Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/491

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477
SOME RAMBLES OF A NATURALIST.

family separates, and while the young are receiving their lessons in mouse-hunting, it becomes very evident, first, that owls are great talkers; and, secondly, that they are decidedly intelligent. I was im- pressed with these facts during a pleasant moonlight evening last October, when, having taken my stand to watch the owls, I saw the whole family of six as they came from their nest in the tree. The old birds first appeared, flew directly toward the meadow, and disap- peared in the long grass. Soon the four young birds made their appearance, but only to creep cautiously along the limbs of the tree, and then settle themselves, in a lazy, muffled-up manner, as though nothing remained to be done. All the while the old birds kept up a peculiar call—more like a scream than a hoot—not altogether unpleas- ant to the ear. I am in doubt whether the young owls made any reply, though I took a faint clicking noise to be such. In a little while, however, they began to get hungry, and then they uttered un- mistakable cries, to which the parent owls replied by returning to the tree. In the beak of each owl was a mouse, or what I took to be such, and when they alighted on the maple I could detect, in the un- certain light, that they did not approach closely to the young birds, but, having removed the mice, which they now held in their claws, they chattered and screamed to their young, in a manner that could only be interpreted as, "Come over here and get your mouse." It was evident that the young owls were to be taught to help themselves, and to practice their power of flight. As an inducement to do the latter, the mice were held temptingly before them, but quite out of reach. Finally, one young owl, more venturesome than his fellows, essayed to fly; but it was a miserable failure, for, instead of reaching the desired branch, it fell short a foot or more, and tumbled to the ground. I can not prove that owls laugh, but I think any one who heard the old birds just then would never doubt the fact that they do. The funniest feature, however, was that the three remaining young birds were disgusted with w^hat they saw, or were frightened by it— at all events, they hastened back to the nest, and I saw them no more that evening.

Of the poor fellow that fell to the ground there is much to be said, as it was with it that the old birds were now wholly concerned, and their actions were highly entertaining. Leaving the tree, they flew down to the hapless bird, and muttered in low tones to it, in a most sympathizing manner. Their utterances now, which I could hear notwithstanding the racket made by the frogs, were very varied, and gave the impression that they were holding a conversation. After the lapse of a minute or more the old birds together took a short, low flight, and then returned to the young owl. Was it not to show it how easy flight was? Then again they flew away, in the same manner, and the young owl endeavored to follow. It was with evident diffi- culty that it left the ground, but when once its feet were clear of the