I am lamenting the weather tonight, the temperature is in the low 40’s and the ground is barren of snow. It’s mid-January in Moscow, Idaho. Last year at this time, we had several feet of snow on the ground and my seven-year-old son Finn would come in weary every evening from sledding or shoveling (usually). Elle, our adorable five-year-old, would always come in early, not out of boredom or cold, but for marshmallows in her hot chocolate. And although I must be resigned to a low snow pack and low water year, I look forward to taking advantage of an earlier mountain biking season on our local trails. And finally, this winter has brought something unexpected to our neighborhood - Great Horned Owls.
I don’t know a darn thing about owls. I only know it’s a Great Horned Owl, because my wife Laura told me it is. We live in a neighborhood at the edge of town along city limits. Behind our home is a wheat field where, on any given day, we can see a dozen pheasants, a few hundred quail and a handful of mourning doves. But in the five years we have lived here, we had never seen an owl until now.
|In early October, I looked across the street and saw what I thought was a cat on my neighbor’s roof. A strange sight indeed, as this is not a roof that a cat could climb upon. I grabbed my phone and called my neighbor to ask what Fluffy had done to get ostracized to the roof. As she walked outside, the cat was startled and silently flew across the street to land on the peak of our garage and stare down at me. I don’t know if I was more surprised that a cat could fly, or that I was being stared down by an owl. So I did what anyone would do - I named it Frank. |Frank at his perch on the pergola. ©The Bensons
Since then Frank has visited us almost daily. Frank makes a very distinctive, “who… who who… who” sound. It’s always the same beautiful note and every once in a while we’ll hear a reply from a nearby owl. It makes me smile knowing Frank has a buddy to talk to. I think Frank is as curious about us as we are about him. He loves to wake us in the morning by sitting on our pergola and hooting until we come outside and greet him. We’ll stand below him just a few feet away and he just looks to us as if to say, “I’d like a cup of coffee, with just a hint of Baileys, if it’s no trouble.”
Elle posing, with Frank above on the pergola. © The Bensons |Frank is also becoming somewhat of a braggart, I’m afraid. Twice he has come to show off the voles that he has caught in his nighttime foraging. And as cute as they are, I’m happy that Frank is such a good mouser and can only hope he will catch that wily beast in my garage that is eating all my bird seed, as I have proven wholly inadequate on that score.|
Our most interesting adventure with Frank to date occurred on Halloween about 6:30 p.m. It was dark and cold outside as Halloweens always are in our neck of the woods, and Finn and Elle were bundled up for trick or treating. Finn was dressed up as Harry Potter of course and Elle as our resident princess.
As we walked outside, Frank gave one hoot from our rooftop and flew across the street to the neighbor’s house. I took this as a sign that we should start there. As we rang the bell, Frank hooted as well. From house to house, door to door, Frank followed us silently to all eight homes in our neighborhood. Sometime he would land on the houses themselves and other times he was content to watch from a nearby tree, but he never missed a door bell and to our delight, he followed us home, one tree at a time.
|Every few weeks, Frank seems to get lonely and will call to us from the lower branches of a Ponderosa Pine in the middle of the day. This seems to be his feeding area, as my wife and kids will scavenge under the tree and round up a bunch of owl pellets. At first I thought this was poop they were collecting, which is pretty disgusting really. But Laura explained to me that it’s really just throw up - oh, that’s soooo much better. Regardless, the kids think it’s pretty neat and have turned into these little adorable naturalists. So, we continue to stock our compost, which keeps the voles happy and warm as they fatten up for their last meal. Bon appétit, Frank.|Finn dissects owl pellets, in search of tiny rodent bones. © The Bensons