cottonwood, where she can watch all the goings on.

Would have loved to have put the kids in the same tree she was in, but the branches she favors hang way out over the street. One wrong step or hop in that tree, and the owlet is smooshed under a semi. At least in the spruce they will land on grass, giving us time to gather them up again.

As wife and Governor-aspirer set the ladder up again, a small car pulls up. A couple from the main town, seven miles away, who drove out here just to see the owls. They get to see the owlets a lot closer than they expected (and yes, they left their car parked in the street, and the cop didn't say a word about it).

Ask the wife if she wants to take the opportunity to touch an owl?

Didn't have to ask twice. She used her gloves, so I took mine off to show she could touch and feel the downy feathers. And she did. The epitomy of soft.

Set it on a branch besides its sibling. Who was already looking like it had been deposited in owl heaven. Pupils wide and dark now, no longer panting from the heat, and actually a little curious about what was going on.

The grackles, meanwhile are having a fit. Nothing like having a flying T-rex dropped into your living room...or two, for that matter.

Spent some time visiting with everyone over by the hotel. Owner should be happy. He can get on with his remodeling or cleaning, or whatever it was the owls were keeping him from doing.

Wife's godson brought over a shed owl flight feather he found under a tree. Knows it's illegal to possess, but what to do with it?

I take it and let it blow into the street. Radio DJ man tries to recover it, and I have to explain he can't have it. Governor-aspirer asks why that is, in the tone that this is one of those stupid, useless regulations he's going to get off the books if elected.

So I have to explain the reasoning behind banning private ownership of many wildlife parts. That it removes the market for those parts, which removes the incentive for people to go killing owls and eagle and falcons, etc. just for their feathers or talons.

Think he actually listened. That could be handy if he gets elected.

DJ guy is going to announce to the community that the owls are no longer at the hotel, and that they have been safely relocated. But I bet I will still get a bunch of calls from people worried that the owls are gone and some evil person has harmed "their" owls.

Which is cool, I think.

Went back about a half hour later with a camera (no, no one had a camera during the move... no dramatic pics of me on a ladder, or of the feisty owls) and took some shots of two owlets in a tree. Cop showed up almost immediately, so they are keeping an eye on them.

After more visiting with him, I went back to the tree.

They were both asleep.

Comfortable, together, no longer panting in the heat. Don't see how they could sleep with the racket the grackles were making, but they were.

Now if Mama can just find them tonight...

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