Barred Owl by the Path
The moving shadow
It was chilly and dim when I went for my walk this afternoon. A big, indistinct shadow moved through the bare trees and landed up ahead, the way I was going.
I kept my eyes right on that spot while I walked up the hill, even though the icy path was slipping under my boots. As I got close, the sun came out for a few moments, and suddenly I was looking into the calm face of a Barred Owl.
I was close. But she stayed. Only her head moved, turning to follow me as I passed. I spoke my thanks softly to the great bird for trusting me.
I walked on up the hill, looking back over my shoulder. The cloud closed over us, and I watched the owl fade into grayed branches.
He? She? Not it!
OK, I don't actually know the gender of this bird. This bird seemed large. And among Barred Owls, like most owls, the females are larger than the males.
Because the energetic requirements of laying eggs are great, larger size is probably an advantage for females. And the smaller males may be more nimble in flight. A smaller male could be an advantage for a nesting pair, in which the male hunts for prey in order to feed the female while she incubates the eggs.
However, size is difficult to judge, and without another bird in view to compare, I can't be sure of this bird's gender. Nonetheless, I can't bring myself to say "it." I saw too much consciousness there. This owl was a sentient being. Not a thing. Not an it. We shared a gaze and took each other's measure.
So for lack of a better English pronoun, I default to her.
— Diane Porter, Fairfield, Iowa, February 12, 2022