Thursday, December 30, 2004

Alice and Her Eyes

Alice has been in to the vet a few times in the six years she's lived with us. (She has to go to a vet that's also a raptor rehabilitator. Thankfully there's one only an hour away.) Two of those visits were because she scratched her eye. I swear I felt like a mom who's first child was getting their first shots. To examine Alice's eyes, they had to hold her down, hold her eye open, put in special drops, and look at it with an ultraviolet light. Alice, of course, was doing her screaming chitters the whole time. I was seriously on the verge of tears hearing her screaming away in the exam room. Uff da!

The treatment involved putting a triple antibiotic cream in her eye, twice a day. There was NO WAY we could hold her down for that twice a day without seriously jeopardizing our relationship. So we used her fear of dogs to our advantage. Each time she needed the goo put in her eye, I took her outside, my husband petted the dog, and Alice stood on the glove on my first all bug-eyed. I was able to squirt the stuff in her eye without her even blinking. Worked slick.

This worked for both scratched eyes, which happened less than a year apart.

Alice apparently still scratches her eyes from time to time. Last night was one of those times. It's fairly easy to tell when she's done it--she keeps the scratched eye shut most of the time. It's shut virtually ALL the time with a bad scratch, and only when she's totally relaxed with a very minor scratch. Last night was just a minor scratch, but it was still noticeable by her behavior. This morning she's still favoring it just slightly, but I don't think it's bad enough for a trip to the vet.

So how does she scratch her eye? I've never seen her do it, so I'm not sure. My best guess, though, is that she's not as careful as she should be when she's scratching her face. It's a delicate proposition to itch/scratch your face with such a big old talon! Not having her eye completely closed and being a few millimeters off with her talon would result in scratching her eye. But again, that's just a guess.

I'm hoping it's done bugging her by tonight or tomorrow morning.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Squeaks & Allopreening

Alice has an almost instinctive reaction when she hears squeaky sounds--one of her feet will instantly clench. It's so fast it's like it just skips her brain and goes right to a foot. For instance today someone was screwing into some wood outside of the nature center, and Alice was standing on her Astroturf-covered perch. I heard the screw squeak in the wood and just a fraction of a second later I heard Alice's foot crunch the Astroturf. There were a few more squeaks and a clench to follow each squeak.

You can do really nasty things with this knowledge. If Alice happens to have hold of a hand or is standing on a leg and someone squeaks (gee, no one would ever do that on purpose would they?), the squeeze-ee finds out the hard way just how fast and hard she clenches her feet after a squeak. She's never broken the skin doing this, but she really can cut off any and all circulation, and depending on talon placement it can REALLY hurt! Point bruises where the tip of each talon digs in are likely.

On a different subject, Alice has been very hooty lately, but she just plain is not tolerating any allopreening this year. Generally mated owls will preen each other around the facial disc as sort of a pair-bond strengthening thing. In previous years Alice has allowed this. When she really got into it she would close the eye on the side that was being preened by me or my husband, then after a while she'd turn her head so we would do the other side. She even sat for an hour of this once! Not this year. Any time I get my fingers up by her face she makes it quite clear she doesn't like it (by chittering, and if I persist, by biting.) So I try it with my nose, which can be a dangerous proposition, but hey, it's more like a beak than a finger is. Each time she jerks her head around and bites at my nose. I haven't been bit yet...this year that is. Pain is a good teacher, and let me tell you, it hurts when you get your nose bit! I guess that's called sticking your nose where it doesn't belong....

Monday, December 13, 2004

Hooting In My Ear

Nothing too terribly exciting going on in Alice's world right now (that I'm aware of anyway.) We've been hooting some each evening, and she still checks out both her nest box and her next basket. I've given her food (leftovers) when she's been in her basket and her box, and she'll take it from me. (She doesn't normally take food from my fingers otherwise.)

I try to encourage her a little bit to use the basket, since it's roomier and she fits better in it. So sometimes when we hoot I will purposely go over and stand next to her basket. This spot also happens to be right next to one of her perches. Twice now she has flown over to the perch, walked over to me, preened my head a bit and then my ear, winding up hooting while my ear was in her bill. It comes out more like "Ha, ha, ha-ha-ha, ha" with her bill open like that instead of the normal "hoos." (She normally has her bill shut completely when she hoots.) And it's a lot louder from my perspective!

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Visit From a Screech-Owl

Sunday night someone brought us an Eastern Screech-Owl (a red one) that they found in their cow parlor literally up to its neck in runny manure. (I guess you could say it was in deep doo-doo.) After a couple of baths, a blow dryer, and some time to preen he looked good as new.

But his defensive strategy worked perfectly on us. Each time we looked at him or picked him up he froze, mostly closed his eyes, and wouldn't even move. It really made we wonder if he was OK. But he sang his trilling song during the night, so that seemed to be a good sign.

The next morning, he of course froze when I checked on him. Now that he was dry, preened, and looked like an owl I wanted to check him more closely for any possible injuries. I carefully picked the little "stick" up, but the second I got him above the edge of the box, he bolted out of my hand. Guess his "stick owl" strategy worked quite well. But where did he go? Around the corner, up the stairs, and straight into Alice's room! Probably the worst place for a screech-owl in our entire house, since Great Horned Owls eat screech-owls, and Alice was perched on the top of the door to her room.

While Alice's eyes were bugging out at this unexpected visitor, I zipped upstairs and quickly snatched up the screech before Alice could even think about eating it (she's a slow thinker.) But when I had the little owl safely in hand and was heading back downstairs, my husband reported that Alice was licking her chops! She does this "licking her chops"/soft bill smacking thing only during and after eating, and when she's thinking about when I bring her tray of dead gopher in front of her. Evidently she recognized the screech as food.

Whether there is a connection or not, Alice got adventurous last night. Normally she just stays in her room or in the upstairs hallway at night, but last night she went exploring. I found her in the living room when I got up this morning, then she went upstairs into our bedroom (pushing the door open herself), and now she's here in the office. Maybe she just felt like exploring...but then again maybe she's looking for that little screech-owl. It's not common for her to run all over the place like this.

On a side note, the screech got a "clean" bill of health from the rehabilitator and was released back where it was found last night.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Neighbor Owl in the Chicken Coop

The neighbor owl caught in the chicken coop. I think it's a male based on the wide head in proportion to its body size.

Wow! I just got to meet one of the neighbor owls up close and personal!

My brother-in-law came over about 8:30 tonight and asked if I wanted to get an owl out of the chicken coop (which is only a few hundred yards away from our place.) OF COURSE I was interested! I threw on a jacket, grabbed my leather gloves, and headed over with him.

Apparently the chicken coop door is often left open at night. That would explain why a few chickens have disappeared lately. Inside the coop, all the chickens were on the left side, squawking away, and the Great Horned Owl was on the right side, all by itself, with kind of a bug-eyed expression.

I didn't really believe I could just walk up to the owl and catch it, but it just stood there. So I slowly started walking toward it, talking quietly (it helps to know a little Great Horned Owl language...I did some soft chittery grunts.) It actually seemed to get a tiny bit calmer as I got closer, and even started panting (normally they don't like to pant when they think they are in immediate danger...but it was obviously stressed by the whole situation.) I slowly reached out one gloved hand toward its legs, and very slowly moved one hand around behind its back.

When Alice is stressed, sometimes stroking her toes calms her. This completely wild owl actually let me start stroking its toes! When I thought it was as calm as it was going to get, I quickly grabbed it. I actually caught it! Surprised me! (and the owl.)

Oddly enough, this bird was quite pale, almost as pale as Alice. It differed from Alice in that it had more of a "black eyeliner" look, and its eyelids were black (Alice's are pale.) Its feet were just as pale as Alice's, but had no markings on them...Alice's have some dark stripes. Of course it was smaller than Alice (every Great Horned Owl I've ever seen is smaller than Alice...she's a HUGE female.) So since I'm used to looking at a moose of an owl, they all look like males to me (males are smaller than females.) I forgot to get a good look at the size of the head relative to the body...males have fat heads in proportion to their bodies. It had a very thick bill...which makes me think it's an old bird. It also had an old injury to the cere that looked like it had healed and scarred a long time ago.

Anyway, I sweet-talked my brother-in-law into scooting home to get a camera, which he kindly did. Then I asked if he'd drive both me and the owl back to my place so we could give it the pocket gopher that was thawing out for Alice's supper and release it. He did.

The owl was amazingly calm. I never would have imagined a wild Great Horned Owl could be so calm. Of course I'm sure it helped that while we were waiting for the camera, I stroked its ear tufts, forehead, and around its facial disk...I know all the sweet spots on a Great Horned.

So my husband (who had been on the phone), grabbed the gopher when we got home, and I gave the gopher to the owl while I still held it. It crunched down on the spine several times like it was killing it, so I'm pretty sure it recognized it as food.

I set the owl down (with the gopher in its mouth.) It only took a split second for it to drop the gopher and take off. The "neighbor owls" seem to include our yard as part of their territory (and they hoot with Alice), so I'm sure the bird knew exactly where it was. We left the gopher in case it decided to come back for it, and started another one thawing for Alice.

Maybe the whole experience was traumatic enough that this bird will stop raiding the chicken coop. Of course it will now have the extra deterrent of a closed door! Now I just wish I knew for sure if this bird was the male or the female...maybe when I look at the photos I'll have a better idea. Then again, if it's an old bird, I would suspect it's the male. We got a new female with a very distinctive wheezy hoot a couple of years ago....