The Best Thing We Ever Saw - Final Chapter
To bring you up to speed, in 2018 a pair of barn owls moved into our owl box in our backyard in Arroyo Grande, California. I documented the activity and you can read the previous posts here:
Today's post is the final chapter of that first year. Another pair (or maybe one of the 2018 crew) raised their young again in 2019. I'll share another post with pictures from 2019 to follow.
Flappy was the first owlet to fledge so in my last story he had just made his first few flights while his brothers watched eagerly from the door.
Flappy emerges early and jumps out of the box right away, landing straight on the willow. Then he makes a risky attempt and flies clear across the yard to try to land on a wire. He misses and falls to the ground. In defeat, he hops over to Steve’s work table for a rest. From there, he flies to the top of the box for more dancing and jumping. He flies into the nursery and then reappears on the phone wire above.
Pally and Squeaky are getting anxious at the door. We can see Pally really wanting to follow after his brother but is so nervous flapping his wings inside the box and looking all around. Finally, he makes a jump for the willow and crashes hard. He recovers and stays still while Flappy encourages him to flap his wings! He flaps and flies into the big tree and misses and falls to the ground. At the same time Squeaky jumps to the willow. He isn’t ready but he is missing out on the fun so he plunges for the willow. He is so discombobulated he isn’t sure what to do. Flappy joins him in the willow to coach him through it. Together they flap their wings.
Flappy returns to the top of the box for a rest. Pally makes his way to the wood pile and walks back and forth along the ridges of the wood. He seems confused and never flaps. Squeaky stays in the willow not sure what to do. Flappy gets bored and goes back inside.
Squeaky attempts to fly to the box from the willow but can’t get any height. He gets stuck on the pole and falls to the ground.
Night falls and we aren't sure if Squeaky or Pally found their way back. Mom comes by to drop off food and there's lots of squeaking but it's hard to tell where the noises are coming from.
Steve turns on a light to check it out and sure enough Pally is on the pole of the wood pile and Squeaky is still on the ground underneath the box. They look a little out of place. Squeaky gets scared and flaps his way along the ground into the safety of the willow.
All night long we hear screeches and screams, crashes and chaos. The sound of metal clanking and who knows what - sometimes sounding very close to the patio outside our bedroom window. The raucous doesn't end so we have to close the window.
In the morning I check the box to see if Flappy and Pally are sitting in the window like usual, but it's just Flappy.
Maybe the other two never made it home? I scan the yard and wood pile looking for evidence. And then, I spot beautiful golden owl feathers nestled in the willow tree. The binoculars reveal it isn't just one owl in the tree..but both Pally and Squeaky!! Together, they are cuddled up among the branches and curly leaves. Pally, once again, being his usual best pal ever to his brother.
Meanwhile, Flappy is enjoying the peace of having the box to himself and sits in the window fast asleep. Will Pally and Squeaky find their way back to the box today? We shall see!!
After work, we check on the owls and Pally and Squeaky are still in the tree fast asleep!!!
At around 8pm, all of the owls wake up and Pally almost immediately flies into the box on his first try! Squeaks tries to follow but can't get his wings untangled from the willow. He has to reset and try again three times. On his final attempt he makes it to the box but just barely overshoots and lands on the roof!!
Flappy flies to the willow then to the roof to be with Squeaky to give him some wing flapping pointers. Meanwhile Pally is at the door acting like a baby - he is not as willing to fly out of the box again after being stuck in the willow all night and all day.
We soon realized Squeaky was not the best name because this calm bird did not make a peep this entire time...while Pally is hollering at the door nonstop. So we rename Squeaky to Fuzz. An ode to the baby owl fuzz that he still has all over his belly and atop his head.
Flappy is still having the time of his life, flying around longer distances to our chimney, pointing his butt in our direction and farting!! And then into the nursery, he hovers and lightly lands on a wire. He has it down!!! He stops on top of the box to visit and cheer up Fuzz, showing him how to jump and flap and give him encouraging kisses and preens.
Will Fuzz be on top the box all night or will he find some courage and fly around and make his way safely back to the box tonight!? Will Pally be too scared and never leave tonight?
Flappy makes his way out first thing to begin his practice. Pally is at the door but hesitating, still haunted by his long night in the willow. But eventually he goes for it. And now we see Fuzz is in the box, so he made it back the night before! Pretty quickly he follows Pally, not wanting to be left behind. Pally flies up to the top of the box while Fuzz honors his previous name and squeaks in the willow, too afraid to move but wanting to be near Pally. Eventually all three owls make their way to the top of the box and oh what a sight. Mom flies over seeing all her babies up there, proud as ever. Flappy shows them some wing flaps and head bobs and flies off to the wire. Fuzz flies back to the willow and crashes into the leaves.
Then Pally from up top the box wants to try something new. He flaps his wings and jumps towards the wire on the phone pole. But another wire was right in the way and he smacks right into it with a very loud crash. Pally falls straight to the ground. Fuzz and Flappy stare down at him squawking away with concern!
August 3 and 4
No Pally in sight but Steve hears three distinct calls.
Pally is seen!! He survived! All three birds are now flying around, getting more comfortable. They are all still practicing various moves - landing on a wire and sometimes not catching their balance and wobbling trying to stay on. Sometimes aiming to land on a wire and completely missing. Each night they go back to the box for feedings.
We see them outside of the box more and more but pretty soon they won’t go back to the box at all.
We hoped they'd stay in the sycamore tree and make it their new home, but night after night they'd fly further from the box, and eventually we stopped seeing them altogether. They grew up in our yard, and now as adults they are feeding themselves, finding their mates, and with any luck will return to our box to raise their own families.
This was our favorite experience with nature ever, and we talk about our owl friends often. A highlight of Dwight Ranch that we will never forget.