not precisely as prescribed

September 11, 2017  •  10 Comments

Hurricane Irma dominated the 24/7 news cycle for much of the week and certainly this weekend, as the hurricane dragged its enormous form over many islands in the Atlantic and Caribbean before approaching the Florida Keys and settling over the entirety of Florida.  Since the life of the storm is still not complete, the damage to people, property, and the environment won't be determined for some time, but one thing is now known, Irma did not behave precisely as prescribed.

In our benign patch of Taos County, the Sunday generally set aside for assembling a Monday blog did not go precisely as prescribed either, in a most interesting way.  For those of you who may not know, our primary tool for cooking is a wood burning cookstove.  A cast iron Waterford from Ireland, the black beast serves most of our cooking needs.  Every stove and fireplace has a stove pipe that goes through the roof, to carry the smoke outside and away from the house.  On top of the pipe is a cap.  Last year, after numerous bird incursions into our parlor stove, we replaced it with a cap that has small mesh screen beneath it, discouraging birds from being enticed into this seemingly secure space.

As it happens, there has never been a bird entry under the cap of our wood burning cookstove, probably because at night, it is usually hot from the evening's dinner fire. The one night we chose not to build a dinner fire in the stove this week, an opportunist entered the scene.  In the early pre-dawn hours, we heard something on the roof.  The noise could have been from the metal gutter, or on top of either stove cap.  Scratching on metal.  This is not a particularly unusual part of rural life.  Animals happily live around us.  So we went back to sleep.  A couple of hours later, scratch, scratch.  Back to sleep. After sunrise, scratch scratch.  We get out of bed, listen, and the sound is indeed coming from the kitchen, which means the wood burning cookstove. On the surface of the cookstove where the stove pipe goes into the body of the stove itself, there is an iron plate that can removed to clean inside the space and up the pipe. As we slowly removed that plate, we looked inside and saw what appeared to be fist-sized ball.  "What the heck is that?"  Got the flashlight and here were two yellow eyes staring back.  An owl. A sweetheart.  Something that would basically occupy our morning.  Here is a photograph of it sitting in the opening at the point of entry of the stove pipe.

Two decisions were made immediately.  The first, of course, was that we had to get this lovely creature out safely before we cooked dinner, and second, I had to get my camera.  Given the circumstances, this was not exactly my finest moment as a photographer, and the photographs will win no awards, but the point was to document.

Owls, as sweet as they seem, are definitely birds of prey and have beaks and talons for that purpose.  Even this juvenile had a very sharp beak and awesome talons, so we knew that shoving a hand in there to get the bird was definitely out of the question.  It was already making snapping noises with its beak like dolphin sonar or perhaps a stress-induced response, but we weren't going to take chances.  Fred built a rectangular cage out of hardware cloth that we used for the garden raised beds so that we would encourage "Hoot" to crawl into the cage.  That "encouragement" included a flat stick and a piece of cardboard to cover the hole so the owl could not drop down into the stove.   It would be all over if that happened.  And that owl was putting all its might and weight into keeping Fred from getting under it and behind it with the metal tool with which we clean the stove.  It was not happy with us in the least, but eventually with Fred's tenacity and both of our isometrics, we were able to encourage the owl into the cage.    

Then, with another bit of genius that do-it-yourselfers would have appreciated, I took a dust pan and shoved it behind the owl to keep it from going back down the stove pipe and into the abyss.  Fred put on hefty gloves, picking up the cage while I held the dust pan over the opening, and escorted the owl outside.  It was temporarily dazed and blinded by the light, but very quickly flew away. Using both Sibley's and Peterson's western bird guides, we came to the conclusion that this was a young western screech owl.  It had both "ears" and "whiskers" and yellow eyes, or we would have thought it a flammulated owl. We'll keep researching. 

until next Monday,


a passion for the [email protected]


Steve Immel(non-registered)
What a lovely story, Daryl. Your tenacity and resourcefulness saved the day and one dazed "Hoot."
That is a charming little critter and, I observe, the most commented on post I can remember.
Here's to owl rescue!Job well done.
Paule Marx(non-registered)
Oh what a darling! I"m so glad you got pictures of him.He has the funniest expression on his face while he's in the cage. Quite the adventure for him and for you.
Wow, what a Sunday story. Thanks for your patience with the beautiful little bird. So glad it did not become a flambé owl!!!
Great blog! We might even say it's a HOOT of a successful rescue story as well as a tribute to your creativity and kind patience to save a frightened feathered orphan. Who ever said we country folks lead boring lives??? Bravo. Well done.
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