Still soft and warm, one eye open but glossed over. That one eye oddly specific. The Barred Owl and the Common Barn Owl are the only native owls with dark rather than yellow eyes. My Audubon Handbook to Eastern Birds described him thus:
21″. A large owl without ear tufts; very vocal with a familiar hoot. Found in wooded swamps of the North and South, as well as in other forested areas…
Typical call a nine-noted hoot: Who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all?
Majestic talons curled lightly were still malleable and caressing brought a sense of their strength. She held him cradled in her arms as she would an infant. We stood in awe as the cold seeped through our clothes. When she began to shiver, it was as if he came alive.
“Are you sure he is dead?” I asked. She nodded sadly. I reached out and stroked his breast, felt for a flutter or twitch. He was still warm but limp.
I realized later that things like this should be reported to someone who keeps track of such minutia. Fish and Game should be notified so they can measure, weigh and document the owl. Her argument was sound. “If you died wouldn’t you just want someone to put you quietly back where you came, back in the woods where your kind would sing for you?”
We debated taking photos, having him professionally stuffed by a taxidermist. All seemed distasteful and disrespectful to such a grand creature.
We laid him carefully in the cold garage. It was too dark to do anything that night.
The next mooring he returned to the woods, the land and his kingdom.
Respectfully laid to rest.