It’s been a tough year for barn owls. The heavy rain prevents them from flying due to their feathers becoming waterlogged, so they cannot hunt. Voles, their main prey, have also plummeted in numbers as the rain has flooded their holes.
Last night, however, I was delighted to see our resident owl ghost past in the gloaming. Better still, she had a small rodent in her claws and was heading back to the barn where she has her nest each year. I’m hopeful that at least one of her young may have survived. A barn owl coursing a field is one of the greatest sights in the countryside, but the owl has a terrible reputation in folklore.
Also known as the screech owl, it has a piercing, deathly cry. It was the owl that screamed when ‘the deed’ was done (Macbeth, Act II, Scene 2) and a ‘howlet’s wing’ formed part of the witches’ brew. Many people still believe that a barn owl calling constantly foretells death. Harry Potter has recently boosted the reputation of owls, but it’s a shame that a bird of such beauty and charm, and which does so much for farmers in terms of rodent control, has such a shameful reputation.