AN OWL’S DISTRESS CALL

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My name is Tyto alba, the Barn Owl. Our family stays near your home. You probably don’t even know that we exist in the hustle and bustle of the urban landscape. Some of you might have heard screeches in the night or noticed a huge white apparition flying over your head during those late after-dinner walks. We tend to mind our own business and use the night time to hunt. Naturally evolved to see better during night, our vision helps us catch our preys silently, especially our favorites, the sneaky squeaky rodents. Rarely do they hear us coming, our feathers makes us quiet, no flutter, no flicker, no flapping, no thrashing, quieter than the darkness of night. By morning we are back to our nests. There would be a commotion among the day birds if by mistake we were seen outside during day time. They fear us as we are raptors of the night.

Poem on Barn owl, by Nishand venugopal
Me taking a sneak peak from my hollow

I was born in one of the vents that are meant for the maintenance of drainage pipes. Old buildings with lesser human intervention can offer perfect spots for nesting. I was feeling safe along with my siblings under the wings of my parents. They provided food and protection; all we had to do was cry to get maximum attention. We slowly learnt to eat like adult owls who can eat the whole prey and leave the undigested matter as pallets. We loved wandering around inside our nest. One day during dusk I was able to look out of my nest to see the cacophony of the urban landscape around us. The scene was quite unnerving. However, even at this stage we young ones knew that a day will come when we would be on our own out there.

Photo by Nishand venugopal
Me and my little sister as curious owlets keeping a watch.

Then suddenly, I was old enough to come out. I expanded my wings and took the flight of my dreams. After that there was no looking back. The adventures which I anticipated for, were now a reality. I lived the moments one could only dream, saw the world at night, all it’s hoots and screams. I braced for a life which was yet to unfurl in front of my eyes. On one such regular night ride, I got lost and found myself in daylight. Feeling disoriented at day time, I flew right into a group of crows which caught me defenseless. It was then that I realized why they are collectively called ‘murder’ (ironic). I flew for my life giving out a distress call and while trying to evade the angry mob of the crows, I found this safe haven, which I now call home.

An owl in distress, being attacked by a crow. Photo by Nishand Venugopal
Me being attacked by a crow. What a lousy fellow he is!

This is how I arrived in my new nest. During the day if we are outside then we are treated harshly by others for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Mobbed by crows, bulbuls, babblers and mynahs, we take refuge wherever we find safety and darkness.

Every day poses fresh challenges. Day birds create a ruckus in front of my nest. I, a lonely night hunter roosting near their nests have alarmed social birds like babblers, mynahs and bulbuls. They always make their point by conveying their discomfort loud and clear. I am more careful near crows as they have a knack to sneak up and peck the hell out of me if I am spotted by them during the day. Then appeared from nowhere the nightmare that gave me sleepless days. Two topaz-tinted eyes watched me from the shadows of the window right above my nest. The sunlight fell upon paws with hidden claws that can maim a bird in seconds! The incisors of these creatures can bite and grab its prey by neck and choke it to death. A stray cat had located my nest.

An owl in distress
The black devil in the left corner, looking at me with a watery mouth. Huh, catch me if you can.

Thanks to the alarm calls of the birds who left the scene once this predator arrived. For cats anything with feathers is a blissful source of nourishment. This cat was cautious as it knew that it was dealing with someone who can pay back in the same coin. Skillful and expert predators by all means, cats can climb and get hold of me if I don’t stay alert. It is a hard task to fend them off. They try repeatedly and never give up until they succeed. This cat tried to come near me but I kept my vigil throughout the day. For the feline intruder it has nothing to lose, for me I will have to pay a heavy prize if my wings are injured and that too during the day time. I was able to pass the crisis but I knew the raids will continue. The cats and birds would come back for me again and again.

These feral and strays are privileged in many ways – they always find some allies in the humans! They are untamed spirits but they still have a few tricks hidden under their sleeves that can make humans swoon over them. Cats, dogs, pigeons and the list goes on. Somewhere in their mind, they know keeping man close to them yet not too close benefits their survival. Who will not fall for those kitten eyes? The soft corner that humans have for these feral animals is indirectly hurting the wildlife population. I quote from George Orwell’s famous novel Animal Farm:

All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others

Unfortunately in some cases, this holds true.  Familiarity, affinity and support from humans have given these feral and strays an advantage over us, the born wilds. They are mostly generalists in their food habits and can survive on scraps thrown by humans. They adapt quite well to the anthropogenic pressure. We, the wild native birds find difficulty in availability of food sources and also safe-nesting places. All animals are not the same and can’t be treated in the same manner forever. We somehow manage to live under these harsh conditions.

Photo by Nishand Venugopal
New occupants of the place I called home. I was driven out of here.

As the fate had planned, I couldn’t stay for long in this home. Ferals kept knocking at my door until one day, they drove me out. I am left with no option but to move around looking for another safe nest and this cycle will continue. Worse, I might not live to tell the tale of the onslaught from the raiders of the day. Life is a struggle even in the wild, and winning it everyday keeps us alive. But it’s your world which I am still trying to comprehend.

In the wild, we play by different rules. It is better if humans put in an effort to understand the intricacies of our world. Most of us are living in a human-managed environment because we have been forced to; there are hardly any places left out there that’s wild. Wildlife certainly needs their space and peace to survive. Mankind shouldn’t be afraid of us; in fact, we do more service to them as exterminators of pests. Still some believe in superstitions and fear us. I hope their baseless panic doesn’t end up exterminating our species from the face of Earth.

As the day is about to end today, I look forward to rule the night once again. It is that time I fly up in the sky and look down upon the perils of the living with dread. I wish for a new dawn where humans accept our role in nature, and respect the ways and habits of wildlife.

“We are all part of nature’s delicate balance,

Tampering it for greed is not good for your sustenance,

We are watching you for your next move,

We are sentient beings who deserve respect and love”

About Author

  • A wildlife enthusiast, Nishand Venugopal quit his 15-year old job as a producer in a leading English news channel to pursue his passion. He's an avid wildlife photographer, writes poetry and prose that focus on nature and conservation. His articles and poems have been featured on several websites and magazines. He was elected as Saevus wildlife magazine's gallery member of the month for march 2020 and his interview was published in the magazine in 2020. Find out more about him at his website nishandphotoark.com