29 June, 2013

A tale of Slurpie


We have an owl. Well, not really "have", he does not live in a cage, or anything like that. But since for over eight years now, for the entire summer, he moves in on top of our roof, I can claim with confidence that we have an owl.

Danny named him Slurpie last year, because he "slurps' his food. I don't know if he really does that, but we do like the name so we kept it. Slurpie is a great horned owl and adults grow over 2 feet tall with a 5 foot wingspan. It is a truly magnificent creature that made my roof its home for generations.

Slurpie is really a surname, because we've been through several generations of owls now. We're on our second wave of adolescents this year. I think the parents must pass on to the kids that our house is a great place to perch overnight, during hunting time. Perhaps it's because we're the only house on the street with no pets, and we're a quiet family. Or maybe it's because we're the only ones with a two story deck that houses a vermin condominium in its foundation (the raised part of our deck is enclosed, it was conceived as a storage space but became a condo for a family of rabbits with their 300 kids and lots of field mice. We never go in there, too afraid of who might come out to greet us. Nobody pays rent.) What ever the reason, come late May, the owls move in.

We first noticed a low-pitched hooting eight years ago. We knew it was an owl, but thought it was in the trees. Our property backs into a bird sanctuary, aka the Swamp, so we didn't think much of him. Then one night he was so loud that we peaked outside our bedroom window and found him sitting on our chimney. Once in a while he'd sit on our skylight and we could see his tail through the glass. And, unlike the vermin, he pays "rent" by leaving gorgeous feathers all over the yard that we collect. Slurpie returned the following year, much to our delight.

Then, one summer the pleasant hooting was suddenly replaced by horrible high-pitched screeching. I tell people it sounds like a banshee screaming. We had no idea who was making that sound. The owl we were used to was nowhere in sight to deal with this annoyance. Then one day, my neighbor across the street voiced her surprise that I have not shot that screeching bird that would sit on my chimney every night. She figured out I was not a person that would tolerate such a noise. I asked her to describe the bird. It's an owl, she told me. An owl... but owls don't sound like that. A bit of wiki research later and I found a recording of a adolescent great horned owl – a screeching banshee. Bingo! We had an offspring on our roof! By the time October came, the hoot turned into a pleasant low-pitched sound we gotten used to.

That fall we saw the adolescents up close. The young ones hang out in pairs, while the adults are usually alone. It was a cloudy cool day after several days of rain and the two owls were bathing in the swamp out back. I grabbed my son and we came out on the deck to take a closer look. We got pretty close, and the owls didn't mind us a all. They looked at us carefully and continued with their activities. Perhaps they recognized our voices – the house is made out of plywood, I'm sure they hear everything. Up close they were huge, with enormous wings and very fluffy. Absolutely gorgeous. Danny asked one of them (it moved up  on the neighbor's swingset at that point): "Why don't you fly?" The owl answered by opening up his wings and then slowly flying off.

I don't remember exactly when, but at some point our chimney leaked and the first question out of our repairman's mouth was: "Do you know you have dead rabbits on your roof?" My response was: "Ahh, so THAT's what he eats!" I then had to explain that we have a resident owl. The guy installed a chimney cover that was sloped, telling me that a bird can't sit on a slope. Yeah, right. That would be anyone else other than Slurpie. Slurpie is managing the slope quite fine. And, he left us a rabbit carcass by our bedroom window as a thank you for fixing up his perch. I was thrilled to find out that our owl was a rabbiter, someone has to keep in check the annoying garden destroyers! I also now inform anyone climbing up on our roof what they're going to find and ask them to "police the carcasses" by throwing in them down so I can dispose of them with a shovel.

Last year we got another adolescent. At this point we got used to the screeching and this Slurpie was entertaining. Like I said, our house is plywood construction, plus our bedroom has a vaulted ceiling so we can hear everything that's going on up there. For a while Slurpie could not stick the roof landing, there was a lot of scratching and crashing going on. Finally he mastered it by the end of the summer. Then, we discovered that their prey is still alive when they "sit down to dinner", so they slam it against the surface (our roof) to finish it off. Once, the rabbit got away. Didn't get very far being on a roof. There was a lot of commotion and then a lot of banging noise. I'm pretty sure that Slurpie changed his technique after that because dinner was a lot quieter the next night.

This year we expected an adult, but the adolescent returned. With a friend, it's a pair this season. They screech to each other and we see them hanging out together. And they're a lot more visible during the day, they like hanging out in our back yard. I finally managed to snap some pictures this morning. They did notice us and took their snack with them. I so hope it was a rabbit, there is a den under the deck again!

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