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 20167, 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.
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 means 2017 will be boys again. I have a 50% chance of being right!
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. Sometimes I could tell because of the things they did: the owl who showed up at sunset all winter and called was Ecks, and the owl who flew out of the nest and joined him was Henrietta. Sometimes I see them do… adult activities, let’s say, so it’s obvious then too. And then once the eggs hatched, one of them sat about five feet away from the nest 24/7 (Henrietta) and one of them came and went and brought food more (Ecks).
I’m probably crazy, but I thought I could tell Ecks and Henrietta apart by vibe, too. One of the owls would look at me soberly and not even move. The other owl was super-skittish and would pop up out of the tree and fly away when I came out of the house — even if during fledging he didn’t go far. I’m assuming this was less because of their innate personalities and more because Henrietta literally sat three feet from my back door for a quarter of the year, so she was pretty familiar with my boring routine.
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.