Owls are supposed to be wise old birds but one in the Ribble Valley was foolish enough to get himself stuck in a chimney – for four days!
That’s the length of time Keith and Joanne Snowden thought a tawny owl had been in the dark recesses of their 300- year-old cottage before they rescued him.
They had heard strange scratching sounds behind a ventilation grill to the disused fireplace in their bedroom. but it wasn’t for some time that they realised they had an unusual visitor.
“We thought something must be there as the noises continued, so we pulled packing out from the grill, shone a torch up the chimney – and there was this owl on a ledge, blinking and looking at us!” said Joanne, thrilled and amazed by the discovery
“We’ve been here for six years, love the animals and birds all around our area of Beacon Fell, but never had one in a chimney!
“We realised he’d been there for some time, having heard the noises, so really needed to get him out as he’d gone without food all that time. We phoned Barn Owl Bill, who said owls often got stuck in chimneys and needed food at least every one and a half days. So I was in a bit of a panic to feed him some mince and then set him free!”
But, also wanting to record the rescue amongst so many gloomy events in the world and “share it with everyone as it’s a really happy story,” Joanne asked photographer Keith to take a picture of the owl in the chimney.
He managed to inch his Go-Ro camera up the shaft...and then saw what he describes as ‘an antique sweep’s brush’ also lodged just beneath the owl.
He took the photo and then, with the camera as a lever under the old brush handle, pushed the tawny up and out of the chimney.
“Then, as I was watching, I shouted ‘Keith it’s out,’ it shook its head and flew off towards the River Loud with a magpie and crow after it!” said a relieved Joanne.
She and Keith were more than relieved this week to report that, having hoped to hear the tawny hooting the night of its release, all remained quiet that evening. But since the second night, they have heard him around the house every evening “and feel really keyed into him,” says Joanne.
“We truly believe it is him and that he comes calling, and we’re really pleased that it has all turned out this way.”
• Tawny owls are the UK’s largest common owl; the familiar ‘brown owl’ of Britain’s woodlands they are also found in parks and gardens.
Tawny owls make the familiar ‘too-wit too-woo’ call during the night and early hours but this is actually a male and female owl calling to each other - the female makes the ‘too-wit’ sound and the male answers with ‘too-woo’.
They feed on small animals like voles and mice, looking out for them from a favourite perch. Nesting usually takes place in spring in hollow trees, an old crow’s nest and they also occupy owl boxes when provided.
Tawny owls are mottled grey- or reddish-brown - with a big, round head, large, dark eyes and rounded wings. They are widespread in this country but absent from Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.