the owlet: pre-hatched

The owlet’s story begins before it is born.

That is true of all of us – although early existence – life – looks and I presume feels very different for us placental mammals, cocooned within our mother’s womb for months.  Did you know that the African elephant carries its baby for about 660 days (22 months – almost 2 years), and camels and giraffes also have a very long gestation period (about 400 days). The opossum, on the other hand, stays in the womb for a mere 12-13 days, but as it is a marsupial its development continues in the mother’s pouch so a better comparison is the tiny shrew who enjoys the protection of its mother’s womb and nourishment from the placenta for only 2-3 weeks.

Birds including owls are very different. They aren’t nurtured within the mother at all, but their development is no less miraculous. Bird eggs are virtually self-contained life-support systems. All that is needed for the embryonic owlet to develop is oxygen and warmth. Most eggs are egg-shaped, funnily enough, but owls eggs are somewhat of an anomoly in that they are almost spherical, like tiny globes.

Unlike mammals 0wlets are not designed to be only children.  Mammals often have single babies, whereas birds lay many eggs. In general in times of plenty the female owl will lay more eggs. She typically lays 5-6 eggs, but they are not laid all on the same day. There is usually a 2-3 day period between the laying of one egg and the next, and the owlets will hatch in the order in which they were laid (i.e. 2-3 day intervals). That means there is a clear birth order in the owlets.

What does this time of nurture mean for the owlet?
Does the order of birth affect the owlet in some way?

Owl eggs need oxygen and warmth. The egg shells are tough but porous so oxygen can flow in. It is the mother who normally takes primary responsibility for maintaining the warmth the owlet eggs need, incubating her offspring by gently resting her body on them as soon as the eggs are laid. If she is ill, severely malnourished herself or there is an acute shortage of food, she may abandon her offspring for self-survival, but in most cases she continues sitting on the nest (providing warmth and protection for eggs and newly hatched chicks) for several weeks without a break. During this time she is totally dependent on her mate to bring her food for survival.

The owlet’s story begins before it is born. Its life depends entirely on the nurture of its mother, and of its father taking up his nurturing  responsibilities. If either parent – for whatever reason – fails, the embryonic owl or the owlet chick will die and he – or she – will never live up to their potential or take their place in the parliament of owls.

Our story – yours and mine – begins before we are born.
What helps us reach our potential? What hinders us?
What has helped us? What has held us back?
The past is the past – the turning of every new year helps me remember that!  But in the same way as pre-hatched or newly hatched owlets can do nothing at first to realise their potential or even increase the odds of their own survival, there is nothing we can initially do to become the men and women we are called to be. But at some point that changes and our fight for survival begins.

The story continues …


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