Speaking Owl

Artie looking very happy on Horst's glove

Artie looking very happy on Horst’s glove

Note:  my husband is once again the guest photographer for all photos of the Raptor Experience, including in yesterday’s post.

One of the great pleasures in life is sharing something you love with someone who enjoys the experience.  Think about it.  While on the one hand, we might respect that everyone has different tastes, there is something in human nature that causes us to gravitate towards people who appreciate the same things we appreciate.  And introducing someone to something that’s a personal favorite makes for a particularly enjoyable experience.  It’s like discovering a new food that makes you want to groan when you put it in your mouth and finding out that someone else has the exact same reaction–it’s something in common, creating a tiny bond.

Elvi speaks owl fluently

Elvi speaks owl fluently

I think that’s why I enjoy volunteering for Wings to Soar so much.  There aren’t many people who don’t enjoy getting up close to birds of prey.  There are a few.  I recently met someone who is terrified of birds–probably not a great idea to introduce her to the raptors.  But most people are pretty fascinated by getting to see a creature up close that they normally only get to see soaring overhead or perched high above.

Me assisting in the background in my Cayce-protecting boots

Me assisting in the background in my Cayce-protecting boots

It’s interesting how this interest crosses cultures and language.  I may not be bilingual, but I’m pretty sure the owls are.  They seem to recognize their admirers in any language.

Artie, the Barred Owl, hopped on Horst and Elvi’s gloves and immediately settled down and looked content.  he wasn’t the least concerned about what language they spoke–as far as he was concerned, they spoke owl.

Theo hopping over to Horst's glove

Theo hopping over to Horst’s glove

Theo, the Barn Owl, however, might have been a little too settled–he was content to ride over to Elvi and Horst when we were hoping he would fly.  He sat on the perch and stared, occasionally acting like he was going to fly, but then waited patiently for Dale to come over and put him on her glove.  Dale walked Theo closer to Elvi and Horst in turn, trying to get Theo to a distance from which he would fly.  Theo looked longingly at the tasty piece of mouse on the destination glove, but he wouldn’t fly to it.  When Dale put her glove next to Horst or Elvi’s glove, he happily hopped over to their glove and munched contentedly.  He seemed perfectly happy; he just didn’t feel like flying.

Theo happy to join Elvi

Theo happy to join Elvi

Theo is a human imprint–he was raised by humans and doesn’t really understand he’s an owl.  I sometimes wonder if his reluctance to fly is because he identifies so much with humans, he starts to think it’s unnecessary.  But, then there are days when Theo doesn’t seem to want to sit on a glove at all.  He baits and baits and can’t seem to stay still.  I don’t know if it was the calming influence of Horst and Elvi, but I think he would have sat all day.

The 3-gloved approach

The 3-gloved approach

Eskimo Kisses

Theo shows off his impressive wing span

Theo shows off his impressive wing span

Each of the birds at Wings to Soar has a distinct personality.  Yet, all of them seem to have a special bond with Dale.  I don’t know exactly how to describe what a bond looks like when it comes to these mighty hunters, but there’s a level of trust and calm that the birds have with Dale.

Using his ridiculously long wings, Theo looks like he could glide forever

Using his ridiculously long wings, Theo looks like he could glide forever

I suspect the birds would be far more agitated being handled by me if Dale weren’t nearby.

Whatever the effect Dale has on the birds and vise versa, there are times when I’ve noticed her expressing what can only be described as a motherly affection for the birds.  For example, once during an educational program in an open field, a train came through blowing its whistle and scaring the bejesus out of Theo.  Theo was flying with a light line hooked to his jesses to prevent him from flying far, but he did take off and fly as far towards the trees as possible.

Theo with arced wings mid-flap

Theo with arced wings mid-flap

Dale had to go retrieve him from the middle of the field.  I swung the camera around and followed Dale for a bit.  When she retrieved Theo, the two of them bent their heads towards one another in some form of secret greeting.  It was like they were reconnecting after a fright.  Theo immediately appeared to relax.

Theo reaching for the glove

Theo reaching for the glove

On Saturday, when it was Theo’s turn to fly, that affection came through loud and clear.  Theo didn’t seem particularly motivated to fly.  After flying to me a couple of times, he wasn’t into modeling for my camera, probably because he had a full belly.

Theo making a mid-flight adjustment in response to Dale moving

Theo making a mid-flight adjustment in response to Dale moving

To coax him into flying, Dale stood close to his perch and then backed away so Theo would get a longer flight in.  This didn’t work so well the first attempt–Theo was obviously confused as to why Dale was running away and tried to land on her glove at her side.  The only thing to do when a raptor is trying to land on you is to give them the glove–you sure don’t want them to land anywhere else!

Theo gets lined up with the glove an come in for the approach

Theo gets lined up with the glove an come in for the approach

The second time Dale tried this approach, she started running away sooner and ran faster.  As she approached the distance Theo normally flies, she turned back towards Theo, but kept backing away.  Theo performed some impressive maneuvers in his attempts to avoid colliding with Dale as she changed speed and direction.  I wish I’d been set on video–I swear I saw Theo fly backwards at least twice.

Theo looks like he's all set for a landing, but Dale is still in motion

Theo looks like he’s all set for a landing, but Dale is still in motion

In the end, they did a graceful mid-air eskimo kiss just before Theo readjusted one more time to land on Dale’s glove.  The amount of effort Theo made to get to Dale’s glove spoke volumes about what this owl feels about his momma.  The smile (just visible through the feathers of Theo’s wings) on Dale’s face as she nearly collides beak-to-beak with a Barn Owl speaks volumes about Dale’s own feelings.

Theo and Dale rub noses before Theo manages to back up and land safely on the glove

Theo and Dale rub noses before Theo manages to back up and land safely on the glove

It’s hard not to smile when you see Dale working with these magnificent birds.

Back home, Tisen hung out with Twiggy, making themselves comfortable on the couch

Back home, Tisen hung out with Twiggy, making themselves comfortable on the couch