People love eagles. Rightfully so: they are our national bird, a symbol of grace and majesty. Plus, look at those bald eagles sitting there. They know they’re cool. Not everyone loves eagles, though. Benjamin Franklin was an eagle skeptic. In a letter to his daughter, Franklin wrote that the eagle is “a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.”
He wrote some other stuff, too, about America being a Cincinnati–presumably a place of humble civic virtue and nothing to do with chili served atop spaghetti (YUM!)–and that he favored the turkey over the eagle. Turkey is my favorite vegetarian food, but when it comes to birds of prey I am steadfastly pro-owl. Here is a partial breakdown:
Prefers seafood Prefers landfood
Unsuspecting prey Prey always expects it
Up early Stays up late
Seeks attention Works in private
Late Saturday night a movement caught the moonlight in my clearing. I turned to see a Barred Owl on the ground…walking, wings outspread. I retrieved a flashlight and turned out all the house lights. The owl flew to the tree above and then branch to branch around the glade; navigation was as simple as a single beat of its almost seven-foot wingspan and a silent glide to the next vantage point. The bird was well aware of my presence: it looked square at me a number of times, seemingly unconcerned by my audience and unperturbed by my flashlight. Without the light, I would not have known it was there, for despite its great size, the owl was completely inaudible other than for the movement of leaves as it alighted upon each perch. I watched the owl hunt in my clearing for about 45 minutes until I lost sight of it in the deep forest. It is my sincere wish that the owl feasted upon varmint with a heaping side of critter.
I love owls and am pleased to hear Screech Owls occasionally and Great Horned Owls regularly. Generally I am not in favor of invasive species (Eastern Crow! BOO!), but I am going to have to make an exception for the Barred Owl. Barred Owls are just…Badass.
* Some years ago, my wife and I grill-roasted a 5 pound leg of lamb. It was way too much for our friends and us to eat. We had to travel the next morning, so we threw the leftovers on the beach for the crabs and seagulls. A bald eagle swooped down and snatched it, but even though the leg couldn’t have weighed more than a two pounds, the bird could not fly more than a couple feet off the ground with it, stopping regularly.
**Sleeping outside when I was a kid, I heard the anguished yowl of a feral cat not far from where I was laying, then the sounds moved upward into a tree. Then there was silence, and then about a half hour of snapping bones. I reiterate: owls are BADASS.