Sushi may have been an ugly baby, but what a beauty she became when she grew up

I've always wanted to devote a couple of pages to Sushi. Ellen Ensley, who raised and released Sushi, was a constant help and inspiration when, as a complete owl greenhorn, I was looking after our first orphaned tawny, Owly, in May-July 2003. Sushi's story, titled Tree Child, is told on The Owl Pages website. It's a remarkable story, entertainingly told, and shouldn't be missed by anyone interested in these wonderful birds. There Ellen calls Sushi "he", but from later events it seems he was in fact a she. If you want to find out what these birds are like as characters there's no better place to go.

Barred Owls, Strix varia, are close cousins of Tawny Owls, Strix aluco. My thanks to Ellen and to Deane Lewis of The Owl Pages for kind permission to reproduce these pics here.

The "ugly baby". As a chick Sushi is almost indistinguishable from a Tawny Owl chick! . . .

. . . but as a young adult she looks quite different.


Eager for her first minnow

Sushi and her kind live in a very different environment from our Tawny Owls. The area just inland of the Atlantic coast of northern Florida could hardly be more unlike the woods of the Kent High Weald!

The Barred Owl is an owl of North America. Its range includes the eastern half of the USA, parts of Mexico and the northwest USA, and a broad belt stretching from west to east across southern Canada.

Swamp owl country. Sushi's hiding in the palms on the left

"Up close, it was even uglier. But, the eyes were beautiful, huge, and dark mahogany brown. Eerie, seemingly pupiless eyes gleamed inquisitiveness and intelligence" Ellen writes of the tiny abandoned chick the first time she saw it. Coming back to Sushi's story after some years two things strike me. One is the way she sees the owl with her own eyes, uninfluenced by the preconceptions that are so widely held about them. The second is the ease with which Sushi made the transition back to the wild. It didn't happen immediately -- she hung around for a time and needed the occasional extra feeding -- but she hunted for herself with little prior tuition from her human foster parents, and once she found a mate she broke off contact with them and became fully independent.

Ellen, by the way, is an experienced animal and bird rehabber. But she'd never had to look after an abandoned owl chick before. Thanks to her plain common sense and perceptive empathy, Sushi's story is a far truer account than you're likely to hear in many other places.

Recommended Barred Owl sites

BIRDS of MADISON COUNTY: In case you haven't found the site and you're into Barred Owls, here's a link to pages on the history of a whole family with lots of excellent pics and a narrative: Owl History Index. Madison County is in Indiana, USA, and the site is run by Tom and Jean Harbron. There's lots of other nice nature stuff in addition to the owls, and if you contact the Harbrons they'll put you on a mailing list with monthly links to new material. I highly recommend the Barred Owl pages -- I don't know of another site where a family of owls has been followed through several generations like this.


OWL CAM: The author of this site filmed and recorded the breeding activities of a pair of Barred Owls behind his home in eastern Massachusetts between 1998 and 2003. The jewel in the crown here is a remarkable DVD which every owl lover should have. It's such a treat that I've reviewed it on page 9 of the Owl Gallery. There's also a link there to OwlCam's Barred Owl sound library, a collection of the calls made by these owls.

There's an excellent and comprehensive collection of Barred Owl calls, recently made and put up, here: Barred Owl vocalizations. Recorded by Bob Pearson in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington.

Eleanor the Urban Barred Owl: Eleanor turned up in Medford, Oregon, in December 2007, and the folks in whose garden she roosts have been remarkably quick off the mark in making a nestbox and a website for her! But will she stay? Will she find a mate and use the nestbox? This owl is surprisingy tolerant of humans and there are some good photos. Her evening flight times are being documented in the "Field Notes" (Postscript: Eleanor left the area on Feb 25/26 2008 and hasn't been seen since. That's owls for you.)

Next page (9): Review of the Barred Owl DVD from OwlCam

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