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Home » Memories » 1946-1960 » Brian Firth, Olly The Owl – 1958 (4)

Brian Firth, Olly The Owl – 1958 (4)

Brian Firth & Olly the Owl 1958

BF5 – Brian Firth & Olly, 1958.

Title Olly the Owl
Date 1958
Location Guiseley
Written By Brian Firth
Comment Part 4 Continued….

I think it was early one Saturday or Sunday morning when the police turned up.
I know it was a weekend because I didn’t have to go to school.

The guy from the RSPCA was with him. He looked a real grumpy old fogey, must have been at least 30 years old.

The police officer looked very uncomfortable, so I knew this wasn’t going to go down well.

The RSPCA guy pulled out loads of paper work and his little pad and pen.
I remember he took me by surprise a little bit when he started talking, because he was actually very quietly spoken.

Then it started.

Where did you find the owl?
Did you take it from a nest?
Why did you bring it home?
Have you ever stolen birds eggs?
Have you ever been in trouble for interfering with wildlife?

At this point my dad asked him if all this was necessary. I had found an injured bird, brought it home and cared for it. Full stop.

The guy then said it was all routine, set questions that he had to ask.
He then asked if I had sought any advice on what to do with the owl. When we gave him details of the vet we had seen the day after finding it, and how he had suggested the diet etc,
he then explained the reason for his call.

A complaint had been made that I was keeping the owl against its will, not bringing it up as a bird of prey nor allowing that owls were nocturnal.
I explained that from day one I had never taken the owl out with any form of string or cord tied to its legs. I kept it in the box until we reached the fields so that it wouldn’t fly into gardens or onto roof tops. Once in the field it was free to do its own thing.

He was actually impressed that the owl was able to catch mice, which it had done a couple of times when we were out in the fields. He also made it clear that I did not appear to have broken any laws.

He then asked if he could check Olly out to confirm his overall condition.
However, when he went to open the aviary door Olly wouldn’t go near him. He asked me to catch him and bring him into the room so that he could check him out.

I held Olly while he felt around his chest, spread his wings and checked his eyes and nostrils.
He announced that he was very satisfied with his condition, Olly had good colour and his feathers were in great condition.

He even said it was good to see that he wouldn’t go near him as that showed he had retained the natural caution that wild birds needed to have.

I started thinking this was all good news, if he is happy with his condition I am obviously doing a good job. He now accepts that I am not keeping Olly against his will and he is free to fly off on any of our trips to the fields.

No problem.

His next statement therefore took me by surprise.

“I am satisfied that he has been well looked after and is more than capable of surviving in the wild” stunned silence “My recommendation will be that he is released in fields away from this area and left to his own devices”.

I had had Olly for almost a year now, and thoughts of releasing him into the wild had ceased to even play a part in my plans.

My mum asked if there were any other options to which he replied “No, but you don’t have to do it straightaway, anytime within the next week will be fine”.

We should have really questioned the ruling, if I was not breaking the law and Olly was in good condition, why should I have to release him.

However, in those days you didn’t seem to question the authorities, you just did as instructed.

So, we agreed we would release him the following weekend, and what a hard week that was.

Brian Firth & Olly the Owl 1958

BF6 – Brian Firth & Olly, 1958.

I now have 1 week left with Olly the owl.

My friends on the estate couldn`t believe that one of our neighbours had reported me.
Some of their parents even said they were going to ask around and see who had done it.
We never did find out.

During that week I took every opportunity to take Olly into the fields. I was half hoping that he would fly off and take up residence in Diepker Woods which was at the far side of the fields where we went. At least then I might see him occasionally. But he didn’t, he was quite happy flying back to me.

My mum allowed me to have the Thursday and Friday off school so that I could spend some time with Olly. Can you imagine doing that these days, as I didn’t stay in the house, I was out and about in the fields.

Then it was Saturday, the day to set Olly free. We had decided on Cragg Wood at Rawdon.
We pulled up along side a field that was bordered with trees and shrubbery. My mum and dad waited at the fence while I walked into the field with him. The first time he flew off he had no sooner landed in a tree than he was flying back to me. The second time he went a bit farther and perched quite high up in the branches. My mum called me over to the car and said we should leave. I couldn’t see him from where we were parked so never actually said goodbye to him. Both my mum and myself cried all the way home.

I think I probably cried throughout the night as well.

I stayed in all day Sunday and moped around, still very upset.
Monday morning came and I was still upset. I started telling my mum and dad that I wasn`t really sure that Olly could actually fend for himself. I was told he would be fine, stop worrying.

I came home from school that evening, still worrying, so my mum and dad agreed to take me down to Cragg Wood and see for myself that he had flown off and would be fine.
My sister Eileen tagged along as well. We parked up in the same spot and Eileen and myself walked into the field and looked up into the trees. Olly was perched in exactly the same spot
that we had left him. I shouted over to tell my mum and dad and as soon as he heard me shouting he flew straight down onto my arm. I wasn`t taking no for an answer, he was going home with us. To be fair, no one tried to stop me.

OK, so I have turned this wild ‘bird of prey’ into a pampered pet owl. Hey Ho.

The next day my dad went down to Guiseley Police Station and explained the situation to the officer who had called. The officer offered to tell the neighbour involved and ask if they would drop the matter. We assume he didn`t inform the RSPCA because we never heard anything again.

I kept Olly for about 2 ½ years after that.

During that time we had a few little hiccups, but nothing serious.

There was one time that Olly flew back to me from the trees, but instead of landing on my arm he landed on Kells back (the dog), and Kell took off like a rocket. No serious injuries,
Olly just fluttered to the floor and I had to rub Kells back for a while.
We had realized a long time ago that whilst Olly was quite relaxed around Kell, if there were any other dogs around he wouldn’t go near them. I honestly think if another dog had attacked Olly, Kell would have chased it off.

On another occasion I was in the fields on my own with Olly when 3 lads approached me.
I thought they were just showing an interest in him like everyone else had done.
They stayed with me for about 20 minutes, watching Olly fly off and return to me.
Then, they started saying they were going to take the owl home with them.
It couldn’t belong to me because it was a wild bird.
Just when I thought I was in trouble a local lad walking back from Diepker Woods came over and asked what was going on.
His name was Jim Slater, a bit older than me, and a big lad. He didn`t mess around, he started pushing the lads away and threatened to punch them if they tried it again.

I didn’t see Jim to talk to again for quite a while after that, but then we became good friends in our late teens, hanging around with the same crowd. He still remembered the little skirmish.

During the last couple of years with Olly I was asked a number of times by teachers at school if I could bring him in one day. The local newspapers asked if they could do a story on him.
We declined them all as we didn’t want to bring Olly into the public eye again just in case we had another visit from the RSPCA.
However, there was a knock on our door one day and it was Miss Hargreaves and Mr Binns (teachers from school). They had been visiting parents on the estate and asked if they could take the opportunity of seeing Olly. They wanted to see him flying and so we went out in the field for about half an hour and they were very intrigued.

Looking back, if we had not been wary of creating too much publicity, Olly would have probably been quite famous, as I didn’t know of anyone around here that had kept an owl in captivity for that long.

Then, one day, the Olly era came to a sudden and unexpected end.”

To be continued………

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Consolidated by Jack Brayshaw. 23 August 2022.
Last updated: 23 August 2022.

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