Amongst the regular visitors to La Selve is a little owl (chouette chevêche). A ‘little owl’ is a small owl, about 22 cm in length, and is the English name for the species Athene noctua. We first became aware of his, or her, presence some years ago, when we noticed an unfamiliar cry, every evening at dusk (crépuscule). After some days we became increasingly curious, and started looking for clues (indices). At the south end of the house we saw white droppings (déjections) just below a small recess in the wall. White droppings suggested a bird of prey, the size of the recess and the timing of the cries made us think of an owl.
It was some time before either of us saw the owl, but ‘all things come for those who wait’; and one morning, on her return from walking the dogs, Julie came into the kitchen excitedly, saying ‘I’ve seen him’. As they had left the house, she had seen a small owl flying away from the wall.
Little Owls are unlike other owls, in that they hunt during the day as well as at night. They can be seen on the branches of trees, or on the tops of posts, but they also stand on the ground, and a number of times I have seen ‘our little owl’ standing in the middle of the lane that leads to our house, as I have returned home late from work in Toulouse.
As the owl became used to us, or as we became used to seeing him, we noticed him in trees around the house. A fir tree in the winter and a particular sycamore tree when it had leaves. Whether this change of choice was to give the bird protection from wind, rain and sun, or to hide him from his prey (proie) we don’t know. However, when there are no leaves on the sycamore, he can often be seen on a branch very close to an empty nest (nid), which makes him harder to see.
This year Julie, whose hearing is considerably better than mine, says that she hears him during the day as well as at night, and that she is certain that she can hear two birds, not just one, and that one bird is answering the other. I have to take her word for this [believe her], but perhaps next year we will have a nest of little little owls.