Faces in the Dark by Claudia Strijek
I stood outside the barbed-wire fence that guarded the historical barn from vandals, camera and binoculars in hand. The fence was also protecting a family of barn owls. I had seen one of the adults fly into the upper loft through an opening on the west side the barn the night before. Just seconds after the adult disappeared behind the warped, weathered wood, owlet cries poured into the night air—feeding time! I wanted a closer look at the owls.
With my binoculars I searched the interior of the barn. The evening sun pierced through large gaps in the siding creating beams of dusty light but this did nothing to illuminate the shadowy recesses of the structure. But my eyes adjusted to the dim light nonetheless. As I looked about the lower loft my eye caught sight of large wing. My mind immediately registered something was terribly wrong, for the wing was upside down and splayed open. One of the young had recently died and its body hung between some boards. Then out of the shadows a shape moved slightly. An owlet was perched on the edge of a horse stall. It slowly lifted its head using its wings to balance itself but the motion was slow, deliberate and possibly painful. Its emaciated body told me this youngster was not getting fed with the others and would likely die soon as well.
But there had to be a couple other owlets that were healthy and had made all that racket the night before. So I moved to another spot where I could see into the upper loft. The right corner was empty. On the left side however, stood a well-made owl hut complete with a pitched roof and large round opening. Perched in front were the two adult barn owls.
Their heart-shaped faces held my gaze not moving an inch. The larger female sat just in front of the male guarding her family. I took in the details of their feather patterns. The white faces were trimmed in dark grey-brown. Between widely-spread dark eyes was an elongated nose bridge that ended with a blond-colored hooked beak. There were grey and brown spots peppered around their throats, breast and underside which merged into rusty-brown wings and backs. This reversed pattern was quite beautiful.
I stood there for several more minutes, taking photos and admiring the patterned plumage of the adults but the young remained hidden and silent. I left the family to their restful state and looked forward to hearing their night activity again that evening.
Claudia Strijek is a KBO Field Technician conducting point counts in southern Oregon and northern California. Click here to visit her blog for more of her writings and photography.