My first owls...
My first memory of a bird is that of a beautiful barn owl. I must have been around 3.5-4 years old then. We were in Manas Wildlife Sanctuary at that time and lived in a wooden bungalow. The owl had secured residence in the space between the tin roof and the wooden ceiling of our bungalow. It would come back from its hunting expedition every evening, late at night actually, and strut about sagely in its room. Doop, doop, doop, it walked on, scaring me out of my wits with its heavy tread. The sound it made seemed quite eerie to me and after keeping quiet for some time I would let out a mighty yell. A series of yells, actually. And what profundity in those yells, says my mom. Enough to wake up my baby sister and the dogs that we kept. In no time, there would be a veritable chorus ringing out from the bungalow.
My dad had zero tolerance for such antics, especially towards people who were frightened of birds, of all things. Besides, he wanted to have his few hours of peaceful sleep after a busy day and a stressful night patrol of the jungle. He realized that it was no use yelling back at me since that only made my bawling worse. Finally, he decided to evict the illegal resident.
I remember seeing the bloodied arms of the person who carried out the eviction. The resident had expressed grave displeasure of this unwarranted removal and clawed furiously at the man. And then I saw the bird itself – the reason behind my nightmares. It was a snowy white owl with golden flecks, which stared at me balefully from behind a cage. I could not believe that the beautiful creature was the one who made such strange noises at night. It was carried off on elephant back, later in the day, and released in the jungle. I thought it looked quite funny and sad at the same time – the homeless owl riding on an elephant to look for a new residence.
I left Guwahati soon after for my studies and then job and then marriage. I visit home for a few days in a year now and at night I still hear the owlets’ raucous screams. So they are still there, I would think drowsily in my sleep. Over the years, these little fellows’ lives have been ravaged by several elements, the greatest of them being the proliferation of crow population. I get calls from my mom every other day about the monstrosity committed by the crows. She would tearfully tell me about the waterhen chicks being devoured by the crows right on front of her eyes, and then about the spotted owlet chicks which met the same fate. Deta had become furious with the crows and was thinking of ways to get rid of them.
Recently, Maa called up to tell me about the wooden homes Deta had built for the birds. The crows have been quite inquisitive about them, though. I hope the owls come to live in these wooden homes and protect their families.
And so, I have come a long way since the time I wanted to evict the owls from their residences. Now, I go searching for owls and come back crest-fallen if I don’t get to see one. One of the highlights of my birding experiences was witnessing the Indian Scops Owl camouflaged in a tree hole in Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary. And how can I ever forget my Brown Fish Owl that I managed to locate finally in BR Hills? I still have a few more on my list that I fervently want to see.
I wish the owls would not leave us soon and their habitats are not destroyed. I hope their tribe multiplies. I wish them a safe home.