Sunday, January 14, 2007

Alice's First Flight

Alice has never flown before in her life. She fell out of her nest, down through the branches of a tall pine tree, when she was just three weeks old. She was just a nestling, with no wing or tail feathers to speak of. This tumble led to a severe dislocation of her left elbow and damage to the end of her humerus. This injury is permanent and will prevent her from every flying on her own power (which is why she is in captivity and has to work for a living.)

This no-flight status will change on Sunday, March 4, 2007, during Alice's 10th hatch-day party (weather permitting.) Flight instructor Dale Scobie from Spring Grove, MN has agreed to take Alice up