Monday, May 28, 2012

Amorous Owls Outside My Window

            In Native American tradition, the January moon has many names, including the cold moon, the moon of strong cold, the moon when limbs are broken by snow, and the frozen ground moon.   Because of an adventure outside my bedroom window a few years ago, I think of the January moon as the moon when great horned owls whisper of love.    
 Several years ago, I learned to look forward to a nightly serenade provided by a pair of amorous great horned owls.  As I lay in bed in our dark bedroom, I could hear the male’s deeper hoots and the female’s slightly higher pitched responses as they courted one another somewhere not too far from our window.

            While I frequently see these large hunters flying at dusk and dawn in search of food, the intimacy of listening to their courtship rituals night after night provided a gift I have hoped to experience again each January since.  Despite my annual anticipation, the birds haven’t cooperated, so this year when I heard an owl hooting about ten o’clock one evening, I thought Mother Nature had granted my wish. Unfortunately, it appears that was just a territorial hoot and not a prelude to love.

Three years ago, lying snuggled safely in the darkness of my room, listening to these birds whispering sweet nothings to one another night after night, I imagined them bowing and preening between  whispered love calls.   I confess it was difficult to imagine birds better known for roles in horror movies and as harbingers of death as tender love birds, but based on this pair’s nightly January conversations, these owls had an affectionate side. 

            Their love talk went on for a week or two if memory serves me correctly, and then the evenings quiet down considerably.  In another four weeks or so, the dialogue assumed a family- oriented tone. I heard the female soothing fuzzy owlets with gentle noises I can’t quite describe, but which frequently put me as well as her offspring to sleep.  If I managed to stay awake listening to her and the babes, the raucous little noises finally shushed into a silence. Occasionally Mama Owl’s babies tended to fuss as much as mine had, and I heard them squabbling (I wonder if their nest gets crowded as they grow), followed by mama’s gentle gurglings as she calmed them for nth time. 

On occasion, things got alarming when the female owl served up dinner right outside the bedroom window.  Listening to more than one last will and testament of a rabbit or some other rodent destined to feed these birds, I found my own stomach turning at the thought of meat so rare.  Those noises tended to disturb sleep, rather than soothe it, but I could tell by the uproar that the young birds got pretty excited knowing momma had delivered a prairie-fresh dinner.

Part of what made these moments special was the fact they don’t happen year round or even every year. The courtship was so short-lived I had to pay close attention to catch those sweet nothings before they were over and done.  Likewise with the rearing of the young, within a month or so the young fledged and their murmurings and rustlings were memories.

Despite the fact I experienced this great horned owl courtship only once, I listen carefully each January, hoping that once again, a courting pair of owls will make me privy to their annual love songs and the rearing of their young.  

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