Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Wheezy Has Guts!

It’s getting toward mating season for owls, so that means more hooting, more interesting interactions, and less sleep for me.

I’m always somewhat groggy at our local Chamber of Commerce's 7 AM meetings, but I was doubly so on November 17 thanks to some interesting goings-on in the owl world at our house from 1:30-3:00 AM that morning. I'm just slow at reporting it because we got a new computer and it's taken me forever to get it all set up properly!

I’m still amazed at how well my ears are keyed in to the hooting of Great Horned Owls. I woke up at 1:30 AM that morning to the hooting of Victor and Virginia, our current resident pair, over at the neighboring farm roughly 400 yards away. This was with the windows closed from a dead sleep, mind you.

Victor is a regular hooter, but Virginia is an owl of few hoots. So it was somewhat notable that she was hooting. But frankly, she and Victor sounded pretty excited. They were hooting very rapidly, and every now and then Victor broke into some excited “hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo’s”.

They hooted at that farm for a while, then came over and hooted in the pine trees just outside our bedroom window. They sounded like they were toward the tops of the trees, but I couldn’t see them despite the bright moonlight and fresh snow. What I wouldn’t give for some good night vision!!

Then Victor and Virginia moved off toward the road along the south border of our property. All the while Wendell, the previously resident male, hooted alone off to the southeast along the dry run, where he had been forced to move after Victor gave him the boot last winter.

Things quieted down and I started to doze off. But I was jarred to my senses when I heard a single owl hooting in our pine trees soon after the other hooting had stopped. It was Wheezy! She’s Wendell’s mate, and she and Wendell had not come into our yard since early last winter before they lost the territorial battle with Victor and Virginia.

It’s one thing for one owl to sneak into someone else’s territory, but it’s a totally different matter to enter it and blatantly announce their presence by hooting! And this was the female of the pair, and I’d always heard (and had no reason not to believe) that it was the males who did most of the territorial work of the pair.

So here was Wheezy, hooting away right outside the bedroom window. (And me, lying in bed with the window open at 13 degrees Fahrenheit with my tape recorder running.) Wendell hooted back to her from the southeast, and Victor picked up hooting to the south. Virginia never hooted again that night.

Wheezy flew back and forth between the pine trees and Wendell. I can only assume she was trying to get him to follow her into the pines and reassert their claim. But she also flew off to the south and hooted…and from the best I could tell from listening out the bedroom window, that’s where Victor was hooting!

Things didn’t seem to get heated between Victor and Wheezy. Either there’s a “boys don’t hit girls” rule in owls too, or else Wheezy’s larger size was sufficient intimidation (females are larger than males). Or maybe I’m totally missing the point. But as far as I can tell, Wheezy’s got guts!

And so concludes another episode of “As the World Turns – The Owl Version.” Stayed tuned to find out: Is Wheezy thinking of leaving Wendell for Victor? Will Wheezy successfully drive Victor and Virginia back from whence they came? Is Wendell just a wimp? Will anyone lay eggs this winter? Will Alice lay eggs this winter?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Hungry Enough To Eat A Mouse?

Well, we actually took a vacation! Alice stayed home for four days and three nights all by herself, other than my brother-in-law Karsten checking in on her every night to throw out leftover gopher parts, bring her fresh food, and otherwise make sure she was OK. We didn't get any kind of "welcome home" from her until five minutes AFTER we got home. Guess she's a slow processor. But at least we got some hearty "wac-wac" calls and loud, tail-cocked hoots. It made me feel missed at least a little.

Lately, including while we've been gone, Alice has had a fantastic appetite. I finally got around to listing her weights by month and realized that September and October are her lowest weights for the year, and January is the highest. That means she has to pack on those pounds (OK, ounces in her case) right about now. And she's got the appetite to say she's doing it.

Normally Alice eats half of an average sized pocket gopher each night. Since she's been eating well, I gave her a whole small/mediumish gopher last night. This morning what was left? Just the face. No sign of the rest. And I believe she ate the whole thing when I saw the size of the monstrous pellet she threw up just before we left work today!

Sometimes after getting home from work Alice will drag out some cached gopher from the night before for a snack. No gopher to drag out tonight. But we caught a field mouse in a trap in the house last night (those of you who think Alice catches mice are crazy!), and just for the heck of it I place it in her nest this morning while she watched and I made the repeated male "hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo...." call. She watched, but didn't pay close attention.

But she remembered it tonight. After a while, she went to her nest, hopped in, and picked up the mouse. I couldn't believe she was hungry enough to eat something as bad tasting (according to Alice) as a mouse! So I watched.

She picked it up in her bill. She grabbed it in her foot. She looked at it. She put it in her bill again. She rearranged it in her mouth. She dropped it. She looked at it. She picked it up again. On and on for at least five minutes. Then finally I heard a crunch! I looked up to see one bite going down the hatch! Then she grabbed the rest of the body like she was going to send it down whole! She didn't look overly enthused though, and after one almost-attempt, she dropped it in the nest and hopped out, never to look back at it again. I looked at it to see how much she ate--it was only the face. The ears were even still on it.

Guess she wasn't hungry enough to eat a mouse. Moral of the story? If you're starving and have the choice of eating a mouse or a pocket gopher, pick the pocket gopher.

Note the enthusiastic (not!) expression on her face when she's holding the mouse.