My Little Owl

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My Little Owl.

BY J. WILLIAM LLOYD, WESTFIELD, NEW JERSEY.

There is a little screech owl of the gray phase that has been one of the joys of my nights for years and is now a joy in my days also. He is a lovely, fluffy creature, of unusual beauty of plumage, gray and black and white, and when I am sleeping on my porch, I love to wake in the night, or dusk of morning, and see this little ghost-like shadow flit, or hear his weird, flute-like music tremble on the listening ear.

I heard a little owl at eve
With trembling voice proclaim his joy;
He loved the weirdness of the dusk—
And so, O little owl, do I.
I love to watch the first star light,
I love to see the wan moon shine,
And there, against the ivory west,
The blackness of the forest line.
I love the silence and the chill,
The sense of difference from the day;
A spirit in another world
To seem, and go an unknown way.

File:Lloyd-Little Owl.jpg

MY LITTLE OWL ON THE SHELF UNDER THE PEAK OF THE BARN.

Photographed by the author.

For a long time this little neighbor had his habitation in a woodpecker's hole in the top of a dead pignut tree, in the fence line, back of my barn. But in a storm my owl's tree was blown down, and my owl's pellets were no more found there. Where he went for a while I do not know. In 1914 I made an oblong box for a gray squirrel that was visiting my place, and fastened it to a hickory tree in front of the house. The length of the box was parallel with the tree trunk and at the upper end, in front, was a round hole. The squirrel and his mate accepted it and all was well for a while. But sometime in February I became aware that the little owl whose morning song I had heard all winter, without much regard to weather, had usurped the squirrel box. We saw his face in the doorway one day, and one snowy morning we saw the squirrels dancing on the roof and scolding. I made another and hoped more attractive box for owls and fastened it to the next tree, a sweet birch, thinking to toll Megascops to it. But he seemed contented with his stolen property, and willing that the other fellow should do the moving. There was considerable argument and agitation for some time, the result being that the squirrels rejected both boxes and became only morning visitors for nuts.

The owl was a rather irregular occupant of this box till warm weather came, but sometime in the fall he moved to a hole that I made in the peak of the barn. Behind it I placed a deep, narrow box with sawdust and shavings at the bottom, and an opening only at the entrance hole. Outside, just below the hole, was a little shelf. This caught the morning light and held the sun all day till nearly mid-afternoon and could be clearly seen from one of our windows. The owl has lived there ever since, although sometimes absent for a day, or for several consecutive days.

I have learned from this owl some thing that I did not know, and have never seen in print—that owls do not necessarily dislike daylight nor even sunshine, provided their eyes are not much exposed. I had thought that an owl always hides himself in darkness or in deep shadow, and remains silent and still in the daytime, although I had heard a great horned owl utter his hoarse hoot, like the bark of a big dog, in mid-afternoon, in the cypress swamps of Florida.

In my journal for March 26, 1914, I have this note concerning my little owl: "One evening, before sunset, his head stuck out of the hole of a squirrel house on my hickory tree, facing the sun which shone brightly on his face, the eyes being apparently closed. Hearing me, he drew his head slowly in, one eye opening so it shone glassy in the sun which was right on it. Yesterday he sat in the little pigeon window hole of the pump house for hours, nearly all the afternoon in fact, facing southeast, and did not go away though I often walked near or just below him. He would shrink a little sometimes, or turn his head to follow me, but often did not visibly move. He looked like a bit of rotten stump set up there in the shadow. Though visible for hours, full length, none of the birds feasting on my suet, about thirty yards in front of him, saw him."

On April 27. 1914: "The little owl got into the west window of the barn to-day and hooted his bubbling note at 2:30 P. M. The sky was dull and overcast, still the sun was almost out. He shrank into a shapeless stump when I looked at him, but did not attempt to fly. I had never previously heard a screech owl hoot in the daytime at this season of the year."

The last sentence refers to the fact that I once heard a screech owl give a little hoot on a dull day in January.

On January 22, 1915. "The little screech owl has this winter taken up his abode in the box that I put for him behind the hole in the peak of the barn. Sometimes he is absent for a day, or for several days, but always returns. Once or twice the blue jays mobbed him. At first this drove him in, but later he stood his ground in grim contempt and dangerous vigilance and they did not quite dare to close with him. He likes especially to sit outside on a shelf all day long in the winter sunshine, his eyes apparently closed or opening as narrow slits when disturbed. Through the glass I have distinctly seen the sun glint on the half open eye."

I do not share in the usual dislike of the screech owl's song. On the contrary, I love it. I find it expressive. At times it is fierce or sad, or it may be tender and musical. It is like a flower of the night.