The story of Oscar and Louise

It was late at night the first time I saw Oscar. But that is as it should be because Oscar is a barred owl, and therefore nocturnal. I was stargazing on my deck last winter. It was windy and I thought a gust had blown a newspaper onto one of the poles that support my line of bird feeders. When I saw the enormous wings fold down, I was in awe.

I spoke to him and he seemed OK with that. He returned each night for several weeks, tolerating my proximity to him, my conversation and my naming him Oscar.

The winter continued relentlessly, dumping more snow daily and, worrying about my wild friends, I increased their food each day. My feeders were popular.

One bright, sunny afternoon I was shovelling snow on my back deck when a giant shadow swooped over me, and Oscar landed on the pole. In broad daylight I saw just how big and extraordinarily beautiful he was. But why was he here in broad daylight? I asked him and began a lengthy dialogue during which I begged him not to hurt my birds.

I soon understood that it was the winter’s severity forcing him out in the daylight to where mice and moles would tunnel under the snow to reach seed dropped from the feeders.

And so began my friendship with Oscar. He sat on the poles as much as seven hours a day for over three months. On bad days he would frequently shake himself and flutter all his feathers to dislodge the snow that had fallen on him as he sat there, stoic and immoveable. He would follow the constant movement of birds around him, and squirrels scampering below, but made no move toward them. The birds seemed to feel no threat and often perched on the line a few inches from his giant talons. The squirrels continued to feed but cast anxious looks upward.

Each day he grew more used to me and was no longer nervous about my camera. I approached closer and closer, talking to him at the foot of the pole. As we got to know each other, his once threatening look began to appear cute and friendly.

As the weeks of snow continued I worried about Oscar; hours sitting on a narrow pole in the snow and cold, never appearing to eat anything. He looked smaller, almost skinny. I convinced myself that he was dying of starvation so I went out to him and held out a slab of suet. He looked at me with a “what do you expect me to do with that?” expression on his face. Thinking that when he kills a mouse, the meat would still be warm, I heated a piece in the microwave and offered that but he still rejected it.

Then my fears changed. I trudged through the latest heavy snowfall to fill the bird feeders and stopped. There was a little blood on the snow near one of the poles and lots of junco feathers. Oscar had eaten one of my birds. Next day I arrived in time to see Oscar lifting off the snow with something dark clutched in his claws, leaving a large bloody patch behind. A black squirrel had been feeding there earlier and was gone, so I suspected he was the victim. At least I knew Oscar was not starving, but I had mixed emotions as I was losing my wild friends. I speculated that as a junco is a ground feeder with a dark-grey back, in the bright daylight it probably looked to Oscar like a mouse moving across the snow.

Finally temperatures rose and Oscar seldom visited. It was a sunny day in late March when I returned home and saw Oscar sitting on a post of my front veranda, much closer to the ground. Talking to him, I went right up and gently stroked the feathers on his belly. It was an awesome moment, but Oscar soon slowly spread his powerful wings and lazily flew into the woods. I never saw him again.

Louise Lukianchuk writes from Duro, Ontario

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