Sunday, November 28, 2004

Nest Decisions

Well, I thought Alice's new nest basket was a done deal. Shows what I know.

Alice was in the basket this morning before going to work, but thankfully had assumed her sleeping perch on the bifold door before it was time to leave. I have a sneaking suspicion it's going to be tough to get her out of her nest basket if/when that needs to happen.

She was "up" early today...she decided it was time to get up and DO something by 3:30 PM. That meant that instead of sitting and dozing on her perch in my office at work, she was hopping onto my desk. Thankfully people in town have been saving egg cartons for Alice. For whatever reason, she LOVES to shred them. And there were stacks of them at work. Normally Alice leaves them alone there, but this afternoon she worked on shredding some. She still bounced around from pile to pile, and once landed on the arm of my chair. (Yes, she can manage all this while tethered.)

So tonight I figured she'd be into her nest basket right away. I didn't catch her in it, but she was perched close to and facing it everytime I checked in her room. After paging me a second time with a hoot, I came up to check on her again. She started getting clucky, but went straight into her OLD nest box without even looking at the nest basket!

Maybe the nest basket is just a novelty...she's very curious about new things. I've got a lot to learn.

Alice standing on her new nest basket, with her nest box to the right.

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.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

My "Improper" Behavior

I wonder sometimes why Alice puts up with my "improper" behavior takes me so long to figure things out!

Alice has lived with us for over six years now, and I just figured out this fall that I'm supposed to go over to her and bow my head when we meet...for example when I first get up in the morning, or when she gets up in the evening. I'll go to the edge of her perch, bow my head, then she walks over to me and bows her head so close that we're almost touching. I've wondered if this should lead to some bill-rubbing or preening of each other, but apparently not! I get a little wallop on my head with her beak if I try anything like that.

I really do wish there was a book that explained how I'm supposed to behave as the "male" of a Great Horned Owl pair. So many little things to figure out...and each thing seems to take me years to catch on to! At least Alice isn't ready to give up on me yet.

She still likes to have almost nightly hooting sessions with me...but she starts out pretty rared up with some full-volume, emphatic hoots with the extra "HOO, HOO, HOO!" on the end, and she throws in begging calls here and there. Sounds quite weird. But after a few minutes she settles down into her regular monotone, tail-cocked hoots. She ALWAYS wants to hoot longer than me...somehow I'm just not into hooting with her for half an hour or more at a time. (Seems like either Alice or my husband winds up feeling neglected.)

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Maybe She Missed Me???

Well, I'm back from my visit to The Owl Foundation, and Alice managed to behave herself. She had a good appetite, but didn't leave her room much at all (other than one foray downstairs in the middle of the night while my husband was at work. It's easy to tell when she's been downstairs...she ALWAYS knocks over a little fake owl on the entertainment center and takes the throw blanket off my husband's rocking chair.)

When I got home, I went up to Alice's room almost right away. She took one look at me and flew straight to her nest and started making her soft little grunting sounds as she walked around and scratched in it. Then we hooted some together, but I'm sure she wanted to hoot for a lot longer than I did--I was in need of some supper, but when I left, she actually did one more hoot when I was out of sight. Normally she stops hooting as soon as she can't see me anymore.

Yesterday evening she did some of her odd begging calls, which I'm pretty sure are meant to get my attention (this usually works.) And last night at 11:45 PM she did some good, loud "wac-wac" calls. Normally they come out more as a "hmwah, hmwah" (less volume and less accented), but it seems like when she knows she needs to wake me up with her calls they turn into the full "wac-wacs." To make these sounds, Alice starts with her beak closed, and quickly opens it up as she makes the sound. (This is unlike a hoot, which is given with her beak closed.) Generally, a closed beak gives more of the "ooo" sounds and an open beak gives the "aaa" sounds.

And yes, I did get up when she did her "wac-wacs", but she stopped the second she heard me moving around. She knows how to get what she wants.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


Alice started in on some goofy begging type calls that turned into "wac, wac!" calls at 1:30 AM. It's one of her ways of getting attention, and she pretty much just does it as we get into mating season. I dragged my butt out of bed and hooted with her a few minutes before crawling back into bed. That seemed to appease her somewhat.

I'm up in the wee hours this morning....I'm off to visit Kay McKeever (the Owl Lady of Canada) at the Owl Foundation in Vineland, Ontario. I hope I get some new insights into owl behavior while I'm there. We'll see how Alice takes my 3 night absence...she's never had to deal with that before. My poor husband will bear the brunt of things as he's staying home to take care of her.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Hormonal Hooting

Well, Alice's hormones are in full swing. I was getting a little worried about her because she didn't start her "hormonal" hooting until a month later than previous years, but Halloween brought the first of the "hormonal" hoots.

So what's a hormonal hoot? It's quite different from her regular hoots. Her posture changes--she leans way forward, cocks her tail almost straight up like a gigantic House Wren, and her hoot is a strict basic hoot with no variation, and it's a flat monotone without the usual inflections.

I think I may have turned her on this accident. One of the wild "neighbor" owls was up hooting fairly close to the house around 6 AM this morning. I wanted to try to record him, but he shut up when I opened the window. So I figured I'd hoot some to see if he'd start up again. He didn't, but Alice started doing some quiet chitters from the hallway (I was in her room, hooting out the window. Yes, I admit I'm more than a little weird.) They seemed to be nice, content chitters, which I've never heard her do before while I was hooting. Usually she hoots with me, or she doesn't say anything.

When I gave up on the neighbor male, I went into the hallway to check on Alice. Her pupils slowly dilated until they were quite large, even though I had the hall light on. It didn't seem to be an aggressive thing at all...if anything it almost seemed submissive.

I went about my getting-ready-for-work routine, and she went back to her regular scratch-at-the-window-for-attention routine. But by the time I was ready to go to work, she was settled in her nest box, and again her pupils dilated when I came near. I decided to let her play hooky from work for the day.

According to my husband (who works nights), Alice spent most of the day perched right by her nest, which she usually doesn't do. When I came home (late) tonight, she was still perched by her nest. She clucked around in her nest awhile while scratching at the Astroturf lining (we tried sticks before...she just threw them out), and again her pupils dilated.

After a bit of zoning out with enlarged pupils, she hopped out of her nest, and started in on some emphatic hoots (regular hoots with a very loud HOO, HOO, HOO! added to the end), so I started hooting with her. Then she dropped into the hormonal hooting.

We went on for over 15 minutes, but by the way she was looking at something outside in the dark at tree level, I'm pretty sure we called in some-birdy. She kept staring at the same spot and hooting, but if we had a visitor, (s)he didn't say anything. I, of course, couldn't see a danged thing out in the dark, so after Alice had finished hooting I resorted to a spotlight. I still didn't see anything. So I guess I was in the dark in more ways than one.

Alice is now 7.5 years old. Yes, she's a full-blown human imprint and thinks I'm her mate. But we haven't had any eggs to date. I figure it will probably happen sooner or later. In some ways I look forward to it as a chance to see more behaviors, but in some ways I dread it, because I'm kind of clueless as to what my exact role is, and I'm pretty sure if I don't do the right thing at the right time, she's going to let me know in a less-than-tactful manner.

Hormonal hoot posture--body horizontal, tail almost vertical, and throat poofed out.

Sunday, November 07, 2004


Alice just finished up her bath. She's not an overly fastidious bird...bathing once every few weeks is plenty for her. Rain does seem to put her in the mood sometimes, though.

Alice's bath pan is more of a tub--it's a 2x3 foot black plastic tub that holds a heck of a lot of water. And considering we don't have running water on the second floor of the house (which is where Alice's room is) it's quite a pain in the butt to keep the water clean. Ken, my husband, usually fills it with a hose, and it's really only good for one bath.

Ken noticed Alice standing on the edge of her bath pan this evening, eyeing the water. You can't just jump in you know....owls have to think things over a LONG time before they do anything. So to speed the process up, Ken started spraying her with a water bottle. She really wanted a bath, but she hopped over to her bow perch, then over to her drinking water bowl, then to the tub. THEN she finally hopped in the tub. She much prefers it when we keep squirting her while she bathes. She's good at getting her underside and face all good and wet, but she's not so good at the back, hence the squirt bottle.

The whole bathing sequence is basically what a little kid would do--hop in, splash around like crazy for 3 minutes max, then hop out. Alice then heads right to the railing in the upstairs hallway to preen for an hour or more to get herself back to normal. It's funny though...she really gets weighted down by the water...she can hardly hop up to the railing when normally she doesn't have any problem.

She's happily preening/drying away now.