Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Who is that in the chimney?

Spring is certainly on the way when the Chimney Swifts (Chaetura pelagica) return with a chorus of song in our chimney. A chimney provides a vertical surface sheltered from the weather just as a hollow tree, which is the bird's natural nesting site. However, as forests are cleared or intensively managed, hollow trees are eliminated or never occur. Therefore, chimneys became an attractive alternative. Today, many chimneys are being capped to prevent animals, such as chimney swifts which can arrive by the hundreds, from entering. As a result, artificial hollow tree-like structures are being constructed and placed outdoors to provide the swifts with suitable nesting sites.

This morning, however, it was not the sound of a swift that echoed from the chimney. The unmistakable "Who, who, who cooks for y'all?" was the call of a trapped Barred Owl (Strix varia). The owl was in the chimney at least two days. Earlier rustling sounds had been dismissed as early-arriving Chimney Swifts. Upon opening the flue, the Barred Owl identification was confirmed. The flue was left open along with the front door. After several minutes, the owl dropped through the flue in a cloud of soot like a tardy Santa Claus. The bird perched on the fire screen and surveyed the possibilities for returning to the natural world. After a few changes in location (lamp, bookshelf, couch, mantle) and a slow-speed collision with a window, the owl made its escape through an open window.

After a humiliating two days in a dark, sooty chimney and a collision with what must have seemed like "hard air", the owl was immediately and loudly set upon by Blue Jays, Tufted Titmice and other anxious backyard birds.
Mark Musselman, education director

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