Sunday, January 02, 2005

Hiding Food For Later

In the wild, Great Horned Owls are known to "cache" (hide for later use) excess food. This must be an instinctive behavior, because Alice does it too, and I sure didn't teach her!

Alice is given roughly half a pocket gopher (Geomys bursarius) each evening around 9 PM. Often she will eat some of it before midnight, but she sometimes has a "snack" in the morning too. If there's a big enough piece left in the morning, she may hide it in a corner somewhere. Usually this is next to a bookcase, in a corner of her room, under something, etc. Mind you, it's normally the front half of the gopher that gets cached...apparently owls almost universally prefer the front half of the animals they eat. Leftover back ends are usually left wherever she was in the middle of the hall floor.

Does Alice remember where she puts her food? YES! If my poor husband happens to walk between Alice and a good chunk of gopher head in the middle of the night, she will actually fly at him and grab him hard enough to get her point across.

I usually keep tabs on any uneaten food and remove it before her next feeding. There have been a few times when I knew there had to be leftovers somewhere, but I just couldn't find them. Then after a few days the stench gives it away. Thankfully that's only happened a few times!

Alice doesn't like it when I remove food from her caches. Last night she had a gopher head remnant put away along a bookshelf in the hallway by her room. I picked it up so that she could see I was removing it (otherwise she'll look for it for 15 minutes at least...trying to figure out where her food went). Then I brought up her tray with a nicely warmed gopher back end and put it in her room in the usual place.

So what did she do? She hopped down off the hallway railing and marched over to where her gopher head had been. Then she started pulling up the clear carpet protector on the floor there, as if trying to figure out if it had somehow disappeared beneath. This only lasted a couple of minutes, then she went in to her room to get a drink of water from her water bowl. She didn't actually eat until this morning.

It's funny to watch her if her food has been removed and she doesn't know it. She'll spend forever in a corner, looking at it from every conceivable angle, poking around and biting at anything there, moving things around, trying to figure out where her leftovers went.

She doesn't always cache her leftovers, but I do need to keep track of it when she does to avoid nasty odors....

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