Story with a bad ending...

September 20, 2007

For some time now, I have belonged to a group committed to helping BARN OWLS in Bangalore. We are getting nest-boxes fabricated to ensure that these natural enemies of the rats that are proliferating in our city, breed and establish themselves even in urban environs.

I joined because several barn owls come to roost in a ventilation shaft in our apartment building. The trouble is, barn owls are NOT “cute” birds. They suffer further from the superstition that says that they are birds of ill-omen; and to top it all, they make chirring sounds all night, and I cannot really blame the residents of my apartment building for being disturbed by the noise all night long, and also being disgusted by the mess they leave at the bottom of the ventilation shaft.

But I little thought that one of the owls would be poisoned…but that is what our building association did when I was away travelling. When I returned, I had long conversations with the residents’ committee and went to each flat along that shaft, and tried to explain how useful these birds are. Well, certainly they decided that they would not poison the birds any more. But it was decided to block off the ventilation shaft with strong wire-mesh so that the birds could not come to roost there any more.

But, quite typically, that was also done in a shoddy way, and the fibreglass sheets that were laid at the top of the shaft quickly shifted, providing enough space for the birds to return. All that happened was that because of the wire-mesh across the residents’ windows, I could no longer see the owls or photograph them as I wanted to, when they started coming back to roost at night.

This morning, a few children came running to me and said that “some animal” was there in tbe basement of my block. I went down and there was this baby barn owl, which was sitting in the driveway near the basement:

baby barn owl 200907 casa ansal

The bird was pretty distressed; it had been having very loose motions, and was flying a little…and the children, looking at its talons and its sharp beak, were also scared, and their shrieking frightened the bird even more. Luckily, it was time to go to school and they left me and the owl alone.

I first agonized about whether I should touch it, because often, the human touch means that they are rejected and often killed by the other birds. But the bird’s condition made me decide that there was no alternative. But when I approached it, the bird kept flying away.

So I came back upstairs (having detailed a security guard to keep an eye on it) and phoned up another member of the owl group, who told me to try and catch it by throwing a towel over it. So I got a soft towel, and my camera as well, and went down again.

The bird had come to the basement steps, and I clicked it. Then, when I went closer to put the towel over it, it went off again, to sit on a water pipe at the top of the basement…so I waited for it to come somewhere accessible again, so that I could catch it and take it to the Bangalore Rehabilitation Centre, the animal rescue shelter which I have written about earlier.

About twenty minutes later, it did come down to the floor, and I had not taken the next step towards it…when the bird flopped down, quite dead.

I don’t have to tell you how I felt…

Yes, possibly the little one was quite sick, and that’s why it had been thrown out…perhaps it didn’t have much of a chance from the beginning…shock and trauma would have caused the death, as my birding friend Prasad said….

But the trouble is, as Calvin put it when one of the woodland creatures that he found, died: “It’s gone, but it’s not gone inside me.”

Not feeling very happy today.