Giving a Hoot

Naturalist Leigh Calvez takes a year-long journey into the life and lore of owls

By Susan Pagani

October 12, 2016

The Hidden Lives of Owls
The Hidden Lives of Owls by Leigh Calvez (Sasquatch Books, August 2016).

In The Hidden Lives of Owls (Sasquatch Books, August 2016), naturalist Leigh Calvez explores her newfound curiosity about owls—tagging along with wildlife biologists and citizen scientists for a year as they study 11 Pacific Northwest species. This illuminating journey into owl lore, habits, and biology also provides an insightful look at regional efforts to protect the bird and its habitats from human industry and climate change.

On one outing, Calvez and a team of forest service "hooters" visit one of central Washington's few remaining old-growth forests, bushwhacking through dead trees and brush to check on a pair of rare nesting spotted owls. Calvez puts a live mouse on a branch and offers it to the male owl, who delivers it to the female—a sure sign that she is sitting on eggs. "The hope for spotted owls on the eastern slopes of the Cascades rested squarely on this nest," she writes. 

When a great horned owl kills a male great gray owl, Calvez is concerned that the gray's mate and four offspring may starve. She and a citizen scientist mount a thrilling campaign to teach the mother owl to hunt. This involves a Facebook plea for live prey—which results in mice, frogs, and one unloved rooster. 

The Hidden Lives of Owls is a heartening book, full of people going to great lengths to understand and ensure the survival of a reclusive and complex bird. Though humans have contributed to the decline of the owl, we may yet become its greatest friend.