Monday, November 06, 2006

Picking Out a Nest

In Alice's world, it's time to start picking out a nest. She may run ahead of the wild owl schedule since she's indoors and exposed to more light, but I just talked to her rehabilitator, Marge Gibson, and her male Great Horned Owl has been hooting like a madman for a month already, which is a month early for him too, and he's housed outdoors. Hmmmm...maybe there's something the owls know that we don't.

At any rate, Alice's laundry basket nest in her room got a fresh lining of basswood shavings this fall. She seems to like it, and often sleeps on the edge of her basket during the day. But she also seems bent on checking other possible locations, just in case.

One spot she's come back to a few times is under the guest bed in our combination guest bedroom/office. We keep our packing materials under there, but she just seems to have fun sliding along in her belly, ripping at the newspaper and bubble wrap.

Another spot she always likes to check out is on the side kitchen counter where we keep a small "Owl's Nest" cheese dip container of owl pellets. Hmmm...maybe she can read and that's why she thinks it's a good spot. I wonder if the company makes really big cheese dip containers....

Then this morning I had a big, wicker basket I intended to put up as an artificial nest for the wild owls on the side kitchen counter. It did not escape Alice's attention. She hopped in, even though it had no lining whatsoever, and scratched around in it. When she hopped out I filled it with basswood shavings and that was too much--she was right back in it, scratching around. Seems to "fit" just right.

But she still went up to her room and (after caching her leftover gopher by the bookcase) is sleeping on her nest basket. But don't let that fool you--she'll still hoot anytime either of us sticks our head in her room during the day. The photo of her on this nest basket is taken in mid-hoot--note the inflated gular sac which makes her look like a frog and the tail cocked up.

Maybe having lots of nest choices will get her to lay an egg...or maybe it'll just confuse her. At any rate, I'm trying to be very solicitous this year to see if we can make an egg.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Another Artificial Nest Attempt

I really, really, really, really, really want to get wild Great Horned Owls nesting in our yard to help my vocal study on the species. Yes, this will take a miracle, but I'm trying to help things along by putting up some more artificial nests for the owls to choose from.

Last fall (with the help of Tri-County Electric Company's boom truck!) we put up an artificial nest made from a wide cone of chicken wire lined with tar paper with sticks interwoven, and lined with wood shavings. ( No takers, although I think Wheezy wanted a shot at it when she came up into the pine trees where the nest was located and hooted on two separate occasions. Since the nest wasn't in her territory (anymore), her mate Wendell was less than willing to help her take possession of it.

So this fall I put up another nest of a different design. This idea came from The Owl Foundation ( They use laundry baskets lined with wood shavings as nest structures for their large permanently injured but breeding owls like Great Horneds and Great Grays, and the owls take readily to them. Alice has one too, which she's happy to cluck and scratch around in.

So why not give the wild owls the same option?

I got a laundry basket, cut lots of small holes in the bottom for drainage, wove small, fresh pine branches in and out of the holes on the sides for camouflage, filled it with long basswood shavings, and put it up in a different pine tree in our front yard.

You'd think a white laundry basket in the lower branches of a pine tree would stick out like a sore thumb, but it's almost impossible to see! I just looks like a clump of pine branches. I'm hoping the owls find it attractive.

This one has better clearance for flying in/out and has a nice view of the yard and prairie (where there should be good bunny and rodent hunting.) Granted it's within 50 feet of the house, but we're hardly ever out in the yard. And it's on the south side of the house, so Alice doesn't consider that part of her territory (her room is on the north side of the house.)

I've got a big wicker basket that I'd like to reinforce and put up next. I just have to find another good spot for an owl nest. Besides the considerations mentioned above, a HUGE consideration for me is keeping it close to the house so that a nest cam is feasible (and sound recording, and hopefully direct observation....)

Lately the resident owls have been a mile down the road hooting at poor bachelor Wendell (his mate Wheezy died of West Nile Virus early this fall). I didn't realize Victor and Virginia went that far until my neighbor started taping the owls hooting at his place. But it does explain why the nights he hears owls I don't, and when I do he doesn't.

Sooner or later Victor and Virginia should be back here, and if Alice is any indication, Virginia should be starting to think about nests and trying some out for size any time now....