Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Headless In Seattle

This headless owl photo, taken on Friday the 13th, certainly seems like a fitting introduction to today's post.

Personally, I find this photo a bit more chilling. I suspect this is precisely what a rat, rabbit or squirrel sees prior to its demise. The perfectly heart-shaped opening of the mouth most likely induces feelings of paralytic fear, not love. The suddenly sightless eyes are no longer needed once the prey is in 'hand'. The reflective blue nictitating membranes slide into place and protect one of the owl's most impressive superpowers - its night vision. Its other spooky powers include eerily silent flight and superb hearing. I wonder if Barred Owls can hear our hearts beating, even when we can't.

Another of the owl's spooky skills is the ability to twist it neck and head into seemly impossible angles. Secrets of owl skeletal design are explained on The Owl Pages.

I was lucky when the owl turned around. It provided the opportunity to see what happens when an owl's head disappears.

The owl uses its exceptionally flexible neck to reach over its back and preen feathers which would otherwise be inaccessible

Like most birds, the owl grasps a feather near its base and then pulls the length of the feather through its bill. 

This cleans, straightens and returns the interlocking velcro-like feather barbs into their optimal arrangement.

The owl does the same type of preening...

 ...on its more easily accessible feathers when the head is facing forward.

Sometimes accessing the correct feather requires moving a leg out of the way.

For head feathers, the talons become the only option. It would seem wise to close the eyes during such an endeavor. It makes me wonder if owls ever accidentally blind themselves with those deadly sharp talons.

It is interesting to note how the talons can be safely stored away. All the points fold inward like predatory origami. No doubt this is what happens when owls are feeding their young in the nest.

When birds hold their feathers erect it reminds me of humans shivering and having our hairs stand on end. I suppose for birds it allows easier access for preening.

These three photos make me think Scary...


 ...and Wise. My anthropomorphising makes me wonder where the owl left its walking-stick.

The owl was sitting near a major trail in the Arboretum on a lower branch of an oak tree. I found this unusual because they normally prefer to sleep through the day on the inner branches of Western Red Cedars, or some other dense conifer. They like to be hidden among the shadows and undisturbed while they snooze through the daylight hours.

In addition, Steller's Jays were busily harvesting acorns overhead and occasionally calling out indignantly about the deadly predator sitting silently below. After a while, I finally realized that the owl was consistently looking down at the ground. At first, I thought maybe a passing squirrel or something was attracting its attention.

Finally, I noticed the swarm of flies attracted to a brown body camouflaged among the pine cones and wood chips. Given the color of the fur I suspect it was the remains of a Rabbit. Most likely, the owl had eaten what it could and then being unable to carry the weight decided to spend the day overhead. Perhaps, it was prepared to defend its kill while waiting to feel the need for a second meal.

At times the owl closed it eyes and gave the impression of being oblivious.

Other times, with its wide-eyed stare it certainly seemed aware of every creature within earshot. It was obvious that the level of awareness was not mutual. I watched as humans, dogs and even squirrels passed by without noticing the deadly...

 ...and often headless-looking predator sitting silently overhead.

Congratulations on surviving Friday the 13th. Sadly, Halloween is coming.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. I hope we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.

2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 

Is this creature, seen in the Arboretum, a native?

Scroll down for the answer.


Common Whitetail: Yes. Common Whitetails are native. The pure white tail indicates this is a male. For more information from our gifted and kind local expert, Dennis Paulson, click on the highlighted name.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional workaround is to set up my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!

My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net


  1. Superb photos Larry. Thank you so very much for the weekly eye and mind candy. I look forward to the post each week.