Take a magnifying glass and look at this picture closely—Who-Who distrusted and disliked Buff and Duff—in the picture he is looking at them—notice the open beak and spread talons. I don’t know why he disliked them, for they only showed a mild curiosity about him, as they were used to chickens, turkeys, guineas, etc.
The first time I saw Who-Who I had gone out in the yard to check my newly planted cacti bed. The ranch house was in a big grove of Live Oak trees—they are evergreen oaks.
I heard a strange sound in the tree above me. Looking up I saw a pair of big yellow eyes watching me. It was a fully grown Great Horned Owl, which appeared to be a young one, judging from the coloring and freshness of the feathers.
I knew it had made the low sound I’d heard because of its slightly open beak and quivering throat. It mad no other sound, just turned it’s head as I moved about and watched me. It was still there when I went back inside the house and I didn’t expect to see it again.
But next day when I was in the yard again, it was in anothertree, but made no sound—just watched me. I was busy in the house for a few days and when I did go back outside to look after the flower beds, it was in one of the trees, when it saw me it made a low, soft “who-who” sound, so I named it “Who-Who.” When I said “Who-Who” back to it—as nearly like it’s own voice as I could manage, it made no other sound, just watch me. I went to the other side of the yard and there was a “whoosh” of its wings as it flew to another tree on that side of the yard. As I moved around the yard working in the flower beds, it followed, flying from tree to tree.
Great Horned Owls prey on chickens at night, and can easily carry off a large, grown chicken in it’s powerful talons. But the ranch chickens were always locked in the screened chicken house at night to protect them from coyotes, skunks, bobcats, etc. Horned Owls can weigh 15 lbs.
I thought Who-Who might be hungry, so next day I took some fresh meat and put it on top of a fence post near his favorite tree, and went back inside the house to watch. In a few minutes he flew down to the post top and picked up a piece of meat in his talons and carried it back to the tree to eat it. Shortly he made another trip to the post for the other piece of meat.
I fed him this way for several days, and one day when I put his food on the post, I called “who-who” and there was a low answering “who-who” from his tree. After that he would sometimes answer me when I called him, but not always.
There were lots of mocking birds around the ranch house and I guess one of them got curious about all the “who-whoing” going on and would sometimes add his own version but he couldn’t match the soft “who-who” of the owl.
After he got used to coming to the post for food, I didn’t go back into the house but walked a short distance away and stood still. At first he hesitated to come for his food, but hunger soon won and he came to the post and picked it up. One day he didn’t fly back to his tree, but remained on the post to eat.
I shortened the distance each day by a step or two when I walked away after placing his food on the post. He didn’t seem to notice. Soon I was standing within arms length, then one day I didn’t put the food on the post, but held it in my hand. He flew down to the post, but didn’t seem to know what to do. He didn’t seem to know how to reach for it with his beak, but would lift first one foot then the other. So I laid the meat near his feet on the post. He instantly put one foot on it and held it down while he tore bits off with his beak. That seemed to be the only way he could eat. So next day I found a round branch that would fit his feet, laid one end on the top of the post and held the other end in my hand. I placed the meat on the stick about six inches from my hand. He flew down to the post and walked sideways out onto the stick, picked up the meat in one talon and sort of hopped back to the post top and ate it.
One morning he was waiting on the post for his food. I put his food down and while he was eating, I reached out my hand and touched him for the first time. He acted startled and started to spread his wings as if he was going to fly, but when I withdrew my hand, he folded his wings and finished eating.
Each day after that I would put his food on the post and as he ate I’d reach out and touch him. At first he would shrink away, but soon paid no attention and didn’t seem to mind.
I wondered if he would let me pick him up, but didn’t know how to hold him. I knew those sharp talons could pierce my arm to the bone, if he only perched on my arm. Great Horned Owls are large and heavy birds.
He seemed to be quite time but I didn’t know what he would do if I tried to pick him up. But one day I took my courage in hand and picked him up by his wings. He started flapping his wings wildly, so I quickly set him down on the ground—he promptly flew back to his tree.
Next day I tried it again—there was less flapping of wings and this time he flew back to the top of the post where he sat looking at me—turning his head in an almost complete circle.
I kept picking him up by the wings each day, and lifting him down to the ground. He seemed to like it, and one day he surprised me by spreading his wings so I could grasp them. Soon he would allow me to carry him around the yard by his wings, as you can see in the pictures.
He would never allow anyone else to touch him. And any time the dogs came near him he was instantly ready to do battle, opening his beak wide and spreading his talons ready to attack.
After we went to Laredo, the Milams said he stayed around for a while, but would have nothing to do with anyone, and after a while he disappeared. They said they hear his soft “who-who” several times before he left.