I told you about Stoney, the half-grown barred owl Joe and I rescued from an automobile accident (actually, he flew into the side of Joe’s pickup) with the help of Dr. Richard Griffin, the late vet who was allergic to feathers. After almost a month of recuperation, helped along by antibiotics for the first week or so, Stoney faked me out during a morning feeding session, and proved that he was healthy enough to be released into the wild again.
For the next week or so, he hung around the house, probably hoping for more feeding or scratching sessions. He’d gotten addicted to having the back of his head scratched, during which he’d keep bending his head backwards into the scratching fingers until he was facing plumb the opposite way – from over the top! I knew an owl could turn his head slap around sideways, but had never known (or read either!) that he could turn it backwards from straight up. He loved being scratched!
He apparently formed another habit: late in the afternoon I’d carry him in his large milk-crate cage to the Swimming Hole with me. I kept a metal stool out there that I’d submerge in the shallow end, then place Stoney’s cage on it. He had a brick in there to stand on, and I’d ease the cage into the water to where just the top of the brick was out. Stoney would drink his fill, and snatch at dragonfly nymphs that came out right at dusk. It was a regular ritual for the two of us.
The first few times he came back, I saw him perched above the patio, where we usually fed him venison or dove gizzards (it being dove season when we hosted him). Then I heard him on several nights, hooting his low “Who-who-who cooks for you” calls from the pecan tree outside our bedroom window, or from the dead locust tree in the persimmon grove. One night he was being regularly answered by another owl from the ditchbank at the back of the yard, and so I knew Stoney must be reaching puberty.
With all our young wild pets over the years – a dozen possums, half-dozen coons, four screech owls, etc – we’ve had a hard and fast rule: we’d turn them loose when they reached puberty. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a coon, possum, screech owl, or teenaged boy – when they fall in love, you can’t tell them another doggone thing, so you might as well turn them aloose!
Obviously, we had turned Stoney loose in the nick of time, and I figured we’d never see him again, at least, to know it was our Stoney we were looking at.
Then our neighbor came over one day, a full month after the owl’s release. “I just saw Stoney!” he cried.
“How’d you know it was him?” we asked Jim, hoping it was so, but doubting proof.
“Well, I drove up to my pond, and there was something over at the shallow end, just standing there. So I eased up closer to see what the heck it was – a new type heron, or something, I figured – and durned if it wasn’t an almost-grown barred owl, sitting there in water up over his legs just as calm as you please! Where else except Brownspur would you expect to find an owl wading around in the pond?”
Had to have been Stoney, we reckoned. He’s obviously adapted to a new method of feeding, and my bet is that the dragonfly population will decline drastically here at Brownspur for the next few years. What will his kids end up doing – living on tadpoles and minnows?
Oh, No!! What about our neighbors to the south, who have catfish ponds? They’re having enough trouble now with cormorants – what if they find out I’ve adapted the owl population to wading in ponds and eating the inhabitants thereof?
Will the Brownspur owls then begin to grow longer legs, like flamingos or whooping cranes, to further adapt to their feeding places? Will their beaks get longer? Where are the evolution theorists when we really need them?! Will their majestic hoots become just loud gargles? We need help out here, you biologists!
So, if in the near future you spot a barred owl wading in your fishpond – well, offer to scratch behind his head. If he likes that, it’s got to be Stoney, or one of his progeny!