The owl…is one of the most curious creatures. A bird that stays awake while the rest of the world sleeps. What does he see when the rest of the world is dreaming? — M.J. Rose, American author (1998-)
A wise old owl sat in an oak. The more he saw, the less he spoke. The less he spoke, the more he heard. Why can’t we be like that wise old bird? — Nursery rhyme
Dark was the night and darker were the trees. Only the moon and the stars let me see, when suddenly something flew from the trees and landed in the middle of the blacktop road. I stopped and turned the headlights toward the bird. It was an owl. He stared, and I stared back. Neither of us moved. I had always wanted to see an owl in the wild up close and personal. It was a beautiful bird. I’ve seen owls quickly fly from one tree lined side of the road to the other in the night shadows. I had heard owls but never had one stop in the road and stare at me. It was mesmerizing. I didn’t move until he continued his flight through the woods.
There were three of us in the car. The backseat passenger said, “It’s probably a hoot owl.” Ever the skeptic I thought we don’t know what it is. Later I Googled “Owls of Mississippi.” I read about owls in both of my bird books: National Audubon Society and The Sibley Guide to Birds.
It’s very possible the bird was a hoot owl scientifically known as a Barred Owl. The Barred Owl is nocturnal; not all owls are. Some owls burrow in the ground. The Barred Owl is mostly brown in color. They are curious birds and known for observing humans. It’s possible the owl flew to another tree and watched us drive away.
Looking at the photos of Barred Owls I still wasn’t sure. Our owl looked pale in the face as opposed to brown. I wondered if the headlights made his face look white. Now that I think of it, perhaps he was blinded by the light. Finally, I found a description on allaboutbirds.org describing the Barred Owl as “a large gray-brown and white bird with a round head and no ear tufts.” I think this is our bird. His head was perfectly round and his face pale. There were no ears standing up. He actually looked sweet, not threatening at all.
As it turns out Mississippi has five resident owls: Great Horned Owls, Short-eared Owl, American Barn Owl, Barred Owl, and the Eastern Screech Owl.
The Great Horned Owl is gray-brown with a white throat. It’s a large owl with tufts of feathers on its head that look like ears. He’s a little scary looking.
The Short-eared Owl is a winter resident. It’s tawny brown in color and prefers a nest in the ground. He moves in the late afternoon, sometimes with other birds. The Short-eared Owl can hover and has an erratic flight pattern.
The American Barn Owl’s face is heart-shaped and sandy colored. He’s a year-round resident and mostly nocturnal. His sound is a screech more like a hawk.
The Eastern Screech Owl is short and stocky. He can be gray or red and loves to perch wherever. He doesn’t mind humans but doesn’t like other owls. Now you know all about owls.
Shannon Bardwell is a writer living quietly in the Prairie. Email reaches her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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