Tiger Of The Air

On some still night when the air is as sharp as a carving knife and a pristine silence hugs the snow while a bright moon illuminates the darkness you might be fortunate enough to hear him.

He's bloodthirsty and ruthless by reputation.  He's also courageous and wise enough to have been made the guardian of the palace of the ancient Greek goddess Athena. As a symbol of her supernal wisdom.

Great horned owl, a 24 inch tall and 60 inch wing span dynamo.  Predatory and voracious, his appearance and bravado have earned him a reputation.

If you ever meet him, you will understand.

February has been his mating season and throughout the month he can be heard, hooting for company.  His call resounds of uncanny mystery, the call consisting of a series of low uniformly pitched  "Hoos" that pierce the atmosphere with an unearthly undertone.

The sweep of the owl's great wings in the air is as noiseless as the tread of the cat's paws across the earth and the murderous clutch of his talons on prey is as pitiless as the spring of a tiger.

Like most owls and raptorial birds, the great horned owl captures prey with its feet, which are zygodactyl -- two toes go forward and two go back, with one rear toe reversible.  Each toe is equipped with an extremely long and sharp claw. 

Ordinarily predisposed to rabbits, squirrels and rodents, the owl will swallow the victims whole -- if small enough --and later disgorge the hair and bones in the forms of pellets.

The owl also has a penchant for game birds, song birds and domestic poultry. Studies indicate that, generally speaking, he won't attack domestic fowl unless his usual diet is depleted.  However, one New England farmer who lost fifty nine of his prime turkeys to a single great horned owl would probably refute that premise.

And then there is the matter of small black and white cats, whom the owl has been known to favor -- Clearly, he is quintessentially opportunistic, the survivor's badge. 

Although not ordinarily a threat to man, great horned owl attacks have been reported, including one poor fellow who headed out to his backyard one night wearing a coonskin cap.  Two gigantic wings punctured the air and two merciless claws violently seized the cap from the dumbstruck fellow's head.

Great horned owl's eggs are usually laid before early March and it is not unusual to find an owl incubating under a deep layer of snow.  Two white eggs are the standard lot, although there might be three.

It is the peculiarity of the hatching intervals which distinguish the great horned owl from other birds. There is often an interval of several days between hatchings and frequently an unhatched egg and a newly fledged owl are in the same nest.  Speculation is that this interval between hatchings is useful, even "planned" -- but nobody knows why.

Other than the owl. 

Such are the intricacies and designs of Nature. 
  

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