Yellow eyes and feathers: the best teacher.

Have you ever gone on an owl walk? 

I did my first one two weeks ago, and it will not be my last. 

It was one of those halo-around-the-moon evenings, and since we are in early spring the tree branches still look like gnarly witch fingers against the night sky. It’s the stuff night-sky artists watch for. Were I to paint—it’s what I’d want for my canvas. 

A local naturalist gave us a short lecture inside the building before we went out to hike the trails and try calling to the owls. He was very good at sounding like a barred owl – who cooks for yooooou? — who cooks for yooooou? He also demonstrated my all-time favorite, the screech owl, whose call resembles a horse’s whinny, followed by a lower-pitched steady warble that, for me, exemplifies “sitting on the porch at night and not worrying about a thing.” 

Did you know that owl’s eyes are set in one place? They have no eye muscles so they have to rotate their necks, and can rotate to the right or to the left as far as 270 degrees. (You’re thinking of the Exorcist movie right now, aren’t you . . .) 

An owl’s ears are located at the sides of its head, behind the eyes, and are covered by the feathers of the facial disc. The “ear tufts” visible on some species are not ears at all, but simply display feathers. One ear is for hearing up high, and the other is for hearing down low. 

Our lecturer told us that the owl is nature’s perfect mouse trap. The tips of their wings have fringed feathers which enable them to cut through the air without resistance, thus making no sound at all. They are the ultimate stealth flyer and the mouse scampering along on the darkened ground below doesn’t stand a chance. When they say silent as an owl, they mean it. 

Did you know that an owl can eat his mouse supper whole, inherently knowing that he needs to swallow it head first, employing the path of least resistance philosophy that helps him avoid choking on anything that might become wedged? The owl tosses his cookies–or rather–the unnecessary parts—later. 

They are intelligent creatures blessed with efficient little beaks that work like a steak knife. When they need to defend their territory against other owls, however, they know that fighting with those beaks means someone is going to get hurt badly, so they engage in a shout-out instead of ripping and tearing at each other. It’s more about intimidation than it is about creating a blood bath. Whoever shouts the loudest—wins. The intruder backs off and takes his leave. There is great wisdom in owl warfare. 

For writers who like experimenting with, or creating new metaphor and simile (and why wouldn’t you?!),  nature and all of her critters are the best teachers you are ever going to have.

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2 thoughts on “Yellow eyes and feathers: the best teacher.

  1. You may not recall that Kim & I have a white owl as a major character in our carnival book. His name is Ahwanan.
    In Ojibwa that means “who.”

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