Hearing: an Owl Story / by Chris Maynard


A short drive from my home is a beautiful prairie full of wildflowers this time of year. After doing errands and computer work all day, I was happy to finally drive there, but it was already early evening.  As I walked on the paths, a moonless dark set in and I was a half mile from the parking lot. This is not a place where people walk at night, probably ever; especially without a flashlight. Nor are there any nearby roads or houses to provide any light. Feeling my way with my feet while looking up at the starry night, I must have appeared strange to any creatures who lived there. Especially the owls. Suddenly, their screeches combined with fleeting glimpses of their silhouettes close over my head made me a little nervous. Not just one or two owls, but about ten. They didn’t seem to like something about me because they swooped down so close to that I could feel their wing-wind.

I felt a bit creepy, but mostly exhilarated. After semi-blindly stumbling back to the car and driving home, I marveled at how well those owls can not only see and at night but also hunt with their sense of hearing. Their feathers help them do this. Each bowl-shaped face-feather grows on the satellite receiver-shaped face of a barn owl. Come to think of it, each feather is sort of shaped like a tiny cupped ear. These shapes funnel the tiniest of mouse noises into the owl’s brain. I assumed that these birds found me through their vision but I could be wrong. My assumption comes from my own reliance on sight. Perhaps the owls located me just by the noise of my breathing and walking. Like they find mice.