owltalk 2001


13 April, 2001


Two song bouts in the night, riding atop increasing winds, have turned into much more. The male boreal owl indeed had company, and now, he has a willing partner in the courtship process. I have been a regular visitor to the pair over the past two weeks, often at the expense of other things that need to get done. I have become part of the landscape. The owls ignore me, but I cannot ignore them.


Since 4 April, nearly 20 hours of my life has been spent trying to comprehend the owl sounds and movements in the night. I have sat passively in driving rain and snow, warm and dry beneath a layer of Gore-tex, knowing that nature does not stop when nature becomes surly.


Over the years I have seen dozens of interactions between male and female boreal owls. From their perspective, most of those interactions were ephemeral. The female visited then left; fickle and noncommittal, leaving the male as a frustrated, yet hopeless romantic.


I know the vocalizations and interactions of that process well. I also know what life is like at a nest after the nest is initiated. But the gray area in between has tugged at me. I wanted to know the tangible events that signal the transition from "dating" to family-rearing. Now I know.


During the past two weeks, I have watched and listened as the male has promoted himself from singer to provider. I have watched the timid approaches of the female to the cavity tree, and listened as her vocalizations have changed from curious to solicitous. I have watched the transfer of lifeless voles from one owl to the other. I have watched quick and chaotic copulations, the male always willing, always chasing, the female receptive then proper, nonchalantly preening and rousing her feathers when he is done. I have watched as an empty cavity entrance now frames the female upon my daylight approach. I have listened as quiet returns to the night.