by Caitlin M. Davis
I found out last week that a friend I had met recently died, and I thought it only appropriate to pay tribute. This Northern Hawk Owl, a wanderer from the north, had been hanging out for several weeks at a shopping center in Moscow, Idaho, where he met his tragic fate with a vehicle.
A few weeks ago, Bryce Robinson, Heidi Ware and I made the icy 7 hour trek to see this amazing creature, far away from his home. We were hoping he would give us clues as to why he was lost, and why he had chosen this new city life. Was he dissatisfied with where he lived? Was there no food? Were his parents mean to him? Was he just a dreamy wanderer? Knowing that he is an owl, and probably won’t answer our questions, we were really just excited to spend some time with him.
We found him within minutes of reaching the shopping center, perched on a telephone wire. He almost immediately dove down and landed in a low tree along a trail next to the road, about 5 feet from a pedestrian. Just imagine a bird you never knew existed, an owl no less, landing in arms reach on your afternoon stroll. A crazy story for even a non-birder. The man made very slow, calculated movements to snap a cell phone picture, while a hoard of birders materialized out of the brush. Everyone, including our cohort, rushed over to see this bird, up close for the first time.
The Hawk Owl was everything we had dreamed of and more! He was extremely docile and tolerant of the barrage of squealing fans and cameras. He just kept with his daily routine, actively looking for prey and flying from perch to perch. He allowed us to study and enjoy his animated antics for a good amount of time. While we were there he crossed the road and almost got hit by traveling soccer moms, rowdy teenagers and cowboys, multiple times. The owl seemed very content in his new home, so it was only a matter of time before he would meet his inevitable fate.
It wasn’t surprising to hear the news that he had been hit by a car, but it was quite sad. The drainages next to the road were too full of delicious food and there was cozy, safe infrastructure for roosting. The fact is, even roads hours away from anywhere create a deadly barrier for birds. Raptors are oftentimes drawn to roads because there are comfortable perches and there is ample prey either already dead, or thriving on an endless smorgasbord of waste. They stoop down quickly for a meal and cannot change direction in time to avoid a speeding 18-wheeler.
So, what do we do? This question is important, and I know that research is being done to help ease yet another impact we, humans, have on the world of birds.
Click here to see an adorable clip of this guy if you missed it a few weeks ago.
RIP little buddy.