My Lovely Scops Owl
By Wei Shendu
The following is a report from the IFAW Beijing Rescue Center. Regularly the rescue team receives calls from local villages about injured wildlife. They have many successes and so many wonderful stories, I hope to share at least one with you per week!
I was still in sixth grade that day when, after the rain had stopped, I came upon a bird about the size of a chick under a tree near our house. Taking a closer look, I realized that it was actually an owl. Its down had just grown in and it didn’t yet have any feathers; clearly it was a young chick that had fallen from its nest. Its down was a mottled gray and white color, and its eyes were yellowish. Its beak was red and its claws were yellow too. Its vocalization was low and soft, and it looked around occasionally with an air of panic.
The rain had only just stopped, and the temperature was still rather cold. I was afraid that the little fellow would either freeze to death or be eaten by a cat. It was so small that it only knew to use its beak to peck lightly; if it met up with a cat, it would surely become a tasty treat for the feline. So I decided to put up with the pain of its bites and take it home.
After I told the whole story, my father completely supported my decision and my mother did not object either. My younger sister, needless to say, was overjoyed. The little owl, however, was too young and refused to eat any of the meat I offered it. Moreover, when my sister tried to pet it, she was bitten. We realized then that it was, after all, a wild animal and that we were unable to care for it properly. After calling directory assistance, my father found and contacted the Beijing Raptor Rescue Center, which focuses on helping injured raptors. No one from the center could come until the next day so the little bird had to spend the night with us. Following the instructions given us by the Raptor Center, we put the little owl in a dark box and put it in a quiet place. Once we’d made these arrangements, we felt more at ease.
The sounds of the little guy’s calls reminded me of an incident back in our old hometown when I was very small. One of my uncles had gotten an owl from somewhere that was as big as a rooster. It was in a cage and looked very hungry. My father used a pair of chopsticks to feed it a piece of meat about the size of a hand. The way it ate the meat was very frightening to me. After grabbing the meat with its claws, it used its sharp beak to tear and eat the meat. It looked so fierce that I was frightened and ran away.
But this little guy wasn’t fierce at all, and in fact was rather cute. Only its calls were a little disturbing. I opened the box to sneak a peek. The little owl looked at me as if I was going to hurt it. It followed the movement of my hands wherever they went, and its stare frightened me. But I couldn't help petting it, and gradually it began to lose its fear of me. When I put out my finger, it didn’t peck at it.
The next morning, the expert from the BRRC arrived. He told me that this owl’s scientific name is Otus scopus and that it is a Class 2 protected animal in China. The scops owl has a small range of distribution in Beijing, and it mainly lives on insects and grows to a little bigger than a pigeon when mature. Then the BRRC expert put the owl in a special box and took it away. And there I stood, watching the man’s back drawing away. I thought of my cute little scops owl and I was really rather reluctant to give it up. But then I thought about the favorable environment it would live in and the fact that when it matured it would enjoy a life of freedom in the wild, and I was very happy for it.
Goodbye, my little scops owl.