Dead Owls

Barn Owl Face

In one of those odd coincidences that sometimes crop up in life, last weak brought me two dead owls on two consecutive days. If I were a pagan in antiquity, no doubt I’d find it all very portentious, but instead my reaction was fascination mixed with an appropriate amount of sadness.

Barn Owl Waves

The first victim was a barn owl someone found on the ranch. The more biologically minded folks in the community quickly gathered to take advantage of the opportunity to get a good look and feel at its feather structures and general anatomy. Soon enough, we noticed a deep splinter that had penetrated its ear region, and showed signs of infection, as well as some damaged feathers. Margins of survival are thin for a predator in winter.

Barn Owl Talon

Barn Owl Patterns

The next day’s owl was sadder, in that its death was entirely human caused and utterly unnecessary. Anyone who hikes around the hinterlands of Nevada and eastern California will find a ton of old mining claim markers. These usually take the form of upright, hollow PVC tubes. Unfortunately, they offer tempting rest or nest sites to birds, who then get stuck inside and die slowly. People have reported finding remains of ten, twenty, or even more individuals in a single tube.

Dead Screech Owl

Happily, in Nevada it’s now legal to knock these things down (the California BLM is a little vague on that point, though they do encourage the public to fill or cap tubes [seldom practical for the casual hiker], and in theory old markers are required to be removed). I noticed one standing upright and went to do my duty as a good citizen and knock it down. Sure enough, I found a mummified screech owl inside, with some bones from a previous victim tangled in its talons.

Dead Owl

If you come across upright white plastic tubes in the desert, please take a little time to do what you can. The silver lining is that you may get to take a look at some interesting animal remains.

Dead Owl

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2 thoughts on “Dead Owls

  1. A couple of weeks ago, I found a dead rat in my backyard. I didn’t spend much time with it, but rather just picked it up and put it in the trash. Finding a dead bird is a much different experience for most of us. I think we’re wrapped in a sense of wonder about them, and finally having the opportunity to see them up close is such a rare experience. We can feel how light they are, run our fingers over their feathers, examine the striking contrast between those feathers and their tough feet. It’s just…different.

    Really lovely and intimate set of images here, Jackson.

    • Thanks Greg! As we’ve discussed, dead things are generally interesting, but I agree that there’s something special about birds. I guess really indulging that fascination would lead to life-altering vices like falconry…..

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