Silent Wings At Night

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Nature can be healing, as many who have walked in local preserves or wooded areas have noted. Our natural habitat, which is ever-changing, has recently become home to turkey vultures, red-tailed hawks, pink-nosed opossum, and recently, a family of owls.
One of our neighbors had told me of the hawks about a year or so ago, which have often been seen high in the treetops of Woodland School. He mentioned that in the early mornings, it was common for him to find a red-tailed hawk or two by his trash cans. With the abundance of squirrels and field mice in the area, it made perfect sense for these birds of prey to make a home in the tall oaks of the school grounds.

In addition to rodents and rabbits, owls have been known to prey on house pets that weigh less than 20 pounds
(Photo by mcamcamca/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Around Christmastime, another neighbor mentioned that she and another family on the block had seen owls in the majestic trees on the common grounds between their properties and the school yard. This was exciting, for the only time I had ever seen owls was in captivity. Hubby mentioned that owls existed on his grandmother’s property in the Poconos, yet I had never beheld one in the wild.
My neighbor warned me that birds of prey have been known to attack small cats and dogs, including animals that weigh up to 55 pounds. She mentioned that it was probably a good idea to go outside with Luna, our eight-year-old “floofster” as a precaution. Luna weighs about 40 pounds, soaking wet, although with the treats that Hubby has offered her recently, I would put her weight at somewhere closer to 45.

When I mentioned that we should probably heed the advice of the neighbors, Hubby scoffed. “Nothing is going to grab Luna. She’s too heavy.” I showed him photographs of larger dogs with scars from talon damage and told him that from here on in, she was to be supervised on all outdoor endeavors, especially when she was let out to do her business at night.
Our daughter, who is now living outside of the home, mentioned that she recently heard owls by her apartment on the South Shore. She sent me a video clip that confirmed this, although I had to strain to hear the soft “whoo-hoo-hoo” that had been directly in the trees above her backyard. While I longed to hear the sound, I was also a bit nervous about a bird of prey that was so close to our home. And to Luna.

Several weeks went by, without a sound or sighting of the wise feathered wildlife. I wondered whether the hawks had chased the owls from the trees, since the red-tails inhabited the school yard first. I had not heard from the neighbors about the owls, so I assumed that they had vacated the premises.
Late one night after New Year’s Day, I went outside with Luna to watch her as she “did her business.” As I stood on the deck, my eyes were drawn to the top of the large cypress in my neighbor’s yard. Out of nowhere, I watched the underside of a large white bird as it glided silently through the darkness. The experience seemed ethereal, as I had never witnessed an owl in flight. The bird silently perched atop the tree and watched in rapt attention as Luna scampered onto the deck. I hurried her into the house and closed the door quickly. When I glanced back at the top of the tree, the owl was gone.
Owls fly silently because of aerodynamics. When air moves, a sound is generated. The more movement, the greater the sound. When most birds fly, turbulence from wing movement will cause noise. However, owls’ wings are covered in primary feathers that are serrated like a comb. Their large wings, coupled with their smaller bodies, generate lift easily which enables the owl to glide gracefully through the air with little wing movement. The sound generated is minimal, which aids in hunting. I had witnessed the silent glide of the owl firsthand, which was creepy and beautiful at once.
After some research, I found that owls and hawks can and often will attack small dogs under twenty pounds. For this reason, and because of recent sightings in the Hicksville area, small dogs should not be left outside unsupervised. If a nest is in the area, birds of prey have been known to also attack humans, so it is advised not to approach a nest. It is better to call a service for professional removal, such as “Bell Bird Control,” “AA Quality Pest Control” or “Reliable Live Bird Trapping”. These local companies can assist you if a bird of prey has nested on your property.
As I have mentioned before, nature is beautiful, but it can also be dangerous. While I still long for a daytime view of the owls, I will never forget the chilling non-sound of silent wings at night.

Patty Servidio is an Anton Media Group columnist.

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