Many years ago when I was living at home with my parents our beautiful rough collie Jemma finally left us. She had been in our lives for a long time and we were all devastated. For me it was a particularly difficult time as Jemma had been a confidante through some challenging times in my childhood, I was really not sure if I would be OK without her. However, within a few days of this sadness, we were given a rather unexpected baby to look after – a barn owl. He had been found unable to fend for himself and far too early to be away from the nest. He had been handed to some local falconers to look after but they were not able to do so. They bought him to us in a cardboard box with a bag of food and waved goodbye. We all sort of looked at each other and panicked a bit but then decided we just had to get on with it and help this beautiful ball of fluff. He was tiny, like a large tennis ball covered in mad fluffy feathers. We called him Archimedes (Archy for short) and promised we would do all we could to help him survive.
My Dad immediately set to making him a home and converted an old tea chest into a owl box and fixed it up high in the barn. The box had a sturdy ledge so Archy could come out and look at the world around him but not be too precarious and fall out. To be safe though, we piled a huge stack of hay bales underneath so if he did fall he would have a soft landing. This proved to be a very good idea as Archy spent a good part of most days launching himself kamikazee fashion from the owl box onto the hay bales and taking great delight in running around on the hay. His absolute favourite thing to do was to try and catch shoe laces. I used to sit for hours on the bales, wiggling my feet so that my trainer laces moved, he was quite determined to “catch” one and always looked very pleased with himself when he did. These hours I spent with him were some of the happiest times, it gave me a wonderful focus and helped heal the pain of losing Jemma, it was hard not to smile watching Archy’s antics but also knowing he depended on us to care for him somehow made it even more important to do.
His diet was chicks which were in the freezer, each morning one would be taken out and placed in a red bucket to defrost and by the evening he would be ready for his meal. At first he used to make a hissing sound, like a snake, and that was his way of shouting that he was ready for dinner. He would hop up and down on his ledge getting more and more excited and sometimes fall off the ledge in his eagerness for dinner. He was hysterical. His head movements were unbelievable and when he was watching the shoe laces would twist his head upside down to follow them. For the first few weeks he would jump down onto the hay bales and play but then we would have to put him back to bed again as he had not yet learnt to fly, we wanted to make sure he was safe.
When he began trying to fly he could only seem to fly in a straight line so would flap from perch to perch in the barn, gradually making his way back tound to his box where he clearly felt safe and confident. As time went on though his daily flying practice began to change and he learnt to swoop and fly in differing directions, it was fascinating to watch. Other than stand on the bales and flap our arms in encouragement (which yes we did do at first) he was on his own and learnt very quickly how to manouevre. We thought that once he could fly he would be off and that would be the last we would see of him but no, for weeks he continued to live in his box and shout for his dinner. Sometimes he would become impatient and fly across the farm yard and land on the garden gate to shout, by this time his hissing had turned into more of a screech so it was not something you could miss. Once Dad was halfway across the yard with dinner when Archy decided he was coming to get dinner himself, he landed on Dad’s head and sat there looking bemused for a moment. Dad had a nasty scratch from those incredible talons so took to wearing a hat after that!
Over time he became less dependant on us for food and would go for days without coming to say hello, we would check regularly and most days he would return to sleep in the barn but clearly had learnt to fend for himself. It was a gradual transition and knowing he was there, busy doing his own important owl business felt good, it was a wonderful experience. We eventually had to leave the farm but kept in touch with the new tenants who updated us with news of Archy, he had found himself a wife and together they were living in the barn and had raised chicks of their own. I went to visit one last time and saw the two of them together, the female flew away very quickly but Archy did not, he just sat on the barn frame looking at me, not scared but not coming too close. It was then I realised that he and I had helped one another more than words can say, he had helped to heal me and we had done what we set out to do, to help him survive but also to thrive and carry on the line of barn owls. I think this was perhaps the beginning of my understanding that by helping nature, we also help ourselves.
These blogs are just short excerpts of much bigger chapters! I am currently working on getting a book publiished about our journey so far in order to assist funding for the Earthkin project. If you would like to be informed when the book is available, please subscribe to our newsletter, thank you.