"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
“The Owl Has a Silent Wing”

“The Owl Has a Silent Wing”

From School of the Woods by William J. Long:

“It is more and more evident, I think, that Nature adapts her gifts, not simply to the necessities, but more largely to the desires, of her creatures. The force and influence of that intense desire — more intense because usually each animal has but one — we have not yet learned to measure…. The owl has a silent wing, not simply because he needs it — for his need is no greater than that of the hawk, who has no silent wing — but, more probably, because of his whole-hearted desire for silence as he glides through the silent twilight. And so with the panther’s foot; and so with the deer’s eye, and the wolf’s nose, whose one idea of bliss is a good smell; and so with every other strongly marked gift which the wild things have won from nature, chiefly by wanting it, in the long years of their development.”

Owls have been here before — and by “here” I mean both in my back yard and on this blog — see Owl on the Prowl, where I included three pictures of their first appearance as babes over a decade ago. They sometimes visit my garden as a pair — roosting among the branches of Japanese Cypress trees that tower over my pond — and after a while I was able to differentiate one from the other, partly by their appearance and partly by their behavior. One is slightly smaller and lighter in color than the other; and that smaller one is more reticent, likely to fly off to higher branches if I approach. In the earlier post, I showed the larger owl; the photos below are the smaller one — which often hides out of sight in the treetops.

I knew an owl was visiting even before laying eyes on it: the cacophony from smaller birds in the same trees takes on a distinct sound of little flyers warning other little flyers that there’s an extra-large, possibly dangerous threat in the area. If there are enough squirrels around at the owl’s arrival, they’ll join in too; it’s almost funny how you get to know wildlife in your yard so well that you can tell when they sound alarmed. Watching through the glass door leading to my back yard, I saw three squirrels hauling-ass in multiple directions, increasing their distance while keeping their balance as they raced to the ends of thin branches them jumped to an elm tree on the property next door.

Recognizing this as the more bashful of the two Barred Owls, I took most of these pictures through the back door, or from the steps leading to my courtyard. Owls don’t do that much when they’re roosting — except to turn their head and scope out potential snacks — so the photos are a bit repetitious, I suppose. But in the last two, notice the owl’s eyes: they’ve widened a bit because I moved in closer to try for better shots … but, as I expected, off it flew without making a sound.

Thanks for reading and taking a look!


  1. Tim Lamb

    Your Grant Park area is one of the BEST locations for those lovely barred owl sightings … love it. Your photos are outstanding, I was never as successful capturing a photo however I clearly remember the calls of “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you-all”. I would dash out my door and begin my search for them following their bold calls until I spotted them in the massive Grant Park oak trees. And then, I was totally hypnotized watching them and although I didn’t want them to leave my yard — I became so fulfilled with their silent drop and swoop when they flew to another branch of another tree. It was like watching Tarzan! LOL, another love of mine growing up (but won’t go there!). Thanks for the photos and post … and wonderful memory allowing me to escape this crazy world of 2020. Enjoy the holidays Dale (and of course, Mr Lobo).

    1. Dale

      I do love my owls! Of course I don’t really know if it’s the same pair that’s been coming around for fifteen years … but I like the story that way best!

      Happy Holidays to you’s too!

Leave a reply ...