Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/156

This page has been validated.

"Who!—who!—who-o-o-oo are you?" How that boy's heart did beat, and how he ran, almost flew, cannot be told. It was still a long way from home, but this was gained at last. He rushed into the house (the folks were up-stairs), and, without reporting to them, he immediately threw himself face downward upon the lounge, and sobbed his fright away, as little people often sensibly do. And now, if better late than never, let it be honestly confessed: that boy for years entertained a very owlish creed, built upon his own experience. He believed in a peculiar graveyard Strix. In fine, it may as well come out—he was a spiritualist, in the strictest, spookiest sense.

The owls are intensely carnivorous. The diminutive ones will feed largely upon insects, and some of the large kinds will eat them occasionally. But Nature has made them for prowlers, and as such we find them fond of flesh, fowl, and fish. So immense is their destruction of the smaller rodents, that they are worth millions to the agriculture of our country. They are the feathered Nimrods of the night. Even the American hare, the rabbit wrongly called, falls an easy victim. Some of the owls can fish, too. But whether hunting, fowling, or fishing, they lack the style of doing it which belongs to the falcon tribe; and when out bugging it is but a bungling business

PSM V11 D156 American barn owl.jpg
Fig. 2.—American Barn-Owl (Strix flammea, Var. Americana).

compared with the professional rôle of the insectivorous birds. Their angling, too, is simply upon quiet waters. They cannot brave "the mutinous winds 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault." In common with all the Raptores they catch their prey with the talons, not with the beak. In eating birds the owl prefers to tear his prey in piecemeal, but a small rodent is swallowed entire, being usually tossed into the air to adjust its position, so that it may fall head first into the bird's mouth. It disappears in one astonishing gulp. A second gulp is usually needed, as the tail is often after the first left hanging