Sunday, December 03, 2006

Owl In Heat

WARNING: This is not going to be a "G" rated post. This is real-life stuff that I have to deal with in order to try to satisfy Alice's urges and needs.

Ever since we got back from visiting Marge Gibson, Alice's rehabilitator, Alice has been exceedingly "receptive" to put it nicely. (She's been a Great "Horny" Owl to put it crudely.) So what exactly does this mean?

It means I don't have to do the long hooting sessions anymore! I can get away with a few minutes here and there.

It means that Alice follows me all over the house and hoots at my shins a lot.

It means that I have an owl nest on my dresser along with other potential nests in most rooms in our house.

It means that Alice now hoots in public on command (all I have to do is lean forward and hoot to her.) Pretty cool, huh?

This March, after the Festival of Owls which includes a visit from Marge, Alice got "receptive" for the first time. And I noticed that when she was in this mood she would repeatedly leave the last syllable off her hoot. Anytime she hooted repeatedly without that last syllable, she was ready to be mounted.

Now I'm not a male Great Horned Owl, so I can just fly over and land on her back like the wild ones do. I just put my hand on her back. If she's "receptive" she holds her head down, lowers her tail from the near-vertical hooting posture to almost horizontal, and her tail starts quivering. If I can contort myself to get a view up underneath her tail feathers, I can see the feathers have parted and her cloaca (the one and only out door on a bird) is swollen and making repeated kissing motions...hence the term "cloacal kiss."

This spring when Alice was in heat, once or twice a day seemed to satisfy her needs. Now she's more like a rabbit--she's interested several times a day. I think the past few days between my husband and I, we've had our hands on her back at least 4-6 times a day! (I'm sure my husband wishes he could just put his hand on my back and turn me on like that...)

But copulation is not a prolonged affair in Great Horned Owls. In the wild I don't think it lasts more than a few seconds, but Alice will tolerate up to maybe 20-30 seconds before she starts with the annoyed chitters or biting. Then, as horrible as it sounds (at least to women), we leave her. In the wild the male flies off after he's done the deed. Alice seems fine with it, even though it bothers me a bit.

Gopher seems to have become an aphrodisiac now. More than once Alice has stood on a leftover gopher head or butt and started in with the hoots minus a syllable, or with her clucky/nesty sounds. And yes, she's asking for the hand on the back thing, and shuts up after one of us has done the deed.

So why not just get a male Great Horned Owl and breed Alice?

1. Alice KNOWS she's a human, so if a Great Horned Owl gets close to her, she hisses and clacks her bill in a most threatening manner.

2. This would require a breeding permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. I don't think they're overly inclined to hand these out.

3. Where the heck do you get Great Horned Owl sperm? I know I could easily do the artificial insemination if I had the sperm, but I don't have any ideas where I could get any.

4. What about the kids? Would they grow up thinking they're humans or owls? Or would they be misprints...not associating with any species? Would the goal be to release them to the wild? Or would the goal be to keep them at least for several years to see how they compare vocally to Alice and their other parent? If they are to be kept, who would keep them?

As you can see, there are no easy answers here. Someday I might try to navigate this maze because so much could be learned about vocal development, regional variation in hooting, the genetics of subspecies coloration, etc.

So for now we have a very hormonal bird on our hands. I'm not sure how long it will last, but I'm hoping to get an egg or two out of the deal. They wouldn't be fertile, but at least I could observe up close how Alice cares for the eggs and get all her nesting vocalizations recorded. But, of course, we'd need Alice to be running ahead of schedule so that she's over and done with the egg thing before the Festival of Owls the first week in March. We wouldn't want her to miss her 10th hatch-day party! And yes, she is running ahead of schedule.

By the way, Alice says "Hoo, hoo, hoo-hoo-hoo, hoo, hoo." Literally. She just said it.

If you're up for the X-rated video of a cloacal kiss, Laura Erickson (also known as the Dr. Ruth of birds) has posted it on her blog at (It takes a while to load.)

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