Interview with a barn owl – #30dayswild
The barn owl couldn’t quite pip the robin to the post of Britain’s National Bird this year, but it’s still one of the nation’s favourite species. It’s not hard to see why, they are stunning birds. But what lies behind those good looks? I interview a barn owl to find out more.
Memetic Drift (MD): Oh hey, didn’t hear you come in! Nice to meet you, Mr… ?
Albus: Sorry, that happens a lot. Yes, I’m Tyto alba, but Albus works fine for me.
MD: How did you manage to sneak up on me? I thought I had good hearing!
Albus: Heh, so do mice and voles, but that’s usually the last thing they ever think! It’s the extra soft feathers that do it, preened to perfection I’ll have you know. Helps with the old vole-catching no end.
MD: Even if they don’t hear you, how on earth do you find them? Surely they’re being as quiet as they can too?
Albus: Well yes, of course, but they’d have a tough time keeping quiet enough to elude me! Without any noise from my wings, I can focus all my attention on the ground. The shape of my face and asymmetric earholes allow me to pinpoint exactly where the faintest rustle or squeak came from. Good night-vision too. Then come the claws, beak and dinner is served.
MD: Yummy! So, are you raising a family at the moment?
Albus: Two little blighters fledged a week or so ago from a batch of six eggs.
MD: Oh dear… what happened?
Albus: Oh, the usual. Two simply didn’t hatch, another died after a few weeks simply because we couldn’t get enough food for the lot of them. We thought the rest were going to make it, but then the weather took a turn for the worse and hunting became very difficult. We can’t hunt in the rain as our soft feathers aren’t waterproof. The kid got weaker and weaker and eventually his siblings overpowered him. Like I said, the usual.
MD: I don’t understand how you can be so blasé about this!
Albus: Huh, yeah I guess I can imagine this doesn’t sit well with some human constitutions, but it’s the system evolution has given us and it works. The missus lays her eggs over the course of a few weeks, so there’s always one smaller. Well, perhaps it’s not working so much at the moment… but let’s be honest here, that’s got more to do with you humans than us!
MD: How can people help you and other owls?
Albus: Field voles are our favourite food, so we’d like appreciate more of those. They like nesting in long, rough grassy areas, so if more people left land to grow wild and grassy, I’d have a better chance of getting dinner! I understand many humans find them cute rather than delicious, so I guess that’s a positive side effect.
MD: What about people who don’t have any land? What can they do?
Albus: Take care when you drive! Our kids aren’t adapted to these whizzy roads and a third of our fledglings end up as roadkill. Senseless death. Oh, and stop with the rat poison! It builds up in the food chain and makes us sick. Over 90% of we barn owls are contaminated with the nasty stuff. So yeah, stop that.
MD: I’ve got a question from Beryl the adder, my previous interviewee. She asks, and I quote: “why must you vomit up the lovely bones of delicious rodents? Seems like a waste to me!
Albus: Well I don’t exactly enjoy the process, but it needs doing. Adders have far stronger digestive juices than we owls, they can cope with the bones. For us, hair and bones could be damaging, so we keep it in our gizzards. Over time it gets crushed into a tight ball and cleanly evacuated. Not naming any names, but I’ve seen oral upheavals of other species and I’d take a nice compact pellet any day…
MD: Please could you give me a question to pass on to the white-clawed crayfish, my next interviewee.
Albus: Huh, I think I can guess what’s going to dominate that conversation. What I want to know is “When did you first realise something was wrong?”
MD: Ah yes, that’s something I was planning on asking too, to be honest… poor guys. Anyway, see you, Albus! Thanks for chatting.
For more information, I recommend The Barn Owl Trust’s fantastic website. Images courtesy of Wikipedia, click for source.