In relative terms, we are lucky to have a great horned owl making his home in the large plum tree over-hanging our deck in the backyard. We take great delight when we see him (her?) perched there at dusk – his yellow eyes wide – head swiveling like a radar dish on an aircraft carrier. I say relative terms since the pelleted remains of mice and birds on the ground below our hungry hooter, have limited appeal. We have been unable to find a worthy use for the pellets and no, my wife will not bury them in her gardens.
We think he likes the tree because it gives him a view of a couple of bird feeders and an open park area behind our place. We were always a bit worried that he might go after our dogs, a pair of Bichons. A friend of ours had a West Highland terrier puppy attacked and badly injured by an owl. But our dogs were too big for him I suppose. We naively thought he might consider them family.
Owls love to hunt rodents. A Great Horned owl apparently does not have a sense of smell, or not much of one at least. It surprised us to learn they have the unlovely habit of eating skunks. There are three basic problems with this. First, we DO have a sense of smell. Second, the owl perches upwind from our deck. Third, a skunk is too big for an owl to eat so they only tear the skunk open and eat the organs. This leaves a dead skunk torn apart and to quote the song “stinking to high heaven”.
The other night we went out on our deck to enjoy the moonlight before bed. We were delighted when the owl soared in and landed in the plum tree. Our delight was short lived as he had obviously dined on filet du Pepe Le Pew that evening. This is an aspect of owls that Rawlings seems to have overlooked in the Harry Potter books. Gasping and choking we ran into the house closing windows and lighting candles.
Morning dawned, cool, dead still, slightly foggy and very smelly. “Find that dead skunk” was the command issued by my wife. We were worried it might be on our property and our problem for disposal. I went outside and started to look around. The odour was ubiquitous. I headed toward the back gate which provides access to a park behind our home. There in the park, 10 meters from the gate was the gutted skunk. The smell made my eyes water. I went into the garden shed to find a garbage bag.
We are lucky to have a long narrow walking park behind our home. It is lovely to stroll or jog there and many people bring their pets. I don’t know why it is, but people with large dogs seem to think this is the perfect place to let them run off leash. They ignore the signs and the fact they endanger children and others, and that they can’t clean up after their animals properly. One of the worst offenders is a lady who runs a huge young Doberman off leash. It is more than a little intimidating when he runs up aggressively to give you a thorough sniffing. People just freeze in fear. The owner jogs by and yells out “Don’t worry – he is friendly, but don’t pet him!”. Never mind that your dog is going mad to get away and tangles you up in his leash leaving you bound and helpless.
I came out of the garden shed with garbage bags and saw the Doberman running across the park headed towards the dead skunk. His owner was jogging a couple of hundred meters behind not paying attention to her dog as usual. The dog reached the skunk, gleefully grabbed the carcass and turning, ran towards his owner. He wanted to share his delightful prize, I suppose.
She saw him coming with a bouncing skunk in his mouth. It looked perfectly alive and struggling and she started to scream “ DROP IT DUKE – DROP IT”. He kept coming, his pointy little ears all perky and his tail stub sort of wagging and the juicy skunk bouncing in his jaws.
“OH GAWD – OH GAWD – DROP IT – DROP IT “ she shrieked. He was obviously going to bring it to her come hell or high water. She turned and started to run “HELP – HELP – BAD DOG – HELP – DROP IT – BAD DOG – HELP” she screamed. She ran full tilt down the park trail.
Young Duke thought it was great fun and was cavorting along behind her happy as could be taking my skunk problem home. I could hear her long after I lost sight of them. And it didn’t end there. For the next few days every unleashed dog that came through the park would run to the spot where the dead skunk had been lying – and roll and roll and roll. They pretty much soaked up all the bad smell and took it home. I thought that was very thoughtful of them.
So, we still love Stinky the Owl and while we would rather he not come by smelling like a skunk, we see there may be a silver lining the odd time when he does.
P.S. Please leash your dogs.