Monday, March 22, 2010

Molly the Owl is a Mom

Molly the Owl is the sometimes-quiet sensation on the internet right now. Carlos, a bird lover in southern California, built an owl box two years ago. Molly the Owl and her mate, Magee, have set up housekeeping as the first tenants. Real estate has been in a slump for a while, so I’m hoping this means recovery, even if it’s just owl real estate.

Like thousands of other folks, I’ve been following Molly’s progress since I discovered the web cam covering this little barn owl with the big fan club. Molly apparently is a first time mom, having laid six egg and consumed one that was not viable. To a thrilled audience of over 10,000 viewers at once, Molly’s first owlet hatched yesterday and we welcomed pink, bald, bobbling Max to the Owl Box. And no, no one knows if Max is actually a male owlet; he’s a "he" for now and he’s Max for now. If he turns out to be Maxine, that’s wonderful too.

Later in the evening, I watched Molly, who usually bolts her food down, nibble daintily at the rodent brought to her by Magee and offer the first little meal to still blind but now feather-fuzzy Max. Molly clucked. Max peeped a baby screech and took his first little nibble from Molly-Mom’s beak. After you get past the “ewww” factor of the dead rodent being eaten by a raptor, watching Molly follow instructions provided to her only by instinct is something just short of miraculous in our eyes. And there are still four eggs yet to be hatched.

I’ve learned a lot about owls in the few days I’ve been glued to the Owl Box. First, there are a lot of people who didn’t realize that owls poop. I’m sorry to go all Dr. Oz on you, but everybody does. Owls, however, also cough up “owl pellets,” a sort of owlish hairball that has the fur and bones that haven’t been digested initially. Molly and other mom owls take the pellet apart in the nest and make a fluffy down bedding covering the floor as a soft bed and insulation for the eggs and later owlets. Molly also munches on the bones to break them up and get calcium. Barn owls live only a couple of years and contrary to stereotyping they don’t hoot. They make a noise something like pulling the cat’s tail plus a brief auto accident plus ripping cloth. When my cat Tony heard it for the first time, he dove under the wardrobe. Things that make big noises probably eat overweight, under-clever stripy tabby cats, at least as far as Tony knows. He’s more of a finch cat than an owl cat.

A lot of the chat messages at the Owl Box broadcast focus on our perception that Molly is a good mommy. We attribute human feelings to Molly, especially the kids on the chat and the ol’ softies like me who think anything soft and fluffy must be also cuddly and sweet. As long as we don’t mix up stuffed toys with real owls, honestly I don’t see harm in this.

Watching Molly though does evoke empathy for her situation that perhaps Molly isn’t terribly aware of herself. She’s been in the Owl Box since at least February 16 when she laid the first egg. The moderators reported that she greeted that first egg with what appeared to be shock, surprise and curiosity. If we put ourselves in the Owl Box for over a month without cell phone, DVR, internet access, cable television or even a decent book, we immediately assume that Molly is bored out of her little owly skull. We look at her lovely pale heart-shaped face and her deep dark eyes and think, “Awww.” But I’m not really sure owls get bored; again that’s closer to the human experience than the owl experience. But we do see the significant changes in behavior from Molly’s being a free-wheeling owl-about-the-neighborhood to a Mommy Owl with a purpose.

Molly used to bolt her mice with gusto after Magee left from his evening visits. Now, as I mentioned, she nibbles and offers bits to baby Max. She has more reason than ever to protect her clutch of eggs and her little hatchling from the world and less reason to leave the Owl Box for stretch of the wings. Her expectations of Magee seem to have changed to more specific demands to bring the food on time and just a little extra food because there’s more than Molly to feed now. I can see her also making sure that Magee doesn’t make a misstep onto Max or one of the eggs too. With her shift in focus to the babies warmed by her fluffy reddish and grey feathers, she is, in our eyes making the same kinds of sacrifices that human mommies make for their “hatchlings.”

Owls are wonderful creatures in their own right. The barn owl’s head turns nearly all around while their eyes stay fixed and focused in binocular vision, providing excellent depth perception during prime awake hours in the night. Their flight is nearly soundless because of the shape of their feathers and wings. Their landings, if you watch the Owl Box, are not so silent, but by the time they land, they already have the mouse, vole, gopher, rabbit or rat and the need for silence has passed.

Those bright, gleaming dark eyes of the owl are actually the connection to mythology where owls are associated with Minerva (Roman) a/k/a Athena (Greek). One of the qualities of Athena is “bright eyed” and depictions of Athena often have an owl perched on her head. Because Athena is associated with wisdom, so are owls. The root of the word Athena is attributed to words meaning, “the mind of God,” and the myth about Athena is that she was born from the head of Zeus, giving him a mighty headache. Smart daughters can do that to a dad, so I’m not surprised about this. In tarot, wisdom and thought and even conflict are associated with air and the suit of swords. Athena is shown in armor, the mental qualities of logic and wisdom ever on the front lines of the best battles and arguments over ideas. So the owl’s sharp beak and talons are also the representations of the swords that can make for sharp thinking and sharp words.

If you are a beginner or more advanced student of tarot, I recommend you check out Wald and Ruth Ann Amberstone’s teleclasses on The Cards Complete. Their wonderful classes and information on their Readers Studio can be found at and at The Tarot School on Facebook.

In last week’s class, one of the cards we studied was the Three of Swords. The Three of Swords can seem a bit shockingly negative on this joyous occasion of actually capturing the nesting and hatching of a barn owl broadcast live at And, true, the Three of Swords can mean “sorrow but not destruction.” The swords of thought and conflict come to rest in the heart, a heart which is still intact in the card. With understanding, we adjust and resolve ourselves to realities, to the truth. Our ideas come to rest, like the beautiful, fluffy, ferocious raptor rests in her Owl Box, tenderly lined with the fur of rodents past. The mouse dies to feed the owl and her children. The egg that didn’t hatch was eaten. There is something sorrowful about endings and that’s the reality of it. Molly’s life will never be the same now that she’s a mother. The Three of Swords is a “Mom” card, the mom who endures pain, sorrow, boredom, insult, shocks, and sacrifice, whose love endures beyond thought and logic and conflict. Mom is the soft place to land.

So, for all of you Moms out there, whether your babies are new or grown, human or critter, born to you or adopted by choice, you know the love and pain and sorrow of the Three of Swords. And you’d do it all over again. Be ferocious, fluffy, loud, attentive, tender, proud. Be something like Molly the Owl.

For more information on Athena/Minerva, check out And, yes, the Wise Owls are going to The Readers Studio 2010!

Best wishes.

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