Stacey Cole's Nature Talks: The adventures of Eddie the owl

By STACEY COLE July 27. 2018 10:43PM

A naturalist presented this great horned owl at the Squam Lakes Natural Science Center. (Union Leader file photo)

Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on July 18, 1968.

Owls were the subject of a recent article that was enjoyed by Chet Schwarzkopf of California. In the article, among other things, I raised the question as to the intelligent appearance of the barn owl. The subject of owl intelligence was discussed by our California correspondent as follows:

“Owls always have been my favorite topic and I’ve raised a number of them throughout the years. Their IQ’s vary with species — and over a wide range. Stupidest of the lot seems to be the barn (or “monkey faced”) owl. Never could ‘get to’ any of them.

“Highest IQ owl would seem to be the great horned, although others like the barred and sreech owls score well. For many years I lived in California’s northern Redwood Empire (Humboldt County) where owls abound — including ‘Mr. Big,’ the great horned. Snowy owls from the far north visited us there almost every winter. Screech owls abounded everywhere, while spotted and long-eared owls were more scarce. Before the population explosion spoiled so much of that beautiful area, short eared owls were plentiful.

Hand raised

“As a youth, I raised a screech owl from a chick. He was so little that at first I took him to bed with me in a little nest-box to keep him warm. As he grew up I discontinued that practice BUT kept him in a commodious cage in the barn whose door was ALWAYS open. Ergo, ‘Eddie,’ the owl, looked upon that open-door cage as his ‘house,’ available for ingress and egress at all times. NEVER did he have cause to feel locked up. That was my so-called secret of having such a tractable pet. In the cage, Eddie had all the conveniences of home — e.g. a small section of a hollow branch, several perches, a dishpan of water with a rock-perch in its middle. I always fed him from there.

“After Eddie grew up and began to fly, he usually rejected food I would bring him, unless it was a live mouse of potato bug. He liked fish — if he caught them. That I learned the hard way, for he raided my goldfish ponds for some time before I caught up with him. Always, though, he would ‘come home to roost’ — like the proverbial chickens.

“Evenings, if Eddie was around, he would come at my whistled call and land on my extended right arm. Thence he would waddle up to my shoulder and nip at my ear lobe until sternly told to desist. Why that appendage interested him was beyond me. Eddie was a one-man owl. No one else could quite approach him, of an evening, out in the yard. And if he were sitting on my shoulder and someone tried to pet him, he would sidle out of the way and, in some cases, snap his beak. That last depended upon the individual involved.

“The following spring, Eddie must have got ‘married,’ for he came back to his home roost ever less and largely ceased staying around the yard of an evening. I never got to meet ‘mama.’ Obviously she did not like Eddie’s human affiliations. What finally happened, I’ll never know, for my folks sold the place that summer and since the new buyer liked Eddie’s cage, my father gave it to him as part of the deal.”

Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at jlord@unionleader.com.


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