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Owl Kill

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Bill and I were returning from a walk the other day when he stopped short. "Whoa. Somebody bit the dust here." There was a neat fan of wing feathers from a female northern cardinal on the path that leads through the honeysuckle tangles in our orchard. It was all so fresh and fluffy; hadn't been rained on the night before. I knelt down and started looking for evidence of who the killer had been, but Bill was right on it--he'd found the carving block, and right beneath it a fresh puddle of whitewash from what could only be a small owl.
While hawks shoot their droppings out in a horizontal streak, owls drop them straight down, not being as well set up for muscles in the sphincter zone. I muse on why this might be sometimes; it beats wondering what Jamie Lynn Spears is going to name her baby or why Tom and Katie seem so MISERABLE or why Jennifer's calling Brad and she's all I can't get over you! and he's all You're my only true love and Angie's all I'm gonna kill 'em both. Can you tell I've just returned from the grocery store where I got my weekly tabloid fix? I'm the woman who's got her nose so deep in the Star she can't even load her flippin' groceries on the belt. One reason I like Ohio is that nobody gets nasty when I do that. They just wait for me to come to, just like they do at red lights. If anyone honked I'd faint. Any wonder I don't miss Connecticut?

This is tabloid stuff, too, but it's the kind of news that nobody much reads any more. So there it is, the telltale dropping of a screech-owl (or maybe even a saw-whet owl; we've had two records on our property and it is a big invasion year for them). But wait! there's more. Half-hidden in the grass beneath the carving log was a big ol' pellet full of meadow vole fur and bones. That's the mandible on the right; I think the bone on the upper left of the pellet is a humerus or a femur. Or: I don't know what it is. Leg bone. Yeah! Better choke yer pellet up first if you're going to eat a whole cardinal for breakfast.

And the bill of the cardinal, neatly carved off. Wouldn't want to have to swallow that and then bring it back up in a pellet. Garrggh!

And here's the whole crime scene, every clue intact:
My best-ever find in an owl pellet was the entire skull of a belted kingfisher, beneath the carving perch of a great-horned owl behind the chicken shed where I lived for a couple of years in Hadlyme, Connecticut. I try to imagine swallowing a kingfisher's head whole and just cannot. This is why I would make a lousy owl.

Offisa Pupp was all over the crime scene.Something evil this way came. fuh fuh fuh fuh snorf

On the alert for more attacks. Nothing escapes Offisa Pupp, cruisin' around in his black-and-white. He's got his crime-scene latex glove on.

Think I'll write the Star and the Enquirer with this breaking news. Think they'll bite?

To everyone who contributed to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in memory of my dad, whom you didn't even know: Our hearts are full. Thank you, wonderful people.


These pellet pics give a whole new meaning to high-fiber! I don't think I will ever think of "bill of the birds" in quite the same way.

I'm trying to imagine you there in Piggly Wiggly nose deep in Brittney - it's almost like hearing that Brittney said "what's that bird"? Either way I am rolling on the floor.....thanks for the pm fix.

He-mail me, man. I got the goods.

I like your NM pic!

Hey Leo wavelengths again -- I emailed you about twenty minutes ago.

That's Tent Rocks, Kasha-Katuwe to the locals. Half way between ABQ and Santa Fe. They are Stone People, hoodoos squared.

Met Kaspari - divine.

Last spring I gathered 30 pellets from beneath my Barred Owl's perch. I eagerly soaked half of them in water, gently picked the furry masses apart and found...lots of leg and jaw bones. I was so hoping for something more unusual--froggy or such.
The remaining ones are saved in a ziploc in the cabinet.
I might just get them back out for an interesting winter's evening!

I'm glad you found this--I'd almost forgotten.

interesting bird-CSI stuff, and I'm not sure I would've ever imagined a G.H. Owl would take a Belted Kingfisher! -- worse yet, I believe it even though it's communicated by someone who openly tells me she reads the Star!!? (...and thanks for bringin' me up-to-date on Jen and Brad).

Julie, you slay me. Miz Jolie looks like she could kill someone, doesn't she? Like she would cut ya. Real slow.

