Conrad Rybaczuk photographed this owl in the daylight, a rare sight, while fishing the Fox River in North Aurora late last month. | For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 9, 2013 7:42PM
Great horned owls are tuft guys with a soft heart.
There’s a fierceness in their faces, between the yellow eyes and the earlike tufts, yet a vulnerability, too.
The vulnerability is accented when the nocturnal bird is seen in daylight.
At night, their hoots are haunting. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology at allaboutbirds.org describes their call as ‘‘a deep, stuttering series of four to five hoots.’’
All I know is I pull sharply awake when I hear their hoots at night.
It happened again about 3 a.m. Thursday. The hoots coming from down the street were eerie enough that even my wife noted it.
And it reminded me of two owl notes from readers.
One owl was simply seen in daylight while Conrad Rybaczuk waded and fished the Fox River in North Aurora. It was notable because Rybaczuk took a quality photo of it.
Something must be going on with owls in the western suburbs because at roughly the same time in late August, Peter Lamar documented an entanglement in a soccer net at Midwestern University in Downers Grove and the follow-up at Willowbrook Wildlife Center.
Lamar, a research associate at Midwestern, emailed this description.
‘‘I could see something out of my window in the soccer goal on the athletic field, but even with binoculars, I couldn’t tell exactly what it was other than a good-sized bird. I brought a towel with me but no animal-handling gloves. One of our students was already out there by the time I made the walk.
‘‘We called Willowbrook, and they said they’d take an injured owl but would not pick it up. Some of the guys from our engineering crew showed up with a truck, a barrel, welding gloves and their cojones.’’
I like that cojones part, because it is accurate. Great horned owls are big birds with a wing span of four to five feet, capable of killing things their own size or bigger.
‘‘We covered the owl’s head and cut him loose from the netting,’’ Lamar emailed. ‘‘He didn’t fly away, so we assumed he was injured and placed him in the barrel and drove to Willowbrook [in Glen Ellyn]. It sounds as if he was more exhausted than anything: he’s likely to be released soon, that’s in how good condition he is. There are no photos of the actual rescue in progress; all the photos are of him stuck in the mesh.’’
As bird rescues go, this one was relatively easy.
Lamar sent a follow-up note that the owl went to the raptor flight facility quickly and was approved for release.
All sounded good, though I had to wonder how a tuft guy felt about being all bundled up like a baby in swaddling clothes, as he was in one photo during recuperation. The poor owl must have felt emasculated.
Lamar, an avid hunter, had an interesting take on the whole experience.
‘‘I’m glad this was an owl,’’ he emailed. ‘‘They are amazing animals, even though they occasionally kill the same turkeys I like to pursue. It’s good to be able to help one of them out.’’
For Willowbrook Wildlife Center, call (630) 942-6200 or go to willowbrookwildlife.com.