Letter of the week Let us prey
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
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