The owl I frequently hear at night hooting in my Moline neighborhood stares me dead in the eye.
"It does not look very happy," certified arborist Jamie Ethridge says from an elevated bucket truck directly overlooking the owl's nest in a silver maple tree. "That's a big bird."
Ethridge relocated the owl and its nest in a hollowed-out part of the tree just a few hours earlier. My retired neighbor, Steve Rogenski, hired Rick's Tree Service in Moline to remove rotting sections of the tree that towered above a pair of power lines and his home near the Rock River shore. It would've been a routine job if it weren't for the presence of the bird in one of the targeted limbs, which was "going to fall at some point," Ethridge, 28, said.
In an effort to protect himself and the animal, he covered the owl's nesting hole with cardboard before his crew used a rope and pulley system to transfer the limb.
“I was nervous it was going to attack me," said Ethridge, who watched the owl earlier in the day fly to its nest with what he thought was a mouse.
Wildlife biologist Dave Murcia of the Wapsi River Environmental Education Center in Scott County later examined a photo of the bird and identified it as a barred owl, which are common in the area.
"The arborist was lucky," Murcia said. "If it was a great horned owl, they typically defend their nests extremely well."
Using a pair of ratchet straps, Ethridge and his helpers secured the limb to the trunk closer to the base of the tree. Our eyes met when the tree trimmer removed the cardboard barrier.
It was not clear if the owl was protecting eggs or hatchlings. Barred owls, Murcia said, lay two to four eggs between March and early April, and females incubate the eggs for about four weeks. After about four to five weeks in the nest, the young begin exploring nearby branches as their wings develop.
The owl has lived around Rogenski's property for about eight years, the homeowner said, and its owlets have fallen from the tree in previous years.
"The babies always jump out of the nest, so we put them in a laundry basket, set them in the trunk of the tree, and they climb back up again," Rogenski, 70, said.
He praised Ethridge and his guys for preserving the owl's habitat.
"They didn't have to do that, but they wanted to protect the owl," Rogenski said. "They went above and beyond."
Rick Ethridge, who founded Rick's Tree Service in 1978, said they've dealt with raccoons, hornets and other wildlife challenges in the past, but never an owl. Although this was his son's first rodeo, it didn't appear as though he lacked the proper training or experience.
"I had him (Jamie Ethridge) with a chainsaw cutting trees at 12," Rick Ethridge, 64, said. "He's been doing this all his life."
Rogenski, who can peer into the owl's nest from the entryway to his house, will monitor the scene this spring while the rest of us on his block continue listening.