~ Contributed by Virginia Steel
A barred owl had frequently been heard on the Carleton-Williard Village campus, and had been seen several times, even allowing its picture to be taken in the fall of 2021.
At dusk one evening it flew low over the path, brushing the head of a resident with the tip of its wing. In February 2022, the owl was found dead at the base of a lamppost. It had broken its neck in a collision with the lamppost. But why?
I took the dead owl home and invited a few residents to come and see it. Between showings I kept it, carefully wrapped in plastic, in my refrigerator. When other residents expressed interest, I tried to arrange for a more public viewing. My question went from person A to person B to person C, who said that the Bedford Board of Health should be asked. The answer came swiftly: “no one in Bedford is allowed to have a dead animal in their refrigerator.” (What about that chicken from the supermarket?)
The owl was quickly confiscated, leaving pangs of sadness among those who had hoped to see it, and these few photographs, which I share here.
All images in the following gallery are (c) Virginia Steel
Click each to see it at full size
Questions also lingered, leading to online research. It seems that essentially all raptors in this area are carrying rodenticides in their tissues. These poisons, used to kill rodents, work by causing internal bleeding, not only for the rodent but for any predator or scavenger that eats the rodent. All parts of the raptor’s body can be affected, causing weakness and general decline before the bird dies, perhaps too weak to avoid a collision with a lamppost.
The fortunate people who saw and touched the owl were struck by its size (a 36-inch wingspread), its lightness (only 1 pound 11 ounces), its softness, and its beauty.
Each part of the owl’s body was covered with a unique type of feathers. Strong flight feathers on the wings have fringed edges, allowing owls to fly silently. Body feathers provide protection from the elements and create the distinctive light and dark pattern. Under these are downy feathers for insulation. Feathers on the face form the characteristic circles around the eyes, and are so soft, dense, and short that they seem like fur. Even the toes are warmly feathered, right down to the impressive talons, that are used to grasp prey.
We hope that another owl will take up residence here, and are grateful to have seen this one, in all its beauty and wonder.