Barn Owls

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Many, many years ago I was sitting alone in the darkness outside my friend's country home in a highly altered state of consciousness common at the time. I was just contemplating all of the sounds of the night and all those voices in my head. Some of you out there will know exactly what I am talking about. When, suddenly, I spotted something out of the corner of my eye heading right toward me and making absolutely no noise. It was dark and I couldn't see very well but whatever it was white and coming fast just off the ground. Just as suddenly as it appeared the pearly object veered away and then totally disappeared into the night.

The katydids were deafening as I sat for a long while trying to understand what I had just seen. Nothing that I thought of seemed probable, so I decided it must have seen a ghost. I didn't mention this to anyone that night.

Several years later I was once again outside at another friend's house, this time under the influence of nothing more powerful than a couple of beers when the apparition appeared again and I got a good look this time. it was a Owl, an owl. Aha... I hadn't seen a ghost after all. But I was not disappointed, owls are totally cool.

More specifically it was a barn owl and since then I have often watched them flitting low across the fields hunting for mice. Biologists working with captive barn owls discovered that they can hunt in complete and total darkness. The owls locate their prey solely by the scurrying sounds the mice make. The large faces of owls are actually the original acoustical dishes that funnel sound waves into very their large ear openings. Special feathers on the leading edge of the wings muffle the sound of wind and render the flight completely noiseless.

Barn owls have adapted readily to roosting and nesting in man-made structures, hence their name. They are often found in the belfries of churches where they sleep by day and hunt by night in the surrounding countryside, which often includes, guess what, a cemetery. So barn owls may well have been the original ghosts that people first saw gliding silently over graves.


This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who leads trips throughout the world. He lives in Santa Rosa.