While I have lived in the city all my life, I am accustomed to wildlife that adapts to the infringement of its environment. Two houses my family has lived in had raccoons in the chimneys we had to get out. One of my best childhood friends had foxes in her front yard raising their young every year. I work down the street from previous wild turkey hangout (he was sent to Dedham this spring after a car hit him). But previous to living in Belmont, I’d never been living with owls.
Belmont is a friendly town just barely outside of Boston. Its houses are close together and its neighbors are even closer. When you come home and see the people next door standing around talking, you expect to take at least 20 minutes to get into your own place, if exchanging the bare minimum of courtesies. The people have a very small-town feel, but the availability of shops and culture are very metropolitan. I like that mix.
It is because of that mix that the owl sighting was so unexpected, and so widely published. Who really
expects to see an owl in the city? They live in barns and other enclosed places not typically frequented by humans, especially as they hunt at night. But this one was out in the daytime, perhaps pursuing something it noticed in a half-daze, as owls are largely opportunistic hunters. I don’t really know who saw it first, if it was one of the kids next door or someone startling it into flight, but for days we’ve all been rushing outside with our cameras whenever we hear a fuss on the street. First it’s the racket of songbirds aware of a predator, and then it’s people, talking in hushed but carrying tones so as not to disturb it. Word travels fast – now grandparents and friend are coming over to give the bird a look on a regular basis. There’s been at least on pellet discovered that fell into our driveway, but it didn’t look like there were bones in it. We think it may be an Eastern Screech, but that’s just a guess really.
But it was after a neighbor saw our owl catch a songbird and swoop it away to eat that we discovered the nest. He took it straight into a hole in an old tree, probably to feed hungry babies. We know there are at least two now – we’ve been able to see them poking their little heads out, probably getting ready for flight. Owls may be killers, and they might be slightly more round than sleek predator birds like hawks and eagles, but they are beautiful in flight. I want to see those fat little downy babies roll out of their nest and take off in beauty, their strange little humanish faces turned into the wind.