(continued from previous page).
I approached the strange creature cautiously, wondering whether it would try to escape, or would perhaps even explode! I'd simply never seen anything like it. But it remained absolutely motionless even when I went right up to it. Now it looked like a tiny five-inch buddha, calmly holding some inner thought on the forest floor. I leant down and cautiously put my hands round it. It was soft. My fingers sank into the deep pile of feathery fluff. When I straightened up and moved the creature into a comfortable position on my left hand, eight toes took a firm grip on my fingers. I found this remarkable -- I have caught many wild animals of all ages and always they have been alarmed and tried to escape. The calmness of this tiny creature, and the way it immediately seemed to place confidence in one, made a deep impression. You could say I bonded on the spot!
The pic at top right shows Owly back in London the day after we found him. In it he looks exactly as he did when we came across him in the woods.
Of course we gave some thought to the pros and cons of picking him up before I went over to him. There didn't seem to be any parents nearby. Some searching around revealed a headless rat at the base of a tree about ten feet away. One of the parents must have brought it for the fallen chick the previous night, but he'd left it. Then there was the question of how to care for him if we took him away. Well, I'd looked after dozens of birds by this time, so that problem would have to look after itself.
The deciding factor was the foxes. The woods are full of foxes, which patter and patrol night and day in search of food, and there was no question that this helpless creature would quickly perish if he was left out for much longer. He couldn't be put up on a branch as the nest was in a stand of Scots Pines with no branches worth the name until you get 25 feet up. Being unsure of the legal position, I decided I was quite prepared to be arraigned on a charge of rescuing what we were beginning to realise was an abandoned owl chick.
In fact, as became obvious when we fed and watered him back at the house, he'd injured his stomach, almost certainly as the result of hitting a branch. The poor little waif panted and gasped soon after swallowing, and he had to be fed carefully with liquid food. Worsened by a careless examination by a vet, this injury was to cause Owly problems for some weeks and me considerable anxiety. It was also why he'd been unable to eat the rat.
The little growing owl was sheer pleasure to have around the house. I'd never seen an owl before, and his antics were endlessly entertaining. He was friendly and very obliging for the camera. He'd wait on top of the fridge while I set up, and he'd fly when I said "fly!" -- again and again. Watching him grow up was to experience one of nature's miracles, for after all too short a time an almost fully grown Tawny Owl was sharing my flat.
In July 2003, two and a half months after we found him, we released Owly in the woods behind the house after keeping him in a "rehab" cage for a couple of days to accustom him to his new surroundings. During his time in the cage there was little doubt where he wanted to be! When I opened the door he flew up and eventually settled on a high oak branch, where he sat contentedly eating oak leaves. Two hours or so later he made off and disappeared into the woods. We managed to track him for about 12 days before he stopped squeaking in response to calls and we couldn't find him any more. But it was clear he'd made an immediate beeline for his parents' territory some 500 yards to the west. He must have heard them at night and recognised their voices, and it seems they took him back under their wing, so to speak.
A year or so later a previously unheard female took up residence near the house, and some months later she was joined by a male, who was heard hooting more and more often. This is the Pine Nest pair of the Nesting Diary (they've since been rechristened "the house owls"). There's reason to believe that the male may be Owly, come back to the house area after being told to push off by his parents in the autumn of his first year. The pine nest itself is just 50 yards from where Owly was released -- though this would be purely coincidental as it's the female who chooses the nesting site. We won't be sure it's Owly of course until we see and photograph him. A nestbox was put out for them this year (2007), but for some reason the house duo decided not to raise a family. That was a disappointment as I was confident I could get good photos of the male on the ledge when he brought food -- quite sufficient to identify the owl as an individual. At other times he's as rarely seen as any owl. So whether or not the male house owl is our Owly is a story still to come.
I hope to find time to write more about Owly as he was my first owl and he made an indelible impression. Not only that, he is ultimately responsible for this website!
Related reading on this site: Looking after an orphaned tawny chick
About 3 weeks old
About 3 weeks old
Killing the Audubon cardinal
First mouse -- in the bath!
About 2 months
A few days before he was released aged 3 months
Freedom . . .
. . to have a good stretch
Owly concentrates hard during an early flight . . .
Owls' wings do some curious things when they fly.
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