Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/337

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323
WAYS OF THE OWL.

two or three times, hooting will surely call them within short range.

Although game birds usually avoid the owl on account of my presence, a grouse with a large brood of young on one occasion showed much courage in watching Puffy. Her chicks scattered, but she remained in sight, whining and trailing her wings and doing her best to entice the owl away from the spot. Once she came within ten paces of him, her tail spread like a fan and her wings arched like an angry hen's. Puffy paid little attention to her, but seemed to be looking for the chicks which he had heard stirring in the leaves. Whenever he hopped she rushed into view, whining. She remained near by during the whole of twenty minutes that I spent in her domain.

In July, 1891, Puffy had a face-to-face meeting with a wild barred owl. Puffy was perched upon a stump facing a hemlock forest. Suddenly he became rigid and assumed a very unusual attitude for him, his head being thrust forward and his body flattened so that his breast rested upon the stump. Following the direction of his steady gaze, I saw a fine specimen of his race in the dark forest. He was as rigid as Puffy. How long they would have glared at each other I cannot tell, for it began to rain, and the stranger flew away.

The hearing of all species of owls known to me is marvelously keen; so keen, in fact, that I know of no way of testing it, since it is so much more acute than that of man. If owls have the sense of smell, I am unable to find satisfactory evidence of it. I have tried various experiments with them, hoping to prove that they could smell, but the results are all negative. They dislike putrid meat, but they bite it to ascertain its condition. They will not eat toads or frogs which yield an unpleasant odor, but they did not reject these species until they had tested them by tasting. They may be ever so hungry, yet they do not suspect the presence of food if it is carefully covered so that they can not see it. This test I have applied with the utmost care to the great-horned, snowy, and barred owls. The latter are shrewd enough to learn my ways of hiding their food, and when they suspect its presence they will search in the places where I have previously hidden it, pouncing upon pieces of wrapping-paper, and poking under feathers and excelsior with amusing cunning. I tested them with the fumes of camphor, ammonia, and other disagreeable and unusual smells, but they failed to show that they perceived them unless the fumes were strong enough to affect their breathing or to irritate their eyes. Finally, I put a cat in a basket and placed the basket between the two owls. They were utterly indifferent to it until the cat made the basket rock, when both of them fled precipitately, and could not be induced to go near the basket again. Although Puffy