‘I thought owls were supposed to be wise’

From our May 2012 issue

By Harold Thom – Nakusp, B.C.

I found two baby snowy owls beneath a big tree in our pasture. I was 13 and living on a farm near Paddockwood, Sask.

I had noticed the big nest high in the tree when I was bringing in the cows for milking. I watched the big white owls bringing food to the nest so I knew they had babies there.

A few days went by that I hadn’t seen any sign of the parents. On checking closer, I found two babies in the brush below the tree.

I guess they’d gotten hungry and climbed to the edge of the nest and fell. They were too skinny and weak to even stand, just balls of white fluff and bones.

I knew owls ate mostly meat. We had a lot of mice in the barn and gophers in the fields. Food for the owls was plentiful.

With all the chores I had to do, it was hard to find time to feed them as often as I should. I tried just leaving some meat in their cage but they wouldn’t touch it. They had to be hand-fed.

The summer went by fast and snow arrived early. The gophers disappeared and so had the mouse population. The owls were now almost a foot tall and needed more food than ever.

Hunting instinct not visible

They were also getting very aggressive, snatching food out of my fingers before the other could get it. They had no manners at all.

I let them out while I cleaned their cage. What a performance, hopping up and down, flapping their wings and screeching their heads off. I had been trying to teach them to kill their own food, but no luck so far.

I even starved them a couple days then put a live mouse in their cage. All they did was swivel their heads watching it scamper around and screech at it. I thought owls were supposed to be wise. These two were either stupid or just plain lazy.

One thing they did was learn to fly fairly quickly. A few crashes when I first threw them into the air but they soon caught on.

We moved to an old farmstead at Candle Lake. My mother’s chickens had nests hidden all over the place until we got the chicken house fixed up.

I snared the odd rabbit for owl food but teaching them to hunt and kill their own was still a problem. About this time a couple of our old hens showed up trailing their baby chicks through the snow. Poor little guys!

We caught them and put them in the chicken house. One hen had gotten really excited and trampled one of her chicks during the capture and crippled it badly.

Mom worried about weasels

There was no use letting it go to waste. I put it in the owl cage. It was still alive but just lay there peeping. I was just about to put it out of its misery when the owls pounced on it and it disappeared in a couple of seconds. They had killed their first meal!

A couple nights later, I sneaked into the henhouse, got another chick and put it down on the snow just outside the hay shed and let the owls out.

The chick was cold, very unhappy and peeping loudly. The owls spotted it immediately and it was gone before I could blink. Now they’ve got the idea!

They started roosting on the barn roof and every time I’d cross the yard they’d start screeching at me so for the next few nights I’d sneak out another chick, and kept putting it farther and farther away in the field.

The owls were watching and as soon as I’d put the chick on the snow it would only get out a couple peeps before they had it. This had to stop. We needed these chicks to grow up and lay eggs.

Not only that, every time my mother found another chick missing she’d have me out in the chicken house after school patching up any hole a weasel could get through.

She was sure that’s what was getting her chicks. Little did she know that this 13-year-old, two-legged weasel was the culprit.