Let­ter of the week Let us prey

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor -

IKNOW it’s re­ceived wis­dom that young barn owls learn how to hunt by in­stinct and ne­ces­sity, but, fol­low­ing re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence, I have an ad­den­dum to that. We have a brood of at least three this year and I’ve been watch­ing them fledge on late evenings. One of the most ma­ture took flight two days ago, glid­ing 30 yards and land­ing on a lawn just short of a meadow. From there, it soon flew on suc­cess­fully.

Last night, prob­a­bly the same bird stretched its wings on the plat­form out­side its nest­box, a nor­mal sign of an early flight and then, look­ing around it in sud­denly alert fashion, it flew down to a lower farm-build­ing roof. Al­most im­me­di­ately, an adult swept into view and flew to set­tle on a five-barred gate lead­ing to the same meadow. The owlet half-skipped, half-flew to the foot of the gate and then hopped up to join its par­ent above.

The next 10 min­utes were a con­cen­trated les­son in the last stages of hunt­ing prey. First, the adult flut­tered up a few feet, folded its wings and hur­tled to the ground in clas­sic fashion. Im­me­di­ately, the young bird copied it ex­actly. This was re­peated from the top of the gate, 10 or 12 times in quick suc­ces­sion, leav­ing me mes­merised and in no doubt as to what was hap­pen­ing.

En­cour­aged by this, the young­ster em­barked on long flights over the meadow, hap­pily vo­cal­is­ing, al­though its rapid wing beats and its height above the ground made a suc­cess­ful hunt un­likely. How­ever, it was a re­mark­able demon­stra­tion of parental care to a hid­den watcher 25 yards away. Alis­tair Kil­burn, Nor­folk

The writer of the let­ter of the week will win a bot­tle of Pol Roger Brut Réserve Cham­pagne

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