An Unusual Visitor

by Melanie and Jim

This morning as we readied for an errand, we heard a great commotion rise up behind the house. Crows, screaming bloody murder, shrieked in alarm. I thought there were several, maybe dozens of them, the cries were so loud. But when Jim looked, he saw only two. Two angry crows, screaming at something between and below them.

There are a number of cats that roam the neighborhood. Sometimes we hear squirrels or blue jays yelling at a wandering cat, but usually not crows. Even if there were a cat, the crows were high enough in the tree that a cat wouldn’t threaten them. It seemed unlikely that a cat was the cause. Still they continued cawing and screeching.

A tree blocked our view, so we moved to another window. Jim thought he saw another bird on a branch below them. Cooper’s Hawks occasionally visit our yard. They eat small birds and mammals. Once we watched as a Cooper’s dropped onto a squirrel, latched its talons tightly in, and flew away with it. With that risk, the little birds go silent and scarce when a hawk is around.

Binoculars showed the cause for alarm more clearly. It wasn’t just “another bird.” It was an owl. Since we moved to this house 15 years ago, we’ve been visited by barred owls. They aren’t as frequent as they used to be, but we still open the door to the screened porch in almost any weather to hear them calling to each other.

A shift to yet another window gave an even better view.

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This owl had ear tufts. It was no barred owl. It was a great horned owl! We’ve never heard nor seen one around here before! I’ve read that barred and great horned owls don’t share habitat, and that the horned owls get first dibs. I don’t know what this means for our barred owl friends, or if we’ll get to enjoy their occasional visits again.

Jim was able to get a few pictures of this beautiful bird. Though they are unfocused, you can clearly see the large ear tufts and hooked beak.

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He took this photo from below. It shows the feathering better.

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As I write this several hours later, the owl is still perched in the same place. The crows gave up pestering and screaming long ago, though they’ve made a few more half-hearted attempts to intimidate.

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19 thoughts on “An Unusual Visitor

  1. Elyse

    Oooh, what a great way to start the day!

    Years ago, my husband spotted an owl in a tree in front of our across the street neighbors. We snuck out in our bathrobes and slippers to get an early look, hoping nobody would see us. It was fake. Of course we didn’t realize that until we were surprised several mornings in a row to see an owl in our neighbors’ tree and snuck out again to see him. We moved!

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I’m not sure our property is good for placing a nest box. The land is uneven and it would be hard to get one up high enough safely, but also many of the old trees are already damaged, or are tall and slim, perhaps not of the type recommended.

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  2. melissabluefineart

    Lucky you! I once came across a great horned owl while pushing through some thick brush in a forest preserve~ to both of our surprise! Since then I often look for them but never see one. Several years ago we heard some dreadful screaming out our windows and hurried out to investigate. It sounded like a very small child in very great distress. We were so relieved and thrilled to discover the maker of the racket was a screech owl!

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Hi Anne! Yes, it was pretty exciting for both of us. It really was just a lucky accident that we were home to notice the crows’ racket. Right now the owl isn’t in the same place (a day later.) There’s no way to guess if we’ll ever see it again.

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  3. shoreacres

    Isn’t it wonderful when these “surprises” appear? It amuses me now to remember that the word used when I was a kid to describe someone who was out of sorts was “owly.” There seems to be some indication that the very tufts you saw give the owl a grumpy appearance, which led to the expression. There’s more about that here. I do hope you get to see it again, but at least you got to see it.

    I had my own unexpected encounter today, with robins. It’s been years since I’ve seen them, and it took me a minute to realize what I was hearing, and start looking for them. There were hundreds of them, clearly migrating. They were eating berries on vines high in the trees, so the photos aren’t the best, but at least I got a couple.

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, it was such a treat. We may never see it again but appreciate that we did.

      Robins! Funny about that. Of course we see them here, and sometimes there are too many that apparently didn’t go south for the winter. The other day, though, was our first sighting this “spring.” And high in the trees for you, also interesting. I remember this song from an album my family had when I was a kid. We had a different version, but the song is the same. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_LA20fNZL4
      Also on the album (this is my memory, and I’m sticking with it!) was the song Playmate. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W2lOX-ccvxs

      🙂 I love the way memories can range…

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Jim said he heard an owl last night. He listened to recordings of barred and great horned owls, just to check his memory of it, and is pretty sure he heard a barred owl. SO! Maybe they have not been chased off. Who knows what we’ll see or hear next time. 🙂

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  4. underswansea

    Hi Melanie, what a wonderful sighting. There is something special about seeing an owl. Lisa says it’s like they can see into her soul. The great horned owl is the first owl, in the spring, to roost and get ‘amorous’ with one another, so now is the time you will ofter hear them at night. I have been hearing them lately on my before light mornings walks. Take care. Bob

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    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Bob. It was so exciting! And yet, since then we’ve heard the barred owls several times, and even saw them. Another post coming. I am slow getting this one up… Say hi to Lisa for me.

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