Chris Crossing York: Owl be darned ... eagles aren't York's only birds of prey


Remember that time the Codorus State Park eagle-cam dad was missing and everyone got upset, and then the mother left and the egg was sitting there alone in the bitter cold?

Doesn't that make better water-cooler talk than Kim Kardashian's posterior?

It's heartening to see how many people watch and learn about the fascinating birds of prey, an addiction that's infinitely better than much of what reality TV offers — even if those pterodactyl-looking babies have entered the ugly-eaglet stage of life.

With all due respect to our national emblem, they're flopping around with those big, rubbery yellow feet like the bird version of an adolescent before the braces are removed and the rest of the face grows to fit the nose.

They'll grow into beautiful birds, but for those who can't wait, York County has some cuter, furrier birds that are just as enchanting as the stars of York County's avian rendition of "The Truman Show."

Their dad is Orville.

Orville Who?


Cuckoo for who: A great horned owl named Orville the Urban Owl is nowhere near as famous as the eagles, but he has captured the hearts of upward-gazing neighbors in The Avenues near York City's Farquhar Park.

I won't tell you exactly where, because the eagle cam has proved both the good and the bad about being the subject of human fascination.

Bald eagles weren't removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species until 2007. Humans remain on the "Least Concern" list and, given my daily experience with motorists, I concur.

So I'll just say that Orville is close enough that Heather Klinefelter can see and hear him and his offspring from her house on Lincoln Street. She has a whole system of screechy/kissy noises she makes to signal him. And you thought your neighbors were interesting.

The day she took me and photographer Bill Kalina out to the deck, we could see the fuzzy white babies in the nest, but the owls are nocturnal and they refused to turn to face us despite a series of screechy-smooches that definitely would've gotten my attention.

After we left, she got an awesome shot.

This camera-shy behavior might've been what cost these owls their own TV show, because they're definitely more conventionally attractive than those eagles. (If I'm deported for saying that, this column has been fun, and please mail Martin's Potato Chips and King Syrup to wherever they send me.)

Lord of Lincoln: Klinefelter has constructed entire personalities for these birds, and she imagines Orville as "some East European dictator guy" who considers the neighborhood people his "minions who look after his offspring."

She thinks he speaks with "an indeterminate Eastern European accent," though he was apparently born and raised in York City.

Klinefelter even started a Facebook page for him as Orville the Urban Owl.

She and her husband first discovered Orville in Farquhar Park a couple years ago; they watched him fall from three different trees and thought Orville an apropos name, given his folly in flight experimentation.

The couple was right to leave the owl alone, and not just because owls are pretty scrappy even when they're young.

Local raptor rehabilitator Mitzi Eaton told me that people find owls on the ground a lot this time of year, because they move from their nests before they can fly. The time on the ground is an important step in their development of flight, and it can't be skipped.

The owl parents support the babies on the ground, and they're better parents to owls than people are, she said.

Price of fame: Residents around the park watched Orville grow into a beautiful bird, and Klinefelter is hoping there's some way to work around the need for night-vision and get him his own owl-cam.

"Everyone knows owls are better than eagles anyway," she joked, playfully disparaging the Codorus eagles' hunting skills and accusing the eaglets of "crying like seagulls."

So I called the only person I could think of who might act as this owl's agent or advocate, should said owl be disenfranchised or barred from equal opportunity: his state representative.

Kevin Schreiber just so happens to be a Philadelphia Eagles fan, a plight he conceded has resulted in much disappointment and absence of hope.

He tuned in to the eagle cam recently to show his niece, and the scene was so perfect that he sensed something might be a little phony in the nest.

"It was one eagle and two babies, two dead fish laid out," he said. "It looked like product placement."

There were indicators that the eagles have indulged too heavily in the television-star lifestyle. For example, they weren't actually eating any of the fish, whether that be finicky behavior or a fear of weight-gain.

"Success tends to inflate the ego a little bit," Schreiber said. "And those look like French talons, where they just do the tips."

Schreiber said he plans to visit the owls soon to share "property tax and nest reform" pamphlets and pitch a late-night show ala "Insomniac Theater."

"One thing my career in public service has taught me is that there's an audience for everything," he said.

Schreiber suggested the matter be settled with an open-invitation competition between all of the York County birds of prey.

"It would be interesting to see who has the more powerful talons ... a talon show, if you will."

But as it turns out, that's, um, probably not a good idea.

Pecking order: Eaton, the local raptor rehabilitator, said an eagle can exert 2,500 pounds of pressure per square inch per talon tip, and they've got four. Horned owls can exert only about 1,000 pounds of pressure.

I regretfully searched YouTube for a showdown between an eagle and a horned owl — so you don't have to. Let's just say the eagle won handily.

So what can owls do that eagles can't?

"Great horned owls are the only natural controller of skunks, because they have no sense of smell, so they don't care if they get sprayed," Eaton said excitedly.

They also can override involuntary blinking.

"They can wink," she said. "And when they do that, it's pretty comical ... because you have eyelids going up and down but they're not in sync."

Well, I've seen worse on TV.

Christina Kauffman writes Chris Crossing York, an occasional column, and is the project coach at The York Dispatch. Reach her at, @shewrites itdown on Twitter, or 505-5436.