Country mouse is captivated by a barn owl

Watching the ghost owl.

When pressed, I usually say that the wren is my favourite bird, but, in truth, I’m more captivated by a barn owl. Any sighting of an owl is an event and, now, we’re lucky to have a new resident, which hunts the fallow field for voles at dawn and dusk.

Last week, I watched it quartering the field for 10 minutes, almost missing my train to work. It floated like a white angel above the rough grassland, the slow, silent, floppy flaps of its 3½ft-wide wingspan giving the ghost owl an ethereal quality until it suddenly screeched like the Devil himself. At one stage, a red kite hovered above it with intent, but I expect it was minded to steal rather than to kill.

The barn owl was once thought to ward off storms and, as recently as the 1950s, the birds were nailed to barns by the deluded and the superstitious. Few animals have more myths attached: they’re part of the witches’ brew in Macbeth and are still used by African witch doctors. However, as Country Life has reported, the numbers of barn owls have, fortunately, bounced back in the past year and all lovers of this special bird should be grateful to the Barn Owl Trust, which does so much to conserve the owl and its environment.