Wednesday, January 12, 2005

No Eggs Yet

I was thinking this might be the year for Alice to lay eggs. Human-imprinted birds sometimes do this, but of course the eggs are sterile. Then they usually want to incubate them, but the eggs never hatch. (I would need a separate breeding permit to fertilize Alice.)

Alice is almost 8 now. Around Christmas she got EXTREMELY hooty, wanting to hoot with me may times every day. She also started sleeping in or near her nest box. To top it off, she also stopped eating every day. The eating thing would have worried me, but I read in A Place For Owls, by Katherine McKeever (the Owl Lady of Canada) that her Spectacled Owl, Granny, stopped eating regularly, wanted constant attention, and wouldn't leave her nest box before she laid her first egg. So I thought maybe we'd get eggs this year....

Well, I'm pretty sure that's not going to happen now. Although she's still quite hooty some days, other days she isn't. She doesn't always sleep by her nest box anymore--sometimes she sleeps on top of the bi-fold door to her room (with her ear tufts smooshed up against the ceiling because she doesn't fit there very well.) Her eating has settled into a mostly every-other-day routine, but I notice it's always the front end that she eats. (The front end tastes better.)

In previous years, she's continued with some hooting and clucking in her nest box on a limited basis way into spring and maybe even early summer, so her current "nestiness" may not necessarily mean anything's going to happen.

The wild owls most likely don't have eggs yet, but Alice is indoors and exposed to more light than if she lived outdoors, so she tends to run ahead of schedule. Normally she drops her first flight feather in late December or early January, but I've yet to find a feather this year. So although I think we got closer to eggs this year than ever before, I'm not expecting to find any (but I do still check--you never know, and I'm not an expert on these matters!)

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....

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Quiet Begging Calls

Well, Alice's eye wasn't bugging her at all by the end of the next that's good.

She's started making soft little begging calls lately, almost every day. Apparently human-imprinted owls are more vocal than owl-imprinted owls, and they tend to retain their begging calls more, at least from what I've heard. Alice still does begging calls (kind of a loud "waaaaa!" sound) on occasion, but not often. But lately she's been doing lots of quiet begging-type calls. They sound the same, but are much quieter...kind of one step up from a whisper. I thought maybe this was a more "intimate" sound, since she's been very nesty and hooty lately. Last night proved that theory wrong!

We conduct an annual New Year's Eve Owl Prowl for the Houston Nature Center. This year we called in Eastern Screech- and Barred Owls for the 22 participants. We ended up at our house, where Alice is a guaranteed Great Horned Owl for everyone to see...and there's hot chocolate to drink to warm up! I brought Alice downstairs to the kitchen where everyone was standing, but her preference (no big surprise) was to head back upstairs to her "territory." Several folks went partway up the stairs to watch her sitting on the Astroturf-covered railing and see the egg cartons she likes to shred. And Alice started making the soft begging calls with a bunch of strangers standing right there in "her" stairway! So much for them being a private kind of a call.

Time to develop a new theory.