Incredible Okçular!

Mister Bird

Little Owl
Little Owl checking out the goings-on in the spare bedroom

My fellow villagers are a funny old lot – farmers almost to a man (or woman) and mostly country born and bred. Even so, when I ask them what that is – indicating a dragonfly or cricket – ‘Böcek!’ they exclaim. And that? (a beetle) ‘Böcek!’

It’s the same with birds – what do you call that? (jay) ‘Kuş!’ And that? (robin) ‘Kuş!’ There are few exceptions and this continues to astound me, even after 15 years.

When I was a kid growing up in the countryside we bumpkins knew the names of every reptile, insect and bird species whose eggs we plundered for our collections (do be forgiving, nobody had heard of environmentalism back then; this was how it was!). Many of the creatures were known by their local name – it was years before I realised that a ‘Throssle’ was a Song Thrush. Here in Okçular there doesn’t seem to be the same interest, a böcek is a böcek and a kuş is a kuş – what else do you need to know?

Mind you, there is one particular exception, ‘Baykuş’ or Mister Bird. Mister Bird is an owl, which is a dignified and appropriate term of address for a most dignified and intelligent looking creature.

Owls are not let off the ‘böcek’ or ‘kuş’ hook entirely. There are Little Owls, Scops Owls, Tawny Owls and other owls – but they are, to a bird, all labelled with the same monika – ‘Baykuş’ – Mister Birds to a man (or woman).

Tawny Owl

Turks are also a bit superstitious about owls, seeing them as bringers of bad luck – harbingers of doom and such. All of which causes our neighbours some consternation because for a number of years we’ve had a beautiful Tawny Owl living in one of our chimney pots. Not only consternation but incredulity that we are happy about it! In fact, we give off so many happy vibes that, this winter a second Tawny has moved into an adjacent condo – two down, two to go! We also get visits from Little Owls and Scops Owls.

Living where we do at the edge of the forest, without street lights (another source of neighbourly worry and consternation) and other distractions, we can sit outside or lie abed and listen to these beautiful creatures calling and answering each other. When the stars are out or the moon is high they add extra enchantment to an already spellbinding experience.

Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo)

Soon after we moved here, J was driving home quite late one evening and had stopped the car just outside our gate. I went out to see what the problem was and was treated to the most fantastic sight – standing in the beam of the headlights was an enormous bird – an Eagle Owl! J’s nose was glued to the windscreen watching this magnificent creature from just a few metres away. The owl sat there for a while before gathering itself and lifting off silently and disappearing into the night like something returning to another dimension. This is the only Eagle Owl I’ve been fortunate enough to see here – the experience is burned into my memory banks.

I don’t have any photos of that night, so we must make do with these stock images.

Alan Fenn, Okçular Köyü

and just after you've really pissed it off!

10 thoughts on “Mister Bird

  1. Lovely story – One of the first “..old wives’…” I learned here was that of the disaster an owl could bring if it was hovering over one’s ev!!! I’ve never understood it to this day. I’ll always stop and stare if I’m lucky enough to see one perched in the tree – not often these days in Fethiye Central, I might add.

    I was most surprised one day when attending a craft fair in the early days at a FIG gathering when a Turkish lady approached and snapped up my one and only Stone Owl that I had painted (much like Gulay’s works of art). Her friend who spoke English said that she loved them and collected owls in all shapes and form (maybe it was her way of contradicting such fable that “they” bring bad luck) Anyway I expressed my surprise and handed over “tawny”. She was delighted – I’d like to think she still has it and it has brought her nothing but good

    1. So lucky here Chris – they are all around us (along with much else). Could do a whole series of blog posts on the subject of strange perceptions of the natural world by the villagers of Okcular.

    1. Ley Ley Restaurant at the end of the lane – 1.5kms or better still, around my kitchen table! That’ll learn yah! Trying to undermine my rose-tinted synapses.

  2. I hear you on the ever-named Kuş, Kuş and Kuş – I start to think about Dr. Seuss and thing 1, thing 2. I get this with çiçek, çiçek and çiçek from our teyze – and forget about it when it comes to shells, the resident malacologist (mollusk studier) goes nuts and reverts to Latin in a hot minute.

    But in any case, I love the story about the Owl at the gate – and am reminded of walking through untouched forest in the boondocks, Maine, feeling watched, as though finally my number was up, about to be mugged or rapted by the ZZ Top looking scary local boys when I realized it was a great big owl, watching me from on high in the most regal manner one can or can not imagine.

    Thank you for the image at the side of the forest. My owl collection is coming alive and saluting your owls, much to the consternation of the Karagoz puppets perched in between those ceramic creatures.

    1. . . living here is a joy and owls are a big part of that. They share the space with sparrow hawks who hunt a fantastic speed through our garden; badgers; weasels; pine martens; jackals; foxes etc and of course, M’s snails! Over the next 4 months we are going to have our annual explosion of flowers – another beautiful day in Turkey.

  3. The owls are still visiting me at night at the bottom of the garden but it’s to dark to see them, it’s great to hear them calling out to each other though, you are lucky to have them all around you I think your have to carry on educating the locals.

    1. different cultures have different superstitions – Owl doesn’t care much what anyone thinks as long as he gets his naps!

  4. So interesting to learn how cultures perceive owls. They are such magnificent creatures and this was very interesting to learn about.

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