You know, for some reason, I can't find a wild pellet to save my soul. I wanted some for the Ed. box, since the pellets from our birds hold no surprises.
All I can find are piles of scat and pieces of possum.
: )

The last Screech-Owl roost box that I peered in was simply full of cardinal feathers. Enough flight feathers that it must have represented several birds out of the population. I notice that cardinals are fairly active late in the day compared to most of our resident birds, so they unforunately overlap with the Screech-Owls in that wonderful zone: The Crepuscular Zone.

Woo, Andy, you remind me of a roost box I peeked into in Nebraska--the screech-owl had lined it with blue jay, house sparrow, cedar waxwing (baww!) and lots and lots of cardinal feathers. Had forgotten that until you mentioned it. Wouldn't you love to see a screech-owl hauling a dead bird into a nest box?

Susan, I'll save some wild pellets for ya! I find them from time to time. Bet I can go back out and find this one.

You crack me up with your celeb musings :) Thanks for the humor! Glad I didn't find that. I'd feel sad for the cardinal even though I know it's part of the cycle of nature...

Miss Phoebe: It's a deal!

Uh, that was me. Now that Phoebe is Jr. Blogzilla, she's always signed in on my Blogger account and I forget...

if you haven't seen her blog tonight, it's a HOOT.

Oh, Julie - I walk right by those dreadful tabloids in the grocery store but I get my pop culture fix on a radio talk show called Ace & TJ in the morning and on Entertainment Tonight :o)

Cool investigating gone on here. Owls...I never see them but I see what they leave behind :o/

What a fascinating post! I know nothing of pellets or mandibulae. I can't believe that you unfolded the whole story out of a single sight.

This give me much to consider. I'm serious. I'm not jocular like your bird-watching bloggers. This is all new to me.

It's gross but interesting.

Well, still. Send me pellets.
Jr. Blogzilla. A dynasty has begun.

Nina, you've got to get out more!

So amazing that you can decipher so much from a crime scene! Are you sure you were not a detective in a previous life? So, what DID happen to Steve Fossett?

I'm disillusioned. Science Chimps reading tabloids mags. Say it ain't so!

I'm pretty sure that bone is a femur. It looks like it has a round femoral head (on the left side of the pellet) with a central "scar" (fovea) where the ligament of the head of the femur would attach it into the acetabulum. The only thing is, the condyles (on the right end of the bone, towards the center of the pellet) look more like those from a humerus, not a femur. Any-who, it's cool, whatever it is.

Thanks for another CSI report, complete with Offica Pup on patrol.


Yeah, well, I've been known to clap my arms and arf like a seal while watching Cops (to borrow an image from Patton Oswalt). And don't forget, American Idol starts January um...Phoebe? when does it start?

So it isn't all haiku and owl sphincters.

January 14. This morning during my radio tabloid show, I heard that Ruben Studdard, Catherine McPhee, Bo Bice, and our own Taylor Hicks got the boot from their recording companies... Done. Finished. Whatta waste a talent.

This is a great post. The cardinal beak just sitting there attached to nothing is a very powerful.


But what about owl sphincter haiku?

Hawks squirt their feces
With sphincters strong and stalwart
Owls just let 'em fall.

And for that, LOG, I challenge you to write your own owl sphincter haiku. Let 'er rip.

Silently flying,
he picks dinner from its path--
a trail blazed in white.

(sorry for the deletions,having trouble counting to 7)

Owl’s sphincter opens
chimp scans frozen evidence:
inquisitive one

Oooh, I think I'm a little woozy from seeing that beak... that beautiful orange beak.... I know, I know--owls gotta eat too. Oy vey.

Fascinating. I am beginning to notice the owls here (I am a newbie birder, so ignorant that it's ridiculous).

But I may have a better gross-out story: my killer cat Charlie, who eats (no, swallows) mice / voles / shrews whole. He yakked one day this past summer, outside thank goodness, and gave forth:
1 backbone
2 skulls
assorted front and rear legs
a couple of itty bitty feet (nearly invisible)

It seems more natural for an owl to do that than a house cat that sleeps with you every night and gives you goodnight kisses.

Oops: forgot to add: I had NO idea that Jennifer and whatshisname were thinking of getting together again. I have to live through that again??? I gotta go find a gossip site now.

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