JP Observer: My month with Wowl the owl

February 15, 2013
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When I got up from my desk and turned around, I saw a face staring at me through the window a few feet away. I was especially startled because I live on the third floor of a Jamaica Plain three-decker.

I felt like screaming, but something told me to run out of the room and think. I slowly and carefully went back in. There, perched on a branch of the evergreen right outside my window, an owl with no ears was facing me.

That was this past Dec. 8. The owl perched on one of the branches outside the bay window most days from dawn to sunset—never leaving earlier—until Jan. 7. I learned that the bird, about 20 inches long with alternating brown and gray feathers, is a barred owl and probably a young adult male.

Every time I told someone about the owl so close to me, they said, “Wow!” So I started calling him “Wowl.”

The tree, tall and protected, with lots of solid branches at right angles from the trunk, must be an ideal roost for an owl. That this tree is six to10 feet from where I sit at my desk, and above a busy street with lots of noisy people, cars and dogs going by, didn’t seem to bother him. In fact, he took a strong interest in me and them, staring down or in at us with curiosity, when he wasn’t dozing.

One day in mid-December, after arriving in the morning as usual around 3 o’clock, he hopped down to the branch closest to my office window and faced me. He started rummaging under one wing with his beak. I couldn’t figure out what he was doing; I had never seen him do that before.

In a minute he pulled out a flat dark thing that looked like the silhouette of a mouse. He waved the floppy mouse shape around with his beak, twirling it in the air, and slapped it against the branch several times, then picked it up again.

I was writing an email to a friend at the moment and described what I saw. “It’s like he is showing off for me,” I said.

Finally, he opened a surprisingly large, pink mouth for such a small beak and chomped down on the mouse. He gulped and gulped, and each time more mouse disappeared. He finished with the long, thin tail.

He paused for a minute and just stared at me with his round brown eyes. Then, amazingly enough, he did the same thing again. I tried to see exactly where he had stored the next dead mouse, maybe in his talons, but he pulled it from under his wing, did an encore display and gobbled it down head to tail, just like the first one.

He sat there until just after the sun went down. He looked back and rearranged his tail feathers with great fuss as he always did at that time. Then he unfolded his wings, stretched them wide, leaped up, turned and sailed down the street into the dark.

 

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