Sunday, October 29, 2006

It'll Be A LONG Breeding Season!

There are different kinds of hoots for different things. There's the mad hoot, the emphatic hoot, and then the one most people know: the tail-cocked territorial/hormonal hoot that's repeated, has very little variation, and you won't likely see/hear during the summer months.

The tail-cocked hoot starts up in the fall when the young owls disperse and the adults are letting the young ones know "Hey, this territory is occupied!" Then the level of hooting escalates as breeding season approaches, with the hooting peaking in January or February, at least around here in southern Minnesota.

For Alice, the fall tail-cocked hoots usually start in late October. Then they pick up steam to the point that in February last year she would actually hoot in public! (This was great for our TV and radio appearances to promote the Festival of Owls.) Then they taper off by the end of March.

That makes for a LONG breeding season as far as I'm concerned, since as "Alice's mate" I'm expected to hoot with her. And she likes to do half-hour hooting sessions multiple times per day.

This year is starting hot and heavy. Alice has been doing her tail-cocked hoots for about a month now, and we're already to the point where I'm expected to do at least two half hour hooting rounds every day.

These start the second I set foot out of the bedroom (or before if I'm a little later than usual getting up.) She literally is on the hall railing, ready and waiting, and starts hooting the second I'm out the bedroom door. She runs/hops down the railing to be close to me, and we lean into each other and take turns hooting.

Alice really likes us to be nose-to-beak during these sessions, at least for the first part of each session. Seriously. She'll lean forward to have her face in my hair or her beak actually touching my nose. If my head is lower than hers, she will nibble at my ear, hair, nose, cheek, or whatever else is handy. Thankfully we're to the nibble stage since a couple of weeks ago these were more bites than nibbles--she can be a bit rough.

And she will actually grab at me with her foot if she thinks I'm leaving. Once I was standing on the stairs, ready to go take a shower and she jumped at the clothes I was carrying. She missed and wound up at the bottom of the stairs. That's too aggressive for my tastes!! I've since learned to go step by step, hoot by hoot to head downstairs so she doesn't get so grabby.

Normally I've got a full bladder at this point of the morning, and can't manage more than a few minutes without a potty break. Normally Alice likes to have visual contact with me when we hoot, but she's gotten desperate enough already that she'll hoot with me while I'm in the bathroom, which is just at the bottom of the stairs.

Some people sing in the shower; I hoot in the shower.

Then we're scheduled for another hooting bout in the evening after supper. This one I'm better at obliging. I've gotten so that I can sit in the hallway by Alice's room while we hoot and read a book at the same time. There's multi-tasking for you.

Although I can tolerate these levels of hooting, I know it's only going to escalate. And it's going to go on for MONTHS unless our lady lays an egg this year (or I get her to sit on the replica Great Horned Owl egg I now have.)

Did I mention that one of the reasons owls don't make good pets is the hooting thing....?

Thankfully, Ken can fill in for me sometimes, and attached is a photo of him doing a hooting session with Alice right after he got up for the day.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Of Bills & Tipping

So how much do you tip on a bill?

In Alice's case, it probably depends on how much needs to come off.

I'm talking about the bill (beak) on Alice's face, if that helps.

Bills (or beaks if you prefer) are made out of the same stuff (keratin) as our fingernails, and like fingernails, they are always growing. Somehow they grow so that they self-sharpen and wear down continuously into the same basic shape. Little flakes, chips, and bits come off here and there to help keep them in shape. Without enough wear and tear and exposure to the elements, however, bills can get overgrown.

In captivity owl beaks sometimes need to be coped (trimmed.) For Alice, this has needed to happen once every year or two. But we're well over a year, and things have been flaking/breaking/wearing fairly well.

Her lower mandible was getting a bit long and not breaking off (so her mouth didn't close completely), so I finally took a fingernail clipper to it and patiently but carefully got off as much as the little clipper could handle, which wasn't much. Now Alice's upper mandible is working to adjust.

I thought Alice had a chunk of gopher stuck to the tip of her bill the other day. I looked closely because she was going to have some close-up facial photos done. I tried to pick the bump off with my fingernail, and realized it wasn't gopher at all--it was the tip of her bill itself!

It's a hard little knob that will certainly come off in time. It's too hard to pick off with my fingernail yet, but I've contemplated taking the trimmer to it. So hence the question: How much do you tip on a bill?

But instead I think I'll let Alice do her thing and see how long the bump takes to come off on its own. Then I'll have to pay REALLY close attention and see if I can find it when it does come off. That'll take a miracle, but I have found bigger bill flakes several times before. If they come off the front of her bill they tend to look like raisins. Flakes from the side look like, well, flat pieces off the side of a bill. This one will be a little nubbin.

I've circled the bump on the tip of Alice's bill in the photo. It's not super-noticeable--that is unless you're hooting nose to beak with her.