By Sarah the Intern
Teasdale the great horned owl was the second bird to stand on my glove. He slowly and reluctantly made his way onto my arm, glaring at me with a look that said, “I don’t know you, and I don’t like you, but I have accepted the inevitability of my situation. That’s Teasdale in a nutshell. It doesn’t help that great horned owls have a face that looks perpetually stern and, according to Melissa, they all have the attitude to match. Teasdale is no exception. If I believed in reincarnation I would firmly believe that all grumpy old men are reincarnated as great horned owls. Teasdale’s like that old man character that appears in books about childhood. He’s the neighborhood curmudgeon who’s general grumpiness is so a part of who he is that he becomes lovable for it, much to his distress.
Our relationship is based on my cheery persistence vs. his deep desire for me to go away. Every morning, I walk by his mew (stall) and cheerily declare, “Good morning Teeeeeeasdale!” To which he replies by swiveling his head in my direction with a hearty good morning hiss. This is followed my more hissing as I clean up his mew, and then more hissing again as I “dress” him for his public appearances.
Great horned owls spend up to 80 percent of their lives just sitting still, so all Teasdale wants in the whole world is to be left alone. Unfortunately, and despite his best efforts, Teasdale is immensely popular, and people love to see him. Also unfortunate is the fact that we cannot take him out without first touching him…a lot…which he hates…a lot. Teasdale’s legs and feet are covered in feathers. This means that the leather straps will rub uncomfortably against him if we leave them on all the time like we do with the other birds. Also, he’ll bite them off. Before every show, we have to “dress” him by strapping on the anklets and running the jesses (leather straps) through the anklets.
A great horned owl is primarily made of floof, and whenever I come to dress him he poofs his feathers out in the hopes of scaring me away with his big huge terrible terribleness. It doesn’t work, but it does stick a bunch of floof in between myself and his legs, which has to be brushed aside. If you ever get the chance to pet a great horned owl, don’t do it. It will make them angry and they can hurt you. However, I can assure you that they are very soft and fluffy. It makes you want to cuddle them, which you should definitely never do, and I will tell you why.
When a bird doesn’t want to be picked up, it will try to run or fly away from you. Not Teasdale. He protests your activity by remaining seated and unmoving. You literally have to get your glove against his belly and push up and into him in order to get him to put just one foot on the glove. Half the time you have to physically pick up a talon with your free (totally-naked-bare-skinned-fragile-easy-to-make-bleed) hand and place it on the glove before he will give in and surrender to his fate (also with a lot of hissing). This one day he was having none of it. One foot was lazily sliding off my glove while the other was dug firmly into his perch. But I was persistent, continuing to dig into him untill I was starting to lift him by his jesses. Then we locked eyes and he shot me a look that said, “Fine! If that’s how you want it!” He reached up his free foot, and slammed it down on my wrist. Did you know a great horned owl can squeeze with 500 pounds of pressure per square inch? It only took a fraction of that for me to yelp, “Ow! Jeeze Teasdale!” On a side note, if he had used full force we are lucky to have the hospital right next door.
While Teasdale isn’t wild about this whole, being-taken-out-of-his-cool-dark-mew-into-the-warm-bright-sunlight thing, once he’s on your glove you have made a pact with him. He will sit there and be good, but you must be his tree. You have to protect him from the big scary world full of big scary people and big scary songbirds that make lots of scary noises at him. If he feels you are violating the pact by providing less than adequate protection, he will leave (once again forgetting that he is tied to you).
The great thing about Teasdale is that, while he doesn’t particularly like me, he doesn’t particularly like anyone. He’s an equal opportunity grump, with one exception. Ann is a sweet, friendly, redheaded volunteer who helps out once or twice a week. Everyone loves Ann. Everyone except Teasdale. For Ann has sinned according to the Tenants of Teasdale. Ann exercises Teasdale by having him fly. If there is one thing Teasdale hates more than the outside, sunshine, people, songbirds, anklets, the inside, the box, lawnmowers, vehicles, and everything, it’s exercise. Fortunately, Teasdale has some blood feathers coming in on his tail so there will be no more flying for exercise until they come in. Hopefully this will mean that Ann and Teasdale can be friends again, and by “friends” I mean a kindhearted woman and a bird who has the same level of disdain for her that he has for everyone else. You’ve just got to love Teasdale.
Falconry Terms in Layman’s Terms
Falconry Definition: The substance coating a casting/pellet
Layman’s Terms: A fancy word that does little to gloss over the fact that you have to pick up a wet ball of fur and hair (sometimes bone) that is covered in bird slime. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to it before they have a chance to poop on it to (You usually won’t be so lucky).