I’ve started to anticipate the evening not too long in the future when the barn owls that have nested a couple blocks away will have emancipated their young and flown on to find fresh rodent pickings. But for now, they’re still here: a nesting pair, by the best guess of close observers, and four young that appear to have started to go out and join the rat quest that starts just after sundown every evening.
Besides those half-dozen birds, dozens of humans have been showing up, sometimes all at once, to listen to the owls screeching or watch the birds wing out of their palm tree into the neighborhood. Tonight when I was out on the street, a woman pulled up in a diesel Mercedes (from the smell of it, an environmentally correct one, burning biofuel). She got out, walked over, and said, “Do you know what it is?” Before I could say anything, she said, “Two owls and their four puppies.” She then got back in the car and drove away.
I’ve heard there’s a biologist from UC-Berkeley who lives in the neighborhood and has been visiting the site to collect owl pellets. (You know–the regurgitated carcasses of their most recent meals.) Some parents are bringing their young kids. Some adults have brought flashlights or even heavier-duty lighting equipment to illuminate the owls and their tree. The owl’s human foster parents–the family in whose yard the owl palm stands–has taken to posting signs asking people not to disturb the birds during their early evening hunting time. So far, no one has tried to sing to the owls, play the bagpipes for them, lectured them on the virtues of the vegan diet, or used their presence as an excuse for on-street slam poetry.
There’s a story there, for sure. What I can’t satisfactorily put into words yet, though, even as I listen to and watch the birds, is why their appearance is so fascinating to me and the others who come.