Shortly after Tony Angell and his wife moved into their first house, north of Seattle, in 1969, he heard a Western Screech-Owl singing in the nearby woods. When an intense winter storm knocked down the hemlock snag that the owl and its mate nested in, Angell quickly built a box, hauled it 20 feet up a cedar next to his bedroom window, secured it to the trunk, and waited. Within weeks, an owl claimed the shelter. Over the next 24 years, Angell figures that at least five different pairs of owls used it for nesting and occasional roosting. They fledged about 50 young.
In the opening chapter of The House of Owls, Angell recounts living in close proximity to the birds, watching them hunt, court, and raise families. Sometimes, he and his family would catch the birds looking in through a window at them.
In the remainder of the book, Angell takes the reader beyond his own backyard, writing about each of North America’s 19 owl species. Before describing the range, habitat, vocalizations, and other characteristics of each, he tells a story of his own encounters with it — nursing a Northern Saw-whet Owl back to health, accidentally stepping into a communal roost of more than 30 Short-eared Owls, and spotting a big-eyed Boreal Owl outside a woodpecker cavity.
The personal stories, as engaging and insightful as they are, are only part of what makes this book so engaging, however. Angell is an award-winning artist and sculptor and a past Master Artist at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, home of the annual Birds in Art exhibition. His numerous, wonderful drawings of owls hunting, flying, avoiding hawks, being scolded by jays, and attacking a mobbing crow, make The House of Owls a delight. We can’t stop looking.
The House of Owls, by Tony Angell, Yale University Press, 192 pages, hardcover, $30.
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