Feisty the owl

Have you ever heard of an owl who walked and didn't fly? An owl who could teach children and raise money for charity? There really was such an owl, and his name was Feisty.

My young friend Brian met Feisty at the Deerfield Fair in New Hampshire one October day. Brian was walking around the food stalls sniffing their delicious smells of fried dough and lemonade, donuts and popcorn. Then he saw a stall with a sign: SAVE THE ANIMALS.

Perched on the outside of a cage was an owl. He wasn't tied to the cage, he just sat there looking around at the people who were looking at him. Beside him there was a glass jar with dimes and quarters and nickels, and on it was a sign GIVE FOR ANIMAL RESCUE.

Brian couldn't understand why the owl didn't try to fly away. There was a tall woman standing beside the cage, talking to the owl softly. Brian asked her, ''Why doesn't he fly away?'' She smiled at Brian and shook her head. ''He can't fly. When Feisty was very young he was shot down by a hunter. Someone found him and brought him to me because I have an official permit to help wild creatures. But we couldn't get Feisty's wing mended, so he can't fly.''

Brian looked at the small owl sitting on top of his cage and felt suddenly sad. How much that bird must want to soar up in the sky. The woman seemed to sense Brian's sympathy for the owl.

''My name's Mrs. O'Brien, and Feisty lives with me and my family. Would you like to see our place? It's full of animals.''

Brian jumped at the invitation, and with his parents' permission he bicycled over to Mrs. O'Brien's the next day. There certainly were a lot of animals. Some of the biggest dogs he'd ever seen came racing out to stop his bicycle until Mrs. O'Brien came out and called to them. There were cats everywhere, in and out of the house and barn.

Mrs. O'Brien showed him the horse barn where Feisty lived. Brian was surprised that a small owl wouldn't be afraid of all the big dogs and horses. Mrs. O'Brien laughed. ''That's why he's called Feisty. He'll never back down before anyone. The dogs figure he's king of the roost, and the cats love him.''

She put on a heavy leather glove and took Feisty out of his cage. ''His claws are sharp, and he doesn't know when he's hurting someone so I always wear a glove. Here, you take this other glove, and I'll put him on your arm.''

At first Brian felt funny about letting the owl dig his claws into his gloved hand. But the owl seemed right at home. He spread his good wing a little and started to move up Brian's arm, along the jacket sleeve until he was sitting right on his shoulder. Brian could feel the soft feathers fluttering against his ear. He'd never felt anything so soft.

''He's not a bit afraid of me, is he?'' asked Brian.

''No, Feisty seems to not be afraid of anything. That's why we have to protect him. He can't fly away from danger so we keep him in a cage in the barn. We watch him when he's let out.''

''Does he only get out when there's a fair, and you need to raise money for your lost animals?''

Mrs. O'Brien carefully put Feisty back into his cage. ''No, he goes with me into the classrooms, and he teaches the children.''

Brian couldn't help but laugh, ''An owl can't teach!''

Mrs. O'Brien smiled, ''Oh, but this one can. We show the children Feisty's broken wing and tell them the hunter who did it broke the law that says no owl in the whole United States can legally be shot at.''

''Who protects the owls?''

''The conservation officers can arrest and fine anyone who's caught shooting an owl. These birds are needed. They control pests by hunting and eating them.''

Brian looked at the little marsh owl. ''What kind of pests would Feisty hunt if he could?''

''Mice mostly. Now that he can't catch them for himself, my barn cats do if for him.''

''You're kidding!''

Mrs. O'Brien grinned. ''The cats bring the mice to me and I give them to Feisty. He needs the roughage of mice bones in his diet. The hamburger I feed him isn't enough.''

Brian learned a lot about owls in the next few weeks. He kept coming back to the O'Brien barn and got used to having the little marsh owl perch on his shoulder. Most owls sleep by day but Feisty never seemed to. Mrs. O'Brien explained, ''Marsh owls aren't strictly nocturnal like other owls. They hunt all times, night or day.''

Brian watched the barn cats turn somersaults in front of Feisty to get his attention. And the big Newfoundland dogs lay down in front of him and stared. Feisty sat on his bale of hay like a king before his subjects.

One day when Brian came to the barn he saw Mrs. O'Brien and her family hurrying about looking upset. She called to him. ''Feisty's gone somewhere. We forgot to lock his cage, and he just went!''

''But he can't fly,'' protested Brian. ''He can't go far, can he?''

''It's been two whole hours. What if some big animal saw him? He couldn't escape!''

'I'll help you look. Maybe he's hiding under a bush somewhere.'' They all spread out in different directions calling Feisty's name. Their voices began to get more and more anxious, and Brian wondered if they'd find the owl alive.

He straightened up to stretch his back and looked down the dusty road that led through the woods. Something was moving way down the road. It looked like a little wound-up toy waddling down the road toward him. Brian blinked. He walked forward and blinked some more. It was Feisty! The owl was calmly taking a walk like any person. Brian hurried forward.

He laughed out of sheer relief. ''Good grief, Feisty, don't you think you could have let someone go walking with you?''

He bent down and lifted the owl up to his shoulder. The two of them walked down the road to the barn. The whole O'Brien family shouted when they saw Brian with Feisty perched on his shoulder, and Mrs. O'Brien nearly cried.

''I guess he just wanted to take a walk and be by himself,'' Brian said. ''Maybe the barn's a bit crowded for him.'' But Feisty said nothing. He just looked around at them all and blinked his big eyes. Where he'd been or what he'd done, he wasn't telling anyone.

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