One evening I stepped outside and listened for a while. I remembered a few years ago when we were honored to get to know a great horned owl family.
The following is a column I wrote in 2013 about that family.
Several years ago I noticed a couple of large birds hanging out in the trees behind our house. After a few days of paying attention I figured out that the birds were a pair of great horned owls, which hooted during the night and in the early morning.
I did some research and discovered that their mating season was underway; their eggs would hatch in January or February. I noticed that the larger of the two owls sometimes sat in the same tree during the day. We didn’t see any owlets that first year, but the adults were always around.
The larger one was the female, and she would stare at me when I told her stories from under the tree. She listened to my tales, and I think we became pretty good friends. One day during the late winter or early spring, I saw the female slide into a small hole in the trunk of a dead tree. I was amazed. She seemed to be several times larger than the opening that she wiggled through.
Later that evening I showed Lyn the tree, and we started paying close attention to the comings and goings. The owls were delivering food on a regular basis to that location. One morning we saw a baby owl on the ground. The male adult owl was with the baby, which had either fallen out of the nest or tried to fly prematurely.
A couple of days later we noticed that the father and baby were in a tree about 100 yards from the nest. A second baby soon emerged from the nest and sat on a branch next to its mother. This fledgling’s inaugural flight came a few hours later when it flew to a nearby evergreen tree.
Because of our friendship with the mother owl, she allowed us to approach the tree and visit with her offspring. A few weeks later while walking in the field behind our house I came across the dead body of one of those beautiful baby owls. We contacted the Department of Natural Resources and were told that the owl had probably eaten a poisoned mouse. The DNR told us to bury the bird.
Since our grandsons were visiting we planned a quick funeral. As the boys were shoveling soil on top of the owlet, I noticed that the mother owl was watching intently from the same branch where we previously visited her. She was gone when I returned later, but as I walked back to the house I saw her fly out of a tree; she was hooting and heading toward me. I had never considered that an owl would or could hoot while in flight.
The owl swooped up onto her favorite branch, adjusted her stance and looked at me as if to say, “Thanks for taking care of my baby.”
Shonk is a 1960 graduate of Southport High School, a ’63 grad of Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis) and a retired bus driver from Beech Grove Schools.