Little Little Lauragais Owls

At the end of my last blog on the Little Owls that live close to La Selve I said “perhaps next year we will have a nest of little Little Owls”. I am happy to report that we now have at least one young owl, perhaps two. We see the adult owls almost every day, and we think that they are becoming less shy; they stay in place when they see us, even when it is clear that we are looking at them. This may also be because they need food for the young owls.

One evening, Julie and I were reading when we both heard a metallic noise, which we thought might have been on the roof. We continued reading, but so did the noise; we decided to investigate. Our first attempt was unsuccessful; we went upstairs and checked for open windows or other things that might be tapping in the wind, but we found nothing, and the noise had stopped. We went back downstairs and continued reading.

The noise started again, and just as I was thinking “I wonder if it’s something in the chimney upstairs”, Julie said “I wonder if it’s something in the chimney upstairs”. We went back up to the mezzanine together, but Julie was the first to see a Little Owl, flapping its wings against the metal inside one of the wood burners. It was summer, and the burner has not been used for months, fortunately.

First, we switched off most of the lights and closed the interior doors. I then opened a large window near the wood burner while Julie lit the outside lights. We wanted to try to encourage the bird to fly away in the right direction when we released it.

Then came the difficult part; I didn’t know how the bird would react when I opened the doors of the burner. I knelt down, and started talking to the owl in a quiet and gentle way. I hoped that this might calm the bird, or whether it was to calm me, I don’t know. I opened one of the two doors and the bird tried to jump away from me into the far corner, but it was easy to take hold of it, firmly but gently. I had been afraid that the owl might attack me, using its sharp beak (bec), so I was wearing the thick gloves that we use to put logs into the fire. However, it seemed to accept the situation and didn’t struggle. I could feel its body move as it looked around, but rather than thinking about an escape, it seemed just to be interested in seeing the inside of the house. I stood up carefully; Julie stepped forward to have a look. We were both surprised at how small it was.

It was very tempting to keep him in my hands for a little longer, but that wasn’t the plan. I leant out of the open windows, opened my hands as I raised my arms, and off it flew, disappearing into the night.

We talked about our visitor for some time, how it had fallen down the chimney, why it wasn’t afraid, both of us surprised by its size, and agreeing, after I had read details of Little Owls in the two bird books I have, that ‘our’ owls have had at least one chick.

Two nights later, the same thing happened again. The same noise, the same chimney, but whether it was the same young owl or a different one, we don’t know. This time, we were surprised, but not as much as before, and this time our plan differed slightly. I was careful, as before, but this time we decided to take a photograph. On the first occasion we decided not to take a photo, because we were afraid of frightening the bird. The second time we were more casual about it; we left more lights on, and Julie was able to take the photographs that you can see on this blog.

The bird was also quite calm about the whole thing. Either because this was its second visit, or because a sibling (un frère ou une soeur) had told it what to expect.

I held the bird in my hands for longer this time, which enabled Julie to take the photos, and also gave me a chance to examine it. Then, however, it was time for it to fly away.

Little Little Lauragais Owl
I was relieved when, the next morning, I saw one of the adults watching me shaving as usual. I had been worried that our contact with their young might have frightened them, but nothing has changed. If anything, they seem to be more comfortable with us and rarely fly off when they see us.

Usually it is the adults that we see, but occasionally a young one is visible, watching from a tree. I look up, and smile, wondering if I have held that bird in my hands.

Ted