April 20, 2019

Young barred owl is shelter’s latest `ding-dong’ resident

Oh, no! Does it mean there’s going to be yet another ding-dong in residence??!!

Caesar is a young barred owl brought in by a Millinocket man who sighted the disoriented bird beside a highway. The owl was “in good flesh” and his wings intact, but he was able to move only in short flying hops. The frosting of baby fuzz on his head indicated that he was still “just a kid.”

Although he was a bundle of raw nerves during those first feeding sessions, he soon learned to accept the bits of lean beef — dipped in warm water — that I popped into the back of his throat. Moistening the meat makes for easy swallowing, and placing it back in the throat triggers the swallowing impulse.

Within a few days, Caesar was not only eating on his own, but even jumping onto my wrist while I placed his food on the feeding board in his pen. He also enjoyed the large pan of water provided for him. However, his next-pen neighbors weren’t so happy since pigeons and poultry don’t appreciate being ogled by an owl day and night!

When Caesar’s baby fuzz disappeared, and he began flying about his pen — even to the ceiling — it seemed the time had come to release him. First, I wanted to be sure he was capable of distance flying, so, closing the shelter’s doors and windows, I waited to see how he could maneuver down the 64-foot corridor. While he was flexing his feathers, I proceeded with the feeding and watering chores. Oddly, Caesar was more interested in what I was doing than in testing his wings.

After making a few ceiling-high trips to the doors of the other pens, where he checked out the occupants, he landed on the floor and began pouncing on the hose, which he may have mistaken for a long green snake. Then, he picked up a loose pigeon feather with one foot and put it in his beak. Now and then, he’d fly to the area where I was working and, perched on the side of a pen, would thrust his face in front of mine. By the time the chores were completed, he had returned to the roost in his pen and was looking at me as though to ask, “Well? Aren’t you going to shut my door?” Could be that he’s a slow starter, late bloomer, or just reluctant to make it on his own.

It may make a believer out of me yet!

Although I’ve never been one to put any stock in ghosts and spooks, there have been some strange happenings around the hill and shelter. I’ve smiled when people reported seeing more bear-shape clouds hanging overhead, or when they’ve sworn that they’ve seen Oscar’s tire swing moving or heard it squeaking on its cable.

But, the other morning, when I entered the shelter and saw the damp, bear-shaped, pigeon-toed paw prints on the dry cement floor, I did a doubletake. The prints led from the wood heater down to Oscar’s old pen. Deer were loose in the corridor, but deer tracks are unmistakable, and there was no water where paws or hooves could pick up enough moisture to make prints. Then, to top it off, the next morning, the same big paw prints led from the closed side door, around the heater, and toward Oscar’s pen. Of course, there has to be a logical explanation, but in the meantime, I must admit, my goose pimples have the spookies!

Jerry Elwell is a free-lance nature writer who lives in Sherman Station.

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