We have a tawny owl that sleeps in the dense ivy that has wrapped itself around a hawthorn tree. I only discovered its presence when I watched some jackdaws making a racket as they mobbed the tree. The tawny owl seemed barely interested in its intruders. Better still, there was a barn owl perched on the fence post as we drove home late one night. Barn owls, however, are not for the superstitious. Their calling, a blood-curdling screech, is supposed to foretell death and its presence at the time of childbirth is a curse. When Richard of Gloucester prepares to stab Henry VI in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 3, he is warned: ‘ The owl shriek’d at thy birth- an evil sign’. As Richard III, he became our most notorious king.

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But the white owl coursing a field is a sight to treasure. Few avian spectacles give me a greater thrill. Later, I began to wonder why we had owls in Harry Potter numbers living around our house and barns. The answer came when our car went for a service – rodents had chewed through some of the wires under the bonnet. The owls have come to rid us of the rats.

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