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Al The Tolerant Owl Moves Into Ore. Home

Saws buzz and carpenters hammer nails, set up ladders and run an air generator. Al doesn't give a hoot. The brownish Western screech-owl showed up at Laura Fenimore's house as she began adding what will be her new great room.

"I thought the construction noise, the dog or the power tools would scare him off, but the next day he comes right back," said Fenimore, 50, a lawyer who works from home.

But it seems Al is handy to have around. He doesn't make a mess, he isn't noisy and he helps with rodent control.

When she moved into her house in 2000, Fenimore spent a couple of years battling mice, and hired exterminators who shooed them into burrows in her backyard.

But now the yard has been completely uprooted for the remodel.

"This is like feast time for Mr. Owl," Fenimore said. "I sure hope he stays."

The bird, which is full-grown and about eight inches high, seems well-fed as he rests with his feathers puffed among the plywood beams.

A volunteer from a Cascade Raptor Center dropped by and tried to nab Al with a net but gave up when the bird retreated into an attic.

"The owl is under the impression that he is camouflaged," said education coordinator Kit Lacy, adding that the center gets several such calls a year.

Al keeps a weather eye on Fenimore's small dog, Dottie, but doesn't move.

Workers run an air generator a few yards from his spot, set up ladders and saw boards; Al goes nowhere.

"The queerest thing about him is that he just seems to tolerate everything," said Fenimore, who first spotted the owl in late fall. "If it gets really noisy he'll take off, but he always comes back."

Owls rely on hearing when they hunt, so Lacy believes the racket is probably very amplified for the feathered hunter, but said, "It must be working for him."

The species prefers living inside a tree cavity, so a recess within Fenimore's rafters fills the bill, Lacy said.

But people typically chop down trees with holes, believing them to be rotten, so owl habitat is growing scarce, she said.

The raptor center sells wooden owl boxes that mimic a tree cavity for $45, and provides free building plans. Nesting season begins soon, she said.

Lacy said the Western screech owl is known to thrive in suburban areas. Many wind up in the center's veterinary hospital after run-ins with cats and cars.

Despite its name, the Western screech owl actually does not screech; it has a soft, pleasant call, she said. The bird feeds on mice, insects and other small animals.

But Al is facing eviction.

The great room is to be closed off with a glass wall in a week or two, giving the owl no way in or out.

Fenimore bought an owl box and hung it in a pear tree in her backyard, but Lacy said there is no guarantee the owl will take to the box.

"I hate the thought of dispossessing him," Fenimore said. "We go every morning to see if he's still there."

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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