“The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea in a beautiful pea green boat, they took some honey, and plenty of money, wrapped up in a five pound note”.
Edward Lear’s The Owl and the Pussycat was one of my favourite poems as a child, as it conjured up such a charming image. The idea that a cat and a bird could be friends was simply delightful! There are quite a few well-known proverbs and phrases associated with our feathered friends. For example, “the early bird catches the worm”; “up with the lark”, and “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”. If like me, you are an early riser, you will have had the pleasure of listening to the dawn chorus, where our songbirds defend their territories and sing to attract a mate.
Recently I was afforded the opportunity to assist with bird ringing at The Scottish Centre for Ecology and the Natural Environment. SCENE is the foremost field station for research and teaching in ecology and environmental sciences in Scotland, and on this occasion, mist nets were used to capture wild birds for ringing. Bird ringing is conservation field research work, which places individually marked rings onto the legs of wild birds, to form the basis of a data collection process of that bird throughout its life. I am very much a novice in this line of work; ringing is only carried out by skilled ringers with the utmost consideration for the birds’ welfare, and can only be learnt by practice under the close supervision of experienced ringers. I will continue to gain field experience but it can take up to 3 years to become a fully ‘fledged’ ringer.
I was also thrilled to assist Steve Kenney, National Park Ranger, in ringing three of our very own barn owl chicks at The Carrick. Once abundant in the UK, barn owl populations have started to decline due to a number of factors including changes in agricultural practices and more common use of pesticides. Barn owls are very distinctive with their black eyes, heart-shaped face and white chest. Its call is a blood-curdling screech and literary scholars such as William Wordsworth referred to the “Owl of doom” in his poetry. I felt extremely privileged to be in such close proximity to these beautiful birds, as they are usually only seen at dawn and dusk whilst they hunt for mice, voles and shrews.
Owls are generally solitary, but when they are seen together the group is known as a “parliament” as they have long been considered to be of a wise disposition. I’m not sure how wise our Parliament currently is, but that’s another matter entirely!