We have more toads than frogs. I was just barely able to bring myself to bring one to Owl, who captured and seized it up: he did not simply drop it, he whirled his head and threw it away unharmed. And then stalked indignantly upright along behind it, as if to memorize forever the pattern of anything that could taste so bad.
Most birds reportedly have poor senses of smell and taste. In comparison Owl is something of a gourmet, which must seem like an outlandish claim in the light of the fact that Owl stole Grant's lucky rabbit's foot and ate it—fur, skin, nails, right down to the metal clip and one last nub of bone. He may lack the dewlaps and pouting lips of the gourmet, his attention may blaze too strongly out at things, but he does have considerable tongue, sensitive bristles by the beak to help with texture and prominent nostrils. See, he is sampling some raw liver: he stares glumly into the middle distance awhile without moving, then lets it drop: pork instead of beef. (Cat, dog, fish, turtle—all seem to share this faint prejudice against pork liver. Any healthy appetite will overcome it, nonetheless it is there.) Even hungry, Owl is slow to eat the red earthworm; usually stops at one or two. Robin food. The great gray nightcrawler, tougher, more vigorous, he grapples zestfully with, taking as many as he is likely to get. Maybe he likes to see himself as eagle killing serpent. Come down from such pretension, Owl, remember we've seen you in Jason's bowl probing around for raw meat bits among the pellets and taking pellets if necessary.
The gourmet is discriminating in his tastes but some of the things he enjoys may go against the public taste. Among the moths that come to the outside lights is a series of fluffy, unalert, slow-moving creatures, big of body, small of wing, decorated in white, black and orange in widely varying proportions. They have in common a smell something between marigold and geranium. Of all the eager insect-eaters which generally tenant the house—large tropical fish, turtles, transient reptiles, the ducklings—only Owl eats and seems to like them. (In listing the insect-eaters, I am tempted to add my daughter's name. Lia, at age 3, ate the nourishing part of a large butterfly that had been netted by a lepidopterist friend of mine, while he was out getting more. She can no longer be considered insectivorous, however.)
Attitudes Toward One Single Owl
Generally speaking, everyone who visits wants to see Owl, some visit and bring their children in order to see Owl, everyone who knows us knows of Owl.
But in particular. Two women are afraid of Owl, not directly, but in an edgy, phobic kind of way. One man is less than fond of Owl, "I'm afraid I identify with the mouse." Another woman dislikes all or most birds because they are "dirty and smelly." A second man, standing on the lawn, acknowledged having heard of Owl but was not curious, "I've seen owls before." Another sat with his drink while Owl, in some obscure but high excitement, winged around the room, tugged at laundry, dragged irrelevant objects along a desk—all the while the man never glancing at him until Owl made for his drink, at which the man gave a jump, one hand protectively over the glass.
Traveling with Owl, we find at the stops that a number of people will peer into a bird cage. Instead of finding the expected canary, they meet that blast of a glare right back at them and they react one way or another. I am bothered, even peeved, at the occasional refusal to react, the blank, the flat incurious eyes. They don't realize they are looking at an owl. Or Owl.
In time I was able to compile a list of questions, common and rare, asked about Owl:
Q. What do you feed him?
A. See preceding pages, in detail.