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The Owl

“Let’s go Cali Girl,” I called to our golden retriever on Saturday as I held the back door open. The weather has turned cooler in Northwest Georgia, and I looked forward to our morning walk in the woods behind our house. Cali sprinted out the door ahead of me — she always has to be first.

Just a few steps onto the trail, I noticed Cali had “bushed out” the way she does when she’s mad, scared, or about to chase a deer.

“What is it, baby?” I asked, pausing to survey the woods around us. Suddenly , she bolted and flushed out something large and dark from its perch nearby. A magnificent bird with a nearly fivefoot wingspan flew effortlessly to a new, safer location as Cali barked ferociously and ran up the hill toward it. As the bird landed, it turned its head my way, and I spotted the piercing, glowing eyes of an owl.

This was a magical moment for me — a gift, of sorts. We’ve lived in the middle of these woods for nearly two decades. We’ve heard their deep, echoing hoots on nights when we slept with our windows open. On a few occasions, I’ve heard what sounded like a woman screaming in the woods, only to realize that it, too, was the cry of an owl — a screech. So we’ve heard the owls, but we seldom see them.

My mother and stepfather had an owl that frequented their Toombs County backyard a few years ago.

“We call him Hootie,” my mother said. “He’s eaten almost every frog in the yard and on the patio, but we’ve enjoyed sitting in the sunroom and watching him back there.”

After Hootie annihilated the toad population near my parents’ Ohoopee home, he moved on.

“I wish he’d come back,” Mom has mentioned to me on several occasions.

On Saturday, I called Cali back to me and crept slowly up the hill to get a better look at the creature. From my angle, it seemed to be somewhere between sixteen and twenty inches high with feathers of brown, gray, and white. Its bright gold eyes stared at me as I inched up the path. Just as before, it launched — wings gracefully flapping as it navigated through the forest before landing low near a creek bed. Not wanting to spook it, I went on my way, encouraging Cali to come along. We hiked to the top of the hill, then across the flat area to the other side of our property, then started our descension when I heard the loud and alarming cawing of crows — dozens of them, which is appropriately called a “murder” of crows. They were mad, and as we got lower near the creek bed, I saw the big black crows all around, screaming their heads off at the owl and telling him or her to get out of their territory, in the language of birds.

I felt sorry for the owl. It was twenty or thirty against one, and the crows seemed to be bullying the owl. I hate bullying, even in the animal kingdom.

Again, the owl flew, and the crows flapped behind it, even pecking at its large body a few

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times, before it landed again.

A bunch of Blue Jays joined in the chorus, screaming at the owl. It was so loud I couldn’t hear myself think.

As Cali and I walked closer to our backyard, we noticed my husband standing at the railing of the back deck. He called down to me, “What the heck is going on back there?” He didn’t really say, “heck.”

“Owl!” I replied and pointed.

The owl launched again, as dozens of crows and Blue Jays harassed it from behind — some even dive-bombing the great bird as it flew out of sight.

Excited by the encounter, I came inside and pulled out one of my bird books and began reading. I think our owl is a Great Horned Owl, though I hope to get a better look soon to verify my identification. I learned that owls are voracious predators and feast upon mice, rats, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, skunks, domestic birds, falcons, and other owls. They supplement their diet with reptiles, amphibians, insects, and sometimes carrion. And though they are usually nocturnal hunters, they sometimes hunt in broad daylight.

I also learned that owls fall in love in the autumn months. They lay eggs in wintertime and begin nesting.

And what do you call a group of owls? A parliament. Ha!

I hope the owl returns and decides to live here and raise a family. I sure hope the other birds will allow that, but I guess I can’t blame them if they don’t. The owl has a pretty ruthless reputation. I wouldn’t want a murderer moving in next door. Would you?

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