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Ecologist shares what he realized as he bonded with screech owl — Harvard Gazette

It took an ailing screech owl to show a scientist the worth of up-close-and-personal research.

In a chat Monday on the Science Heart, Carl Safina, an ecologist at Stony Brook College and writer of a number of books about humanity’s relationship with nature, recalled that the chick was discovered on a buddy’s garden because the pandemic was tightening its grip on the world. Within the image Safina acquired, the hen regarded past saving.

“How did it die?” he requested.

“It was only a downy little, dying factor,” Safina, whose most up-to-date guide is “Alfie and Me: What Owls Know, What People Consider,” mentioned in his Harvard discuss, which was sponsored by the FAS Division of Science, Harvard Library, and the Harvard E-book Retailer and included questions from Clemson College ecologist Joseph Drew Lanham.

Safina and his spouse, Patricia, took within the little hen of prey. They deliberate to nurse it again to well being after which carry out a “smooth launch,” wherein the animal is ready free however stays close by, supported with meals whereas it learns the ropes of untamed hen life.

However the owlet’s flight feathers didn’t develop in correctly, leaving it grounded for months after it ought to have fledged. Safina delayed the discharge additional to make sure the hen would correctly molt — vital to resume feathers that hold birds heat and allow flight. Over these prolonged months, Safina obtained to know Alfie in ways in which moved and altered him and his spouse.

“An owl discovered me after which I used to be watching ‘an’ owl,” he mentioned. “It was now not an owl after some time, it was ‘she,’ as a result of she had a historical past with us. … This little owl, who was with us for much longer than we thought she can be, grew to become a person to us by that historical past and all these interactions.”

The bond with Alfie strengthened to the purpose that, when she was lastly launched, she created a territory with Safina’s Lengthy Island house at its middle. Safina was capable of spend hours every day observing her within the woods as she realized to maintain herself within the wild, meet two mates, and lift chicks of her personal.

When he heard Alfie calling, Safina mentioned, he’d name again and she or he’d land close by. Their closeness allowed him to be taught extra issues about screech owls than is usually recognized. Area guides, for instance, describe two recognized calls however he recognized six, a few of which you must be fairly shut to listen to. The connection additionally opened a window for Safina onto persona variations between Alfie and her mates.

Lanham identified that Safina’s strategy to Alfie — together with the act of naming her — ran counter to widespread scientific observe. Safina mentioned he wasn’t involved about violating conference, significantly if one thing attention-grabbing like particular person persona variations amongst owls may very well be realized.

“I’m focused on understanding what actually exists, which is the essential objective of science,” Safina mentioned, including that area analysis has documented persona variations amongst people of species from chimpanzees to elephants to wolves. “Each time they search for it, they discover it.”

In the long run, the expertise brought about Safina to ponder extra deeply the variations between humankind’s relationship with nature writ giant versus the type of private connection he was capable of really feel with a wild particular person.

“What I realized from Alfie is that every one sentient beings search a sense of well-being and freedom of motion,” Safina mentioned. “That’s a information to what’s proper and what’s unsuitable to me.”



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