Thursday, January 25, 2024

Of Owls and Skunks



       Great horned owls are one of the deadliest Ozark predators because they hunt at night with special wing feathers that keep the sound of their wings completely silent.  For some reason they obviously have a sense of smell that is nonexistent in most winged predators, which allows the owl not to be affected by skunk scent.  Since that spray burns the eyes of men and dogs, many wonder why it doesn’t seem to affect owl eyes.


         In the 1930’s and early 40’s, my grandfather’s chickens were often killed by great horned owls. Since the chickens were important to his family, he would cut the top out of two or three cedars nearby and set traps on the bare wood of the trimmed top.  He would put a squirrel or wood rat on the trap, and run a wire up to it.  Owls who fell to that trap would be on the ground at daybreak, held by the trap and wire.  For many years he and other farmers and trappers would get a fifty-cent bounty for each pair of owl feet they brought in.  Very often, those owls would smell like skunks!



A black skunk caught on game cam in Georgia

        In the ‘30’s, the pelts of skunks that my grandfather’s sons (my dad and uncles) caught in deadfalls brought a dollar or two at St. Louis fur houses.  But when they came across a ‘star-black’, which was a totally black skunk except for a small white patch on the forehead, the pelt was worth about twice as much.  So my grandfather tried using shoe polish on the white backs of ordinary skunks to make them more valuable.  Fur house buyers saw right through that, and had a good laugh the first time he tried it.


         Skunks are easy prey for the owls because they are not a very smart animal and are an easy target.  They hunt by scent and can’t see very well.  I had a pet great horned owl when I was a kid and they aren’t all that intelligent either.  I have written many articles about my experience with him.  No bird of prey makes a good pet… except crows.

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