Long-eared Owlet in School!

owlet 1

Owls are nesting opposite the Science Garden! The discovery could not have come at a better time. Poor weather meant I had an hour to alter my lesson plan before Birding Club showed up for their weekly after school activity. An English teacher brought me a photograph of an owlet during a Year 8 lesson. I sent a member of Bird Club in the lesson to investigate. This boy loves wildlife and was delighted to get away from physics questions for ten minutes. He struggles with reading and writing so his recent ecology test score did not reflect the wealth of knowledge he can call upon at the drop of a hat, from naming frog species to describing predator-prey interactions. He has extra time and a scribe for tests but we still have a lot of progress to make before his grades begin to reflect his ability.

We tried to keep the location of the owlet secret to avoid disturbance but by the time Birding Club arrived at the scene, a handful of maintenance staff had gathered. Some were pulling on branches to get a better look and taking flash photographs right up close to the bird. I dispersed them in as polite a manner as possible and a whole school email was sent out in English and Romanian asking for people to keep their distance.

Research from my Birding Club members told us that the owlet is a long-eared,  exhibiting a behaviour known as branching. This is when offspring leave the nest before being able to fly, taking up residence in a nearby branch to spread predation risk. The students were delighted with the bird, showing real concern for its welfare and interest in finding out more about its biology. We located another chick and an adult, perched side-by-side high up in an adjacent pine tree. One of the boys rushed off to grab his sketch book, coming up with a skillful drawing in less than five minutes. I love seeing a different side to students. It’s one of the main joys of running an extra-curricular activity, the less formal structure allowing pupils to express their individual personalities more freely.

We decided to keep knowledge of the location of the other owls within Birding Club to avoid any more disturbances. The boys offered keep watch over the area during break and lunch, thinking up elaborate tales to tell people so they didn’t pass through, including the beautifully simple “Don’t go down there, it smells”. Luckily this morning I found the owlet in a much higher branch in different tree so this wasn’t necessary. Seeing the boys observing the bird completely transfixed, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit envious. I like to believe I feel just as excited by wildlife experiences as I did when I was their age, trying to avoid exaggerating or romanticing childhood events. I was indeed enthralled by the owlet, having never seen a long-eared up close, but looking at the delight on the boys’ faces made me realise I am now harder to please. I either need to build a time machine or see a wild wolf to feel as they did. I am in the right country to see wolves, so I can put the time machine on hold.

On a less positive note, I put a photo of the bird (taken from a sensible distance) on to the school’s daily notices with a plea to keep away from it. Apparently one Year 10 boy asked his form tutor “Why don’t they just kill it?” assuming the owlet must be dangerous. He will be visiting Vacaresti nature reserve with me next month so that will provide a good opportunity to work on his attitude.

owlet 2

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