Saturday, November 27, 2004

New Nest BASKET!

Alice got her Christmas present early. We (as in my husband) put up a nest basket for Alice this afternoon.

Alice's former "nest box" was never intended to be a was intended to be a hide box--a place where she could go and feel hidden when she was scared (like when Ken mowed the lawn, etc.) Alice did use it as a place to hide, but somewhere along the way she started treating it like a nest, making soft clucking/grunting noises while scratching around in it. The Astroturf the bottom was lined with of course wouldn't give when she scratched at it, so we added some bits of shredded up egg cartons (the ones Alice shredded herself.) This gave her something to rearrange, and she seemed to like it.

After visiting The Owl Foundation and seeing the nest baskets their Great Horned (and Great Gray) Owls use, I decided Alice needed a proper nest basket. This entailed a trip to Wal-Mart for a sturdy laundry basket. Yes, a laundry basket. That's what the owls are happily nesting in at The Owl Foundation!

Alice has always been interested in laundry baskets anyway...whether they be full of dirty clothes or neatly folded clean clothes. So this wasn't going to be a real stretch for her. We tested the basket idea before mounting it on a wall to be sure she was OK with it: I filled the basket with crumpled newspapers and set it on a stool with a back (her hallway perch) in the corner of her room where I though the nest basket would work best. It didn't take 5 minutes for Alice to hop over to it to check it out.

I discovered one thing: height matters. (Guess I should have known that.) The test basket was at least a foot and a half lower than her nest box, and she kept looking up into her nest box as if to compare. Then she went up into her nest box. So I figured the basket would be OK as long as it was as high as or higher than her current nest box.

Then I loaded up on wood shavings from my father-in-law's little wood shop. I lined the basket with newspaper to help keep the shavings from just falling out, then filled it up with wood shavings. For good measure, I added a few sticks around the perimeter of the basket. Then we tested Alice with the wood shavings.

Yep, they were interesting. She really liked it when we rustled our fingers in the shavings to get her attention...apparently those were "mousy" noises. Eventually she hopped in. She seemed intrigued that she could dig down in this stuff, but whatever was going on outside quickly took her attention away from the basket.

So today we finally had long enough anchor bolts, a big enough drill bit, and all other necessary do-jobbies to mount the basket. Normally Alice sleeps on the bi-fold door to her room (with her ear tufts smashed flap up against the ceiling), but today I made the mistake of leaving the office door open. She got up and moved onto her favorite office perch--the hanging files on top of the desk. She actually SITS on them.

So while she was in the office, Ken was next door in her room drilling holes and mounting the basket. When he was done, I couldn't resist moving her back into her room to get her reaction.

It didn't take long (for an owl.) Within a few minutes she was in her new nest basket. Again, she periodically looked over at her nest box, but she seemed to be less and less interested in the nest box all the time. The really cool thing for her was that when she scratched the bottom of THIS nest, she actually dug a depression!

She's been in and out of this nest all day (but not back in her nest box.) She's played with the sticks, but I'm betting before long they'll all be dropped on the floor. As she sits in her nest, she gets kind of a dreamy, far-away look, as she stares off into space at nothing. Maybe she's processing instincts that tell her this is a good nest??? Who knows, but from what I can tell, she likes it.

I've read that male Great Horned Owls bring food to the nest even before the egg thing happens, apparently to show that they can provide. So when Alice was sitting in her nest basket at dusk, I brought her her left over pocket gopher head that she had so neatly cached by the office door. She politely took it and set it down in the nest. Not long after she left the nest and hopped to the nearest perch...and started hooting. These weren't the riled up hoots she's been doing this fall...she went right into her monotone, tail-cocked, hormonal hoots. I assumed we were hooting to claim this new nest as part of our territory or something, so I joined in. We hooted maybe 10 minutes before some mousy sounds started coming from the corner of her room (yes, the mice are probably moving into the house now that it's getting cold out, but don't think that having an owl in the house means that our house stays mouse-free!) But her hoots were quite frequent, yet not loud like they normally are when she hoots faster.

At any rate, I assume they were hoots of approval.