The owls; they know what's going on. When there's a lot of food up north, they're up north. When the pickings are slim, they gravitate a little south. A little too cold here, and they'll go over there. When it's really rough, they're all over the map. There's only one catch, to get from here to there you have to use your own wings. And that means your body is using energy, burning calories. If you are already physically stressed from hunger, it can be a game of Russian roulette. Will you make it to the place where the food is? If you do, will you find something to eat in time? If not, will there be enough time to choose another option? An unexpected weather front while you are going from point A to point B can put a real damper on your travel plans. In the meantime, will you make it? Will you endure? "Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all," I believe is a quote from Helen Keller. Owls certainly live on the edge in winter.
Back and forth they go in search of survival. Some years are a piece of cake. Temperature, precipitation, availability of prey species, everything fitting together nicely like a puzzle. Some years are not. Matt saw him first. "There's a little owl standing on my wood pile, watching me split wood." He was charmed. I was concerned. I went out to look at him. He flew to a tree. He was pretty, and I took his picture. But I felt bad about it. Like I was spying on something private, interfering. He flew to another tree, we went inside the house.
The next morning I looked for the little owl. Not out of expectation, but more out of curiosity. I looked up at the trees, and I looked at the wood pile, but I could not see him. Just when I thought he had moved on, I spotted him. There on the ground, he was dead! I lifted him up; so pretty. He was weightless. He had starved! I started to piece it together. He had come close to where people lived, because generally, where we are, mice are. He went to the wood pile for the same reason, mice build nests amidst the split wood. It was his last ditch effort at survival.
A couple of weeks later I received a call from someone who had a Saw Whet owl that had been hanging around their house. The caller was charmed, he felt somewhat "chosen." I was concerned. I explained to him the plight of many owls in winter. He said he had some experience with wildlife, and wanted to care for the owl. I told him that this could be more complicated than it seemed. He decided to drive the many miles to a meeting place where I could accept the owl. He obviously loved birds, and stated that he didn't mind the drive, because every bird was important.
He called one more time after he left his location, to let me know that he was halfway there. He told me how he had opened the lid to the cardboard box that contained the owl, and how the owl perched on the box while he drove. Once again he was charmed! I told him it would be less stressful for the bird to be enclosed within the box.
I arrived at the appointed meeting place and waited about ten minutes. He called again, he was not far away. But that was not the reason he called. The owl had died in transit. I could hear the tears in his voice. "I would drive all this way again," he said. I told him we always try, and that sometimes you lose, but then sometimes; you win!
I knew his bird had starved, and that it had been a last ditch effort that brought the bird to such close proximity to their home. One last great grasp at survival. That's what it's all about, isn't it? Change, evolution, adaptation......
The sun came out from behind a cloud. I turned the key in the ignition, and started the twenty mile journey home.