A Perching-Still Bird of Wisdom
'Through the Lens', Fujingaho Magazine, July, 2019
Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado
English Translation: Asia Club, a WBSJ Volunteer Group (YOKOYAMA Kazuko, KASE Tomoko, Ueno Naohiro)
My alma mater, Girton College of the University of Cambridge, marks its 150th anniversary this year. In order to give an opening lecture at many commemorative events to celebrate it, I visited the United Kingdom this February. As the present issue of this magazine features Girton College, the UK’s first college for women, as well as my stay in UK, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you the Long-Eared Owl which I went to see on the morning following the lecture.
Having received information that there have arrived approximately 10 Long-Eared Owls in a nature reserve in the suburbs of Cambridge, I headed for the site with some ornithological researchers from BirdLife International (headquartered in Cambridge), for which I serve as the honorary president. The advance party had already found out where the owls were. On our arrival, they explained to us the situation in details, but however carefully we searched, we could find none. The birds hid themselves behind the twigs so completely that even when I found a bird, the moment I looked away to tell to others, it could drop off.
After patiently waiting with hope, we finally succeeded in spotting two individuals and taking the evidence photo shown below. The hawthorn, belonging to the Rose Family with a lot of spined twigs, provides birds with an excellent hide. You could imagine how hard it was to find them, could’t you? As the photo seems too blurred to show you how the owl looks like, I have added other photos of the long-eared owl I took in Japan.
Birds of the owl family have evolved in a unique way; for example, different from other birds, they have come to have a flat face with both eyes directed forward like humans. While their vision is narrower than that of other birds with eyes placed on both sides of the face, their binocular field of vision is larger, enabling them to measure distance more accurately. Also, the flat face functions like a parabola antenna so that they can pinpoint the place of the prey by catching the sound with their ears placed at different levels of height, This is why they can hunt in the dark by relying more on auditory than visual sense.
What is more, owls can fly silently. The surface of their plumage is densely covered with soft feathers and the edge of their remiges at the tip of the wings is structured like a soft comb. Thanks to such “special muffling devices”, owls can approach the prey silently and identify its place accurately.
Not every species of the owl hunts only during the night. The Long-Eared Owl is nocturnal, but some owls are diurnal, due to the ecology where there are other birds of prey hunting after the same animal, or depending on the types of prey they feed on. Owls are said to have become “symbol of wisdom” because of their appearance of staying silently with a human-like face and looking around. In this point I would rather consider we can learn the “wisdom” from their adaptability.
Cambridge, where I spent my days as a student, is called a city of academia; that is not a place to study, but the one to pursuit a path to the true knowledge and wisdom. It was a morning in Cambridge that I, watching the long-eared owls slumbering among the hawthorn twigs, really felt much can also be learned from owls’ way of living adapting themselves in silence.