I have the keys to their enclosures. The raptors. I open them, one at a time, and do service for owls and hawks and eagles and falcons. I rake and clean and water while they, wild talon shod birds, study my every move. As I work, I can’t help but ask: how do you talk to Owls?
This word, fight, is one step away from flight, yet they’re quite different one from the other. And yes, the title is not a typo.
Rick and I are working together on a Saturday morning in Spring. The weather is summer gorgeous, and it’s probably the first time I’m anticipating the scrapping work without being wet and cold. So yeah, that’s got us in a good mood. We’re psyched, you could say.
Step into the staff area and the mood changes quickly. On the gurney is a towel wrapped bird being held fast between two people and a third is working on a claw. It is so still I believe it’s dead until a single claw opens and closes.
Shit! I had before noticed that theses raptors are armed, but in that moment I have a full appreciation of the possibilities of the talons. The claw opens wide, and the otherwise curved and compacted talons spread like knives in a Kung Foo Movie. Long, curved and wickedly sharp, I have a visceral reaction to this simple movement.
It is a Great Horned owl on the table, one who has lived in the wild around the VINS centre, feasting on birds and occasionally crashing into enclosures and eating VIN occupants. There’s a great sadness in the place because a beloved education bird, Crowy, has been killed by this beast. It broke through the winter brittle plastic roofing by falling through it, and then devoured the “smartest bird I’ve ever known” as one of the staffers admits. Crows are smart, but this royal owl, the most dreaded of all, who eats most of the other owls as well as many large hawks and anything else it can catch and consume, has no trouble imprisoning Crowy the minute it has gained access to the cage. And apparently, it has a princess attitude towards its food and eats only the head.
The scrapping work is going really well. Everybody is in fine form despite warnings that they’re in egg laying moods, which can be worse than usual as they feel more territorial. But we’ve found no eggs and no birds seem out of sorts until our last cage, the bald eagle enclosure. It’s the size of a large living room, maybe bigger, so when two of us step in, we’re not really encroaching on personal space; but the female, who I wrote about the last time, the one who is always in a nasty mood, screaming and complaining, is more agitated than usual. Not only is she vociferous, but she’s actively charging. Once, while I’m on the ground picking up bits of bone, she comes toward me running, and from that low angle, she looks bigger than I am. I also notice that the faster she runs the less wobbly her gait. As described in the previous blog, she’s got a bit of a humpty dumpty gait. What seemed funny before now feels a little more intimidating.
Somehow, the two eagles end up in the same corner and she pounces on him andf he screams. No wonder: she’s got him hooked in her talons. His wings are spread and he’s flapping to get away and she’s hammering at his head with her hooked beak and he’s pecking back, screaming. And despite his obvious willingness to accommodate any of her wishes, she doesn’t let go. My animal instinct rises up in me and I stand and take a few steps toward them yelling “enough!”
Ok – if she had decided to attack me I had a bucket in my hand for protection, so I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have been an easy fight. The shock of my aggression stops them dead and she comes toward me, wings outstretch. She stops, hissing, and when I don’t move back, she bounces away, humpty dumpty style.
Later, she comes at me, again seemingly trying to get me out. I stand up and tell her to get back to the other end. She seems a little perplexed, but she goes down to the other end. I’m getting good at this. I don’t know where my great white man protector is – nearby, no doubt ready to help me if I need it…?… and that’s when I say – you know, I think we’re done. Whatever we haven’t done, we’ll leave cause she clearly wants us out of here. I head out with the hose, he with the pail behind me. He looks back and she’s running for the door. He closes it quickly against her arrival and she’s standing there, at the other side, as if making sure we don’t come in again.
We go to the front of the cages and pause in front of the Baldy cage to see how they’re doing. She has stopped attacking the door and is having a bath. She’s practically singing she is having such a great time bobbing and ruffling herself in the fresh water.
All along, is this is what she wanted? Some private time in a bath?