May 8, 2008

Who Goes There?

First it was a lone voice I heard in the storm. Then it mingled with another.

Neighbors congregate with binoculars in hand, clamoring for a glimpse of our newest suburban wildlife. Our yard is in the center of the action.

The neighbor behind us revealed he had seen a trio. I asked where and he said, "On the tall tree in the crack house yard." We laughed. The crack house is another neighbor. It's not really a crack house but it does a fair impression.

We ourselves have wasted spent a fair amount of time gazing into the trees. Owl watching. We've learned to recognize their hunched sleeping posture as they doze among the leaves. They swoop. They perch. They stare. Their heads swivel. Their voices carry. Their cries end with a purr as the volume fades.

The other local birds vigorously defend their territory when an owl nears their nests. What a ruckus those smaller birds make, chirping wildly and dive bombing the intruder. The little birds recognize him for the predator he is.

Our neighbor came over holding out her hand, "Look at this!" she offered. I looked. It was a blob of dry stringy gray matter entwined around small bones. I donned my glasses for closer scrutiny. "It's an owl pellet!" she exclaimed. She pointed out a tiny claw in the mass. Together we marveled.

Curious, I consulted the internet and found an excellent quick primer on owl digestion, including this explanation of owl pellets:
"Several hours after eating, the indigestible parts (fur, bones, teeth & feathers that are still in the gizzard) are compressed into a pellet the same shape as the gizzard. This pellet travels up from the gizzard back to the proventriculus. It will remain there for up to 10 hours before being regurgitated. Because the stored pellet partially blocks the Owl's digestive system, new prey cannot be swallowed until the pellet is ejected. Regurgitation often signifies that an Owl is ready to eat again. When the Owl eats more than one prey item within several hours, the various remains are consolidated into one pellet."
Huh. Now there's something I didn't know.

Later, Wendy found one in our yard too. Have a look-see.

Part of me hopes that was one of the mice who commandeered our shed this past winter and feasted on a stored sack of grass seed while leaving mouse shit everywhere.

The circle of life. It turns.



SassyFemme said...

Very cool, except for the owl pellet part, I'm eating cereal while I read this. :)

weese said...

hmm, maybe we need an owl.

Anonymous said...

Yes, share the owl with Weese. Then i can come visit and marvel at owl pellets!

Lee said...

you should craft something with the owl pellets!

agoodlistener said...

When I was a kid I used to think we had owls too. Turned out to be mourning doves. Looks like you've got the real thing.

Jennifer said...

Owls are the most fascinating birds. They look so regal and intelligent. I remember the first time I ever saw one spread its wings and take flight...the wingspan astounded me. Beautiful creatures. And useful, too!

Mel said...

Oh, cool. I remember dissecting one of those owl pellets in school--and then piecing together the mouse skeleton. Way more fun than frog dissection.

tiff said...

Oh - color me jealous. I love owls, and wish some would take up residence near the Tiny House. Alas, none yet.