Barn Owls, Dorset, UK

Today, a pair of speckled barn owls, moonish and white inside their nestbox on a preserve in Dorset. Their faces are long affairs, flat, drawn out masks with slits for eyes and beak embedded in feathers, no chance of projecting expression onto them. For awhile, they sit motionless atop a midden of pellets and bones—the footage is in black and white, and there are only piles of pale angles and  darker splotches of what must be the fur of many rodents matted with spittle and digestive juices—the only sound that of unseen human families walking the trails outside, a child, a disobedient dog being called back which the owls give no sign of hearing. Eventually, one of the pair starts a repetitive screeching sound, a rasping caterwaul repeated every few seconds, that goes on and on until the second rouses. This owl mounts the first—the ‘female’, I suppose I should call her, although I hate to do it because what evidence is there really; but then, the birds don’t care what I call them and all prevaricating is for my benefit alone. He grips her feathered back with talons and pumps away, there’s no other way to put it, owl sex has a rhtyhm too, apparently. The noise increases. He lets out a high-pitched scream that in no way compliments her caterwauling, which continues louder, the whole thing lasting 30 seconds or less. He dismounts and her tail twitches three times. He scratches his ear. She stretches a wing. They return to their one-legged postures—I see now that they don’t sit but stay balanced on one leg, leaning lightly against the body of the other for support, and all returns to how it was. I read in an FAQ below that this ritual is repeated multiple times a day in the season, presumably whether it’s needed or not. From this point on her rasping screech never stops. I wonder if they can hear it, the people who walk the grounds around the box; I suspect not, as its walls look solidly wooden, thick enough to full the sounds of sex and death inside. It’s easy to see how myth and awe cling to these birds like static as they take the familiar rites of people and strip them of all emotion until what’s left is a raw pellet of sound and feathered fucking, and a few bones.