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Tree Child

Story by Ellen Ensley Created 2002-08-06
Page 13 of 19

Chapter 13 - Freedom

Our next plan was to simply cut the wire out of the upper part of Sushi's pen, leaving his tree branches, nest box and killing box in place. We temporarily moved Sushi to another cage, and Steve added a huge tree perch that went from the inside to the outside of the Sushi's cage and reached 16 feet in the air.

We thought that Sushi might come and go from his pen, have his freedom and protection from the weather too. Since he knew where his killing box was, if he was truly hungry, surely he would come back to his pen. Wrong!!

When all the preparations were done, Sushi was returned to his own cage, which was now completely open half way up the sides. Within an instant, Sushi walked out on one of the limbs that reached outside his pen. Then, he flew straight up on top of the roof of the chicken coop, which was covered with a white vinyl tarp to keep the rain from dripping through the slats on the top.
Sushi began attacking the white tarp! He pounced on wrinkles, grabbed parts with his talons, and tried to rip the white tarp to shreds. Throughout the entire time he was cussing the tarp in owl garble.
"Kwolagho!!! Breeeneze!!! Grooooark!!!"

We watched this bizarre behavior for a long time. The more Sushi attacked the tarp, the madder he would get. The owl was having a temper tantrum! After discussing this new development for a few minutes, we finally understood. The owl associated anything white with a white mouse. We only fed him white mice. White was food. But, this white tarp wasn't warm and tasty, it was hard and ungiving.

Chuckling, we both went into the house and left him attacking his giant white mouse. From then on, we only purchased brown mice. Wild rodents were brown, and Sushi had to learn that brown was also food.

That night, preparing for bed upstairs, I heard a funny noise outside the closed shades. When I opened them to peer out, there was Sushi sitting on the second floor porch railing looking at me. How did the owl know what room we were in inside the house with closed shades? Steve said, "Good night, Sushi. Now go hunt." Apparently Sushi did, because the garbling noises outside the window stopped.

The next morning, as I prepared coffee by the big kitchen bay window downstairs... there was Sushi! This time he was sitting on the stairs of the outside porch. Once again, Sushi was able to find me in the house. He was calmly waiting for breakfast.
This new behavior concerned me. Sushi, a full grown Barred Owl, was sitting on the steps with our three cats! Rhett, a big, sweet, yellow tiger tom, Ambrosia, an extremely ill-tempered Calico, and Tripod, our three-legged Siamese. The cats were waiting for their breakfast, too.

Although the cats didn't get too close to the owl, any one of them could have easily attacked him. Sushi showed no fear. The cats showed mild curiosity, but apparently thought he was just a big chicken. The cats had been raised around our chickens, who were frequently loose to forage. The cats knew chickens were off limits. So, this funny looking big chicken was also off limits.

Not only was the owl sitting on the staircase with the cats. Our female Rottweiler, Uno, was also outside for her morning romp. All 130 pounds of Rottweiler was sitting there with the cats and the owl. Just to be on the safe side, I opened the front door and in a firm tone told the Rottweiler, "No Chicken!!!" Uno had also been raised around chickens. She understood these words, and had never, ever, hurt one of our chickens. As long as Uno thought this was another chicken, there wouldn't be any problems.

This was a new development. In my perfect world, the owl would stay in the woods and our pets would stay around the house. It was inevitable that they would meet. Fortunately, so far, they all seemed to get along fine. But, I didn't like the owl being around other animals.

When I was ready to feed the animals, I put Uno in the house for her breakfast. As soon as I went outside with Sushi's can of catfood, the owl glided silently beside me across the yard, and I fed Sushi well away from the house and the other animals. While Sushi was having breakfast, I went back and filled the three individual cat food bowls on the front porch. Now it was time to feed Steve, so I went back inside to start breakfast for us.

Suddenly there was a terrible ruckus outside the window. Sushi had finished his breakfast, and decided he wanted the cats breakfast. The owl swooped right down in the middle of the three munching cats, puffed himself up, opened his wings and hopped straight at the cats, hissing like a snake. Cats scattered in all directions.

When Steve came down for breakfast I said, "Houston, we have a problem!"
He just grinned. "It's your owl. Handle it!"
Whenever the owl did something cute, intelligent, or funny... it was his owl. When the owl was bad, it was my owl. I gave Steve that LOOK. But, I didn't say anything.

I went outside to have a discussion with Sushi about attacking the cats. By then, the cat food in all three bowls was history. Sushi just flew up in a tree and garbled at me in contentment and amusement.

"The Ainu people of Japan made wooden images of owls and nailed them to their houses at times of famine or pestilence" - E.A. Armstrong - The Folklore of the Birds

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