Give A Hoot!

February 12, 2016 clifftop CliffNotes

Clifftop is hosting another full moon “Owl Prowl” at White Rock Nature Preserve on Saturday night, February 20th, 2016. It has been a very popular event in past years, particularly with children, and brings out the best in people and in owls. It’s a wonderful opportunity to hear, and sometimes see, our resident great horned, barred and screech owls, and there’s always hope of discovering a rarer wintertime migrant species. In past years we’ve highlighted and promoted the prowl with articles about the natural history and folklore of owls, but this time we want to galvanize your interest in attending, even though the short hike, depending on weather, might freeze your buns off. To that end, we offer some stories about close encounters between owls and people

We’d like you to think about owls in new and different ways, a more human-centric approach to considering the merits of owls. We don’t condone keeping wildlife as pets and remind all keeping captive wildlife is plainly against the law. In our area, injured or sick wildlife should be turned over to licensed rehabilitators, like our good friends at TreeHouse Wildlife Center in Dow, Illinois. Stories of close encounters and interactions with owls can illustrate uncanny abilities and skills and, so, we include some stories of both wild and captive birds. Since everybody likes awards – the ever-popular Oscars, Emmys and Golden Globes – even if we don’t recognize names of the winners — you may not know that owls, too, can be singularly acclaimed.

You probably never heard of it, but Houston Minnesota’s annual “North American Festival of the Owls” often bestows the Lady Gray’l Award on a deserving owl who has demonstrated sustained performance in public education about owls. The award is named for a Great Gray Owl who co-hosted owl educational programs with a Canadian veterinarian following an injury that prevented her release after rehabilitation. But an even less known honor is the internationally prestigious “Owl Award.”

The OWL (Owls Warranting the Limelight) Award is periodically given to an owl for meritorious heroic or civic actions in service to mankind. Let’s review some of the recent past honorees.

Uiltjie, The Caring Owl, brings a mouse to his cat and longtime friend. Photo courtesy Chris Pretorius, the

A South African owl named “Uiltjie” (and we have no clue how to pronounce it) received the award for extraordinary kindness. He joined the household of a rehabilitator and assists with care of injured birds. Uiltjie has imprinted on his human hosts, returning to their household from nightly outdoor hunts, and shares his quarters with his human caregiver and an ancient, nearly twenty year old, scruffy, skinny, in-doors only, pet cat. Uiltjie’s human leaves a bedroom window open at night and allows the owl to come and go as he pleases. In short order it was discovered that Uiltjie was bringing dead mice for the cat to eat. The cat has gained weight, has a new spring in his pounce, and appears to have a second lease on life. The owl’s away so the cat can play.

Three past awardees fall into the “crime-busting” category. In Australia, a pygmy owl caretaker was preparing to leave for the airport to go on vacation. He put his owl “Addy” in a cage and carefully put cage and owl in the back seat of his compact car. The plan was to drop Addy off with a friend on his way to the airport. He left his car running and returned to the house to fetch a last suitcase for the trip.

A car thief had been sizing up the situation and quickly moved in for the heist. The thief tried and failed to get the cage dislodged from the back seat, so he opened the cage door and tried to get Addy to flee, without success. The crook jumped in the car and began to drive away. Addy flew out of the cage and locked his talons into the back of the thief’s skull and started pecking his head. The thief, frantically trying to remove Addy, slammed on the breaks and literally rolled out of the car onto the street before the very feet of a policeman.

Shortly after midnight, nearing shift change, a New York City police officer was trying to catch up on paperwork before going off duty. He pulled into the end of a narrow alley, shut off the squad car, and was working on his laptop computer. He started to hear a great horned owl, calling loudly and constantly, one hoot, after another.

It went on for several minutes, so the officer got out of the squad car and slowly began walking down the alley. He could see the owl sitting on an upper story windowsill, calling and calling. The cop then noticed, on the other side of the alley, somebody coming down a fire escape, trying to carry a fairly large sized flat-screened television. The officer, partially hiding behind a dumpster, waited for the culprit to get on the ground, and then quickly made the collar. It turned out to be a cat burglar who had been terrorizing the neighborhood for several weeks. Mayor de Blasio has called for good-citizen owl to step forward and be recognized, but, so far, no one seems to give a hoot.

Another crime busting award winner is, surprisingly, a deceased owl. A man was summoned before a Colorado county court for violating a restraining order and repeatedly trespassing on a neighbor’s land. He showed up in court with a dead, mounted, long-eared owl, who he identified as “Solomon.”  He told the judge that Solomon had law degrees from Harvard and Yale and would be representing him in court that day.

The judge was so impressed she remanded him to jail time and fined him for possessing a state-listed wildlife species specimen without the necessary permits.  Solomon now proudly remains on the judge’s dais, with a placard that reads: “Never pray for justice, because you might get some.”

This magnificent Snowy Owl delighted local area residents during an extended stay in winter 2012. Snowy Owls sometimes leave their Arctic area homelands and journey south in search of food. Photo courtesy Tom Rollins,

White Terror of the North (WTON) is an English snowy owl who captured the award for celebrity entertainment. The eighteen year old actor appeared as “Hedwig” in six of the eight wildly popular Harry Potter movies, and he continues to act in films and documentaries. Captive owls typically live deep into their 30’s.

Our final honoree is an English owl named “Athena,” who claimed the award for sagacious foretelling. A British professional couple, after several years of a stormy relationship and courtship, finally decided to wed. Marriage plans were on-again, off-again, and contentious as ever. They finally decided on a lavishly, over-done, expensive wedding.

They rented a gorgeous and spacious medieval church, choose extravagant dress, contracted almost a full orchestra, and invited hundreds of guests. They also hired a falconer to have owl “Athena,” with a wedding ring tied to each foot, fly above the aisle at just the right moment, and come to a perch near the sacred altar.

They marched to the altar and Athena was released. The owl flew over the aisle, past the altar and high up to a stained glass window’s sill and promptly went to sleep. Nothing could bring the owl down and substitute rings were found to complete the ceremony. Three months later, by mutual agreement, the marriage was annulled. Athena seems a wise old owl.

The February 20th owl prowl at White Rock Nature Preserve, located 2 miles south of old town Valmeyer at 6438 Bluff Road, will run from 6 to 8 PM. It is free and open to the public. Dress for the weather and bring a small flashlight. Pre-registration is required at or 458-4674 by February 18th in case we have to cancel for really bad weather. Owl see you there.

CLIFFTOP, a local nonprofit organization, is focused on preserving and protecting area bluff lands.

A version of this article appeared in the 5 February 2016 edition of the Monroe County Independent.

© 2016 all content rights reserved Clifftop NFP.

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