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Low: -2° F
Conditions: snow showers with northwest winds.
Ari leapt from the bed just before the dawn. The alarm had not yet gone off; the house was asleep. But something, somewhere was moving. The caninaturalist ran to the window sill, standing on her hind legs, as silent as the world itself. There, on the railing just outside the window, perched our neighborhood barred owl (Strix varia). No more than a foot apart, they stood in communion—just for a moment—and then the owl was gone. Even still, the image stayed with Ari for the rest of the day. She looked in the trees; she remained at the window. Watching. Waiting.
I wrote about this same owl in a post almost a month ago, when it spent a day attached to my old ash tree. I called the post “Stillness,” because--more than anything--that's what the barred owl prompted in me. Now, as we lay in bed, we saw the same impulse in our dog.
It is simultaneously breathtaking and troubling to see an owl out of its nocturnal world. In truth, it’s probably a bad sign for the bird. Diurnal (or daylight) hunting usually indicates that a barred owl is food-stressed. This was common last year, when the collapse of a vole population in Canada sent a disproportionately large population of barreds south of the border. Scientists call this phenomenon irruption, and when it happens, it often creates a population explosion an ecosystem cannot support. Last year, an unusually large number of owls were the victims of accidents or starvation.
Owls this year haven’t faired much better. Fourteen days ago, a great gray owl (Strix nebulosa) arrived in our area.
This is a file photo found at "The Owl Pages," a really wonderful site with lots of great information. If you visit you'll see that our gray owl was both massive and well outside of his normal range. As such, he created a small media stir when he arrived and then perched each day in solemn enormity. He died a week after he arrived. Our resident expert naturalist, Dave Potter, says he thinks the gray owl came here to die. Alone.
We humans have a hard time with this impulse in owls and other wild animals. Given Ari's behavior all day, I wonder if we are really all that unique. Am I doing too much romanticizing, too much anthropomorphicizing, to wonder if Ari didn’t want our hungry barred owl to be alone? Probably. But I do know this: all day, and for whatever reason, she has wanted to be near this bird.