Birds Of A Feather

By and for Bird-People

Swan in an owl cage

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Swan in an owl cage

What happens when you put four wild, injured barn owls and a mute swan together in a small room? You can imagine that the feathers would fly, right?

Well, actually, yes. But also, the result was a very powerful experience for me, as I was forced to form a bond with these powerful creatures to be safe.

For a short time, I worked as a volunteer at my local raptor sanctuary. I didn’t have the spoons to continue to do it, but, if you can, I definitely recommend to look up where is your local sanctuary. They always need help and it’s a beautiful experience, to be able to help your avian kin.

As a swan, I am quite a tough bird. Even though raptors sometimes eat newborn cygnets, an adult swan and a raptor do not have a lot of fear of each other. So, with most of the birds I cared for, I was quite comfortable. I quickly learned to feed a blind turkey vulture by hand – a very sweet experience, he was a gentle and lovely bird – and I held hawks and kestrels without a fear of being hurt. There were some intense experiences – when you are a swan, feeding predator birds with dead baby chickens, when you know that is not too far from how swan babies look, is a shock – but it is all part of nature. I was comfortable with it, and I learned to cut open rats and rabbits with a knife, to help the turkey vultures get the good, inside meat.

I particularly felt a bond with the hawks, for some reason, and, even when I see birds of prey fly through the sky in my local area, my first thought is a hope to see a red-tailed hawk. (They are common in my area, so often, that is the exact bird that is there.) I don’t really have any theories about this, but I thought I would mention it, as a side note for other therians, because I notice a lot of red-tailed hawks in the community, and I wonder if there is something in particular that connects the human experience, and the red-tailed hawk nature. If I’m not any kind of bird of prey, but I still feel a connection to them, it’s interesting.

But, though the hawks were very beautiful to me, this post is not to talk about them. It’s to talk about the only time at the raptor sanctuary that I felt seriously afraid: cleaning out the mew of four very wild and very angry barn owls.

This was a dark, small room, about the size of a small bathroom if you take out the bath. The owls did not like being here, and they didn’t like me. They didn’t want any person near them! They were mad that they were stuck in there, mad that they were injured, and the last thing they wanted was to be in a room with a big, threatening creature, where they could not escape. But, respect is due for their courage: they did not back away. Instead, they threatened me, trying to make me go away. They saw me come in through the door, and they knew that I could go in and out. And they wanted me to go.

So, they made the best displays they could think of. Flying at my head, footing me when I tried to pick up dead chicks from the floor (“footing” is when a bird of prey jumps at you with their talons. Imagine you are wearing only thin plastic gloves, and this wants to jump at your hand with a lightning reflex), mantling their wings, and hissing. Oh, this hissing. If you have not heard a barn owl hiss, please, look it up on Youtube. It is a sound that is often described like something coming from the pits of hell. And there are four of them, looking straight at you, clattering their beaks, and hissing.

And you have to get near them, clean their perches, and spray water from a hose to clean the walls, though that is the last thing they want you to do, because that might make them wet… and of course, they are not going to do anything submissive like move out of the way for the water spray, they are just going to stand there and be annoyed if it comes anywhere near them but not move at all.

It was getting difficult. It’s hard to do anything when owls are flying at your head, and getting in the way of everything you need to do. And, you can’t even bend over, because there is a worry that an owl might attack you when you can’t see anything. I was trying to avoid looking at them in the eyes, so that they didn’t get a feeling that I was challenging them, but still, they didn’t want me around. I don’t know what made me think it, but I decided to try a mental communication. Simply, projecting to them a feeling of a calm blue energy, gently falling and pressing on them, while thinking, “calm” over and over.

They stopped hissing immediately. And, they went to tuck against the far wall of the mew, huddled together, seeming to be nervous and concerned, but, not attacking any more.

I got the rest of the mew clean this way, because now I could move around without being bothered. I had to keep thinking about the energy, though. If I stopped thinking about it, they started to hiss again, so I had to do it again, but, it was not much effort. I walked out of there feeling very proud. I talked to the owls!

Thinking about it after, I felt about that experience, that I wonder if an instinct of therian nature was coming out at the time. In the wild, when faced with a dangerous situation, an animal will have to do something quickly to survive. I wonder if, being in that threat situation, made me think of an instinct tactic that a swan might have.

Maybe, the ability to project a calming energy like this is why people often feel so comfortable and happy about swans, and why the human species has bonded with them so much.

I don’t know. It’s just UPG. But, it makes me very happy that I had the experience. At first, it was just cool because it worked, but, over time, I started to see it as an evidence that I can bond with wild birds and communicate them, and that makes me a lot happier just than the idea that it is “cool”.

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