HOO, HOO, Who Said That?

Gramp’s Cramps by Cliff Kunde

The past several years at our hunting lodge, have proven to be great “observation years” from numerous perspectives. The abundance of wildlife that frequents the camp and their antics being one. Deer, turkey, hogs, quail and the respective owls have provided interesting studies for all of our guests and surely an education for ourselves. We tend to learn the earth and mother nature when we quit believing we know it all. This is not a simple story that takes place over a weekend or even a month, it lasts as long as you keep an open mind and shut up and observe.

Two years ago, we started a pole barn to house the farm equipment. As we began the initial stages, the roof poles, we noticed a very upset Barred Owl in a tree next to the proposed barn. It not only would not leave, but it seemed to challenge us every time we approached the far end of our footprint. In frustration or fascination, I sat down by myself in the grass about fifty feet from the last pole and just watched that owl. Make no bones about it, that owl also kept a pair of big eyes on me the whole time. After maybe two hours, we both calmed down and I found what the main point of contention was. The owl had a well hidden nest in a hollow in a tree just a few feet from where the final pole was to be placed. Needless to say, the pole barn remained only half completed and the owl began to react like it was grateful we stopped where we did. I didn’t realize to start with, there were two of them and they just took turns keeping an eye on me. In the next couple of days we almost became friends. I would watch for them when entering the area and most of the time they just watched. Every now and then, I would witness one of them enter the nest or leave while the other one kept that evil eye on me.

This lasted for several weeks, where as the parents would fly off to a swamp South West of camp and return with some kind of bird or rodent. Every day the same pattern, fly off, catch something to eat and return. We had an abundance of squirrels right here in camp, but there they went, every day off to the swamp. Soon the little ones would show their heads and we had two chicks that never made a sound, they just blinked at us and slid back into the hollow.

The fledglings soon began to test their wings and explore the area. Every day, more pinfeathers could be seen around the base of the tree and those little guys would fight or tussle in the hollow, ignoring my presence. The parents were still flying off to the swamp for grub and I just could not figure out why, with so many squirrels in the trees around them. Then the day of reckoning arrived and the first of the little ones took to the air, not very far mind you, just a lot of flapping to get to a branch above the nest. The other one followed shortly after with another flutter of feathers. They were not fuzz balls anymore, full feathers replaced the soft exterior and they started to look like real owls. Several days elapsed while they took flying lessons from the folks, but they were much faster learners than I was when I took flying lessons years ago.

This is when you sit down and shut up, the observation thing comes into play. The parents had been hunting for food in the swamp a good way off all this time and when the fledglings got their flying technique refined, the food source around the nest was still plentiful. I never thought that owls would have the foresight to hunt for food away from the nest so that when the little ones emerge they would have easy pickings near their home. The squirrel population has since been reduced in camp and the owls have moved on, the barn is now complete and as I reflect on my father working a good distance from home, I realize maybe it’s a parent thing. Then again, I never let my children eat squirrels in the front yard, go figure.