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....