Capt. Bill Pike channels his inner ornithologist and learns a plastic, fantastic owl is no match for seagulls’ “leavings.”

Years ago, Alfred Hitchcock’s horror flick freaked folks out with a full-blown avian attack on humankind. Now, the avians have returned!

The problem had been gnawing at me for months. At first, there was just a plop here and there. Then it was a bunch of plops. Then bunches of plops. And what did I do? I endured it, blasting the stuff off during washdowns—removing residual stains with rueful shots of bleach (I know, bleach is bad, bad, bad)—and mopping up with paper towels when, infrequently enough, total washdowns were uncalled for.

Illustration by Kent Barton

What are we talking about here? Seagulls, of course. And what seagulls do when they roost on your flybridge railings while you’re not around to run ‘em off. The little fiends! Who knows what deplorable thoughts go through their beady little brains as they look down at a stretch of pristine fiberglass and chortle, “Bombs away!” Is resentment part of the deal? Vengeance? Perhaps even species envy?

In any case, I finally got tired of it all. Which then set me to thinkin’. What if I purchased one of those plastic owls I’ve seen advertised over the years in marine catalogs and on salty websites? I could station the thing on my flybridge and when a seagull happened by, looking for a likely target, he’d get totally terrorized and have to fly away, hunting another boat to besmirch.

So, off I toodled to my local West Marine. “Lorna,” I asked the manager, “do you have any of those owls that are supposed to scare off birds? I got a bad bird problem.”

“No,” she replied. “I believe I sold the last one just yesterday. But let’s go look just in case.”

Luckily, Lorna was wrong. She had one remaining owl on the premises, humbly ensconced on a shelf devoted to “Bird Deterrents.” And, as soon as I took the old boy down (I have no idea why I was instantaneously convinced he was a male owl), I felt a deep affinity and attachment. And again, while I have no idea why, the idea of using Howard (the only reasonable name for a male owl, in my opinion) as a sort of ventriloquist’s dummy in order to entertain folks in the store then popped into my mind.

“Say hello to the nice lady,” I suggested to Howard as the three of us made our way to the cash register. Lorna chuckled, as the bird squeaked a greeting. And so did a couple of customers. However, perhaps because curmudgeons abound these days, even within the cheery walls of chandleries and marine stores, one oldster raised an eyebrow and backed away, obviously put off by Howard’s comments. Howard and I, nevertheless, completed our transaction ($26.99 plus tax) and had a ton of fun in the process.

Back on board, the sense of anticipation and adventure I felt while using electrical tape to experimentally attach Howard to the -steering console on the flybridge was dang near spine-tingling. Had Edison experienced such excitement just before flipping the switch on the first light bulb? Had Jobs and Wozniak been at least as thrilled when they launched Apple computers? Man, I hope so.

A waiting game ensued. Days passed, then more days. Until after about a week, the phone rang in my office. It was my friend Jerry, calling from the marina. Jerry lives on a boat just down the way from Betty’s slip.

“Bill,” said Jerry, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But your owl is falling down on the job. The seagulls are at it again.”

What else could I do but accept the news with as much grace as I could muster and then, given the deep bond Howard and I shared, bring him home to the ranchero, or more specifically, to my office, where he now occupies a tall shelf that, in keeping with my belief that honesty is usually the best policy, lacks the bird-deterrent designation. He continues to talk a bit, though, which, for some strange reason, drives my wife absolutely nuts.

This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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