Saturday, October 13, 2007

All in the Name of Science

After people hear about what my husband Ken puts up with living with an owl, and all the cleaning he does, the most commonly used term for him is “saint.” My saint should now be up for the “purple heart” award, if ever there is such a thing in owl biology.

As the parking lot at the nature center vacated about a month after the flood, reality set in: I only had about a month left to prepare my presentation and paper for the World Owl Conference in The Netherlands. Where had the time gone???

So for the past couple of weeks I’ve been working on some aspect of my trip nearly daily. Clothes, flight schedules, reviewing data, sifting through sound recordings, making sonograms, writing...there’s so much to do! But as I was going through my recordings to pick out the best of each type of vocalization, I realized I was missing two vocalizations: the greeting hoot and screaming chitters.

The greeting hoot is just what you’d expect—it’s a hoot that’s given after an absence. Alice may give it when I get up in the morning, when Ken gets up in the evening, or if we’ve been gone for the evening. The tricky thing is now that we’re getting into fall, hormones are kicking in again and instead of greeting hoots, sometimes I get the repetitive tail-cocked hoots instead. I did, however, manage to get an OK greeting hoot recorded the other morning.

But then there was the matter of screaming chitters. Chitters run on a continuum from soft little clucky grunts in the nest to a little louder and mildly annoyed to high pitched and ear piercing. It was those high pitched, ear piercing ones that I needed to record, and the only way to elicit such a call is to REALLY tick an owl off.

Well, I have an owl and a husband. So I asked Ken if he would be game for bear hugging Alice to see if I could record her doing a screaming chitter. Whether he’s so devoted to me or insane I’ll probably never truly know, but he agreed to the plan for the sake of science. Whatever works!

Since the vocalization would be really loud, I set up my recording gear in the spare bedroom, with Alice perched out on the hall railing. When I gave the word, Ken slid up to and put his right side next to Alice and wrapped his right arm snuggly around her body, making sure to keep his hand on her chest to avoid her talons. And scream Alice did!

If you’ve seen Alice’s video at the nature center, you have a general idea of how much she doesn’t like being cuddled. But this was a level or two above that. Wow did she scream! Ken said she was repeatedly trying to grab her with one of her feet, and would have stabbed some serious holes in him if she had made contact with something. She always bites in situations like this too, and Ken used his free left hand as a target to keep her beak from biting anything else. And yes, she bit him good!

The exceedingly brief recording session ended when Alice slipped out of Ken’s grip and hopped/flapped away. I’m sure I didn’t get more than 20 seconds of recording, but when I put on my headphones and reviewed things, it came through beautifully. Not too loud to distort, but easy to hear and identify with a bare minimum of other sounds in the background.

And thankfully Alice is an owl who is quick to forgive in situations like this. While she wasn’t ready to let Ken give it a second try, she was fine with everything once she hopped back up on the railing and shook out her feathers in a good rouse.

Upon inspection of my research accomplice, we didn’t find any talon holes, but there was a nice beak scrape on his left hand. Ken said it felt deep, and sure enough, there was a nice, deep bruise by the next day.

So if you know of anyone who gives out purple hearts for wounds inflicted in the name of owl biology, I’d like to nominate Ken. Come to think of it, probably most serious owl biologists have wounds and scars from their research subjects. I’m sure my day will come.

I suppose I should given Ken some credit for the screaming chitter recording in my presentation at the World Owl Conference….

No comments:

Post a Comment