Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Hormones Have Kicked In!

Hoots can have a variety of inflections and meanings behind them. But what you hear on the bird song CDs is nearly always the standard "territorial" hoot, which I prefer to call either a tail-cocked hoot or a hormonal hoot.These hoots happen almost exclusively during the lead up to and in the mating season. (In southern Minnesota, that would be roughly September through March.) "Hormonal" hoots are very distinct from other hoots: the tail is cocked nearly straight up, the owl leans way forward, and the hooting is repeated over and over and over again, almost in a monotone unless there's a reason to be getting excited, in which case the pitch changes.Victor, our resident male as of early 2005, has been hooting regularly for at least a month already. I hadn't heard Virginia, his mate, and was starting to get a little worried about her. I hadn't heard any kids doing begging calls this fall either, so I doubt they successfully raised any young...but had something happened to Virginia and that's why there were no young?Alice had yet to do any hormonal hooting herself, so I wasn't terribly worried. But Wendell, the previous resident male and his mate, Wheezy, had BOTH been hooting quite a bit just off to the east. I'm starting to think Wheezy is a backseat driver...if Wendell's hooting, she better hoot too just to make sure the job gets done right. And apparently Virginia's pretty confident that Victor can do it right all by himself. (Which he can--he booted Wendell and Wheezy out of their established territory last winter.)Early this morning Alice's hormones kicked in. At 4:45 AM I woke up to Alice doing a tail-cocked hoot-a-thon in her room, two doors down from our bedroom. Since it was the first hoot-a-thon of the season, I got up and joined in. Way off in the distance, even through the window, I could hear Victor and Virginia putting in their two cents worth. Apparently Virginia was fine...she just likes to use her hoots on Alice instead of the other owls.I didn't turn the light on, but Alice was nicely silhouetted against her window. The breath coming through her nostrils with each hoot (they hoot with their mouths closed) made a little steamy spot on the window. And every now and then her bill tapped the window as her whole body heaved with each individual syllable.Fifteen minutes and Alice got distracted...probably by one of the wild cats that has adopted our yard. So her ear tufts slowly lowered, as did her tail, and she became her normal self again.I'm not sure if this has anything to do with anything, but I made more progress towards being a male owl last night. She had been accepting her evening gopher from my fingers every night, then taking it into her nest basket to eat it. Then I figured, "Hey, isn't the male supposed to lure the female to potential nest sites with food?" I had seen a video of Jackson, the human-imprinted male Great Horned Owl featured in a wonderful children's book, doing a steady "hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo..." vocalization when presenting food to his human "mate", Nick.So I tried standing by Alice's nest basket and making the "hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo" vocalization. I certainly got her interest. It only took a minute or two for her to fly to the perch next to me, lean forward, and accept the gopher from my fingers. Then she took it into her nest to eat it. Maybe I did something right and that got her a little excited??? Who knows. All I can say is that I'm a SLOW learner. It only took me 7 years to figure out that little maneuver.And humans who work with owls think they aren't bright. I can't imagine what they think about us....

No comments:

Post a Comment