In the night we often hear a Barred owl call out its persistent question: “Who-cooks-for-YOU?”
Less frequently, we catch a dialogue between two Barred owls, sounding more like a loud gang of crazed chimpanzees than a couple of birds. The strange, hilarious caterwauling lasts for a quarter hour or more, rising and falling in pitch, speed and volume. At those times, it’s best to give up any hope of sleep and just enjoy the broadcast.
But we don’t see these large birds very often, and when we do, it’s usually at a distance. During one week this past summer, though, we had some very close views when one visited our place, drawn by the prospect of tasty songbird nestlings.
We might have missed seeing the owl, but the prolonged robin ruckus gave it away. Their loud alarm calls indicated a predator was about, but what, and where? I went to investigate, expecting to shoo away a neighbour’s cat, but half way across the little bridge over our pond I came to a sudden stop. Almost within arm’s reach, on the lowest limb of the willow, sat the source of robin angst: about two feet (60 cm) in height, silent, still, and eyeing me with no apparent concern.
Over the next hour I watched the robins in their valiant, noisy and exhaustive effort to dispatch the owl. Dive-bombing in daring sorties, they came closer and closer to the predator. At one point, a brave little robin even went so far as to kick the big bird in the head. The owl showed no reaction other than a brief headshake and a look that seemed to say, “Bug off!”
Of course I wondered if I should intervene on behalf of the robins, and if so, how? In the end, I opted for neutrality. (Or perhaps I simply chickened out – those talons looked awfully sharp.)
I’m not sure how the battle ended that day, as eventually I had to get on with my to-do list. But three more times that week, a similar robin ruckus led me to the owl: in the willow again, then in a nearby Douglas fir, and finally on a branch of the Bigleaf maple that overhangs our patio.
We were glad when the big bird finally moved on. Peace reigned again in our little robin kingdom, and those gawky fledglings could get on with the vital business of learning to fly.