X the Owl
Henrietta Pussycat

What’s with the names?

I’ll admit that I am guilty of the tendency to assume animals are male by default, so when an owl started hanging around in my yard, I knew I had to name him after the most awesome owl ever, X the Owl from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I decided to spell it Ecks because it seemed more distinguished!

When it became clear that there were two owls, it was equally as obvious that we had to name Ecks’s ladyfriend Henrietta, after X the Owl’s neighbor. And then when Ecks and Henrietta produced an owlet in 2015, we all agreed that Mr. Rogers would want us to name it Trolley. In 2016, the two chicks were named after Handyman Negri and mailperson Mr. McFeely.

In 2017, Henrietta laid two eggs, but then decided they weren’t viable. From 2018 to 2020 there were no owls in the nest. Then, on Inauguration Day 2021, a beautiful new pair of birds arrived. In keeping with the zeitgeist, a friend named them Daphne and Simon, after the pretty protagonists of Netflix’s period romance.

Simon & Daphne

How do you know the babies are boys/girls?

I absolutely don’t. We called the first chick (Trolley, 2015) a boy, so I arbitrarily decided to call both the chicks of the next year girls. That meant 2017 was be boys again. I have a 50% chance of being right every year!

Mr. McFeely
Handyman Negri

Can you tell them apart?

I cannot tell the babies apart at all. Because I like narratives, I like to assign them identities. In 2016, there always seemed to be one chick who was more engaged and outgoing than the other. I called that one McFeely and the more timid one Negri. But it’s more than possible that the one I was calling McFeely on any given day had been Negri the day before! There’s absolutely no way to tell.

With the adults, it’s a little different. We can tell them apart when they’re sitting next to each other (Daphne is larger, and Simon’s chest is a slightly lighter color). SOMETIMES I can tell them apart by their forehead markings (Daphne’s is more like a dot and Simon’s is more like a line) — but only if they’ve brushed their hair that day. PROBABLY I can tell them apart because they each have a favorite branch for guard duty, so if I see somone on Simon’s branch it’s probably Simon, and vice versa. DEFINITELY I can tell them apart when they hoot (Simon is brusque and rhythmic, and Daphne has a trill) or when they do certain behaviors (copulation [duh], nesting, guarding the nest, bringing food to the owl who’s in the nest, etc.).

What’s with the hard hat?

It was 2am on a nice cold March morning when I went to call in the dogs after a late-night tinkle break and suddenly an owl smacked me upside the back of the head. It hurt. There was a lot of blood. I could practically hear him laughing. We all decided it was better to be safe than sorry, so all the neighbors equipped themselves appropriately.

Then in 2023 Shaggy fell, and neither parent seemed to be around. We waited, as you should do when an owlet falls — and they don’t really fall, they glide peacefully to the ground and then seem shocked. Shaggy started runnning toward the road and got tangled in some vines. So we decided to help him, and because I’m not stupid, I put on the hard hat. We got Shaggy back into a tree and just as we released him Daphne returned and decided to remove my head from my torso. And that is how I can testify that the hard hat works! Being hit at 30mph HURTS even if you’re wearing a hard hat, but nothing was punctured and there was no blood. Also the hat is undamaged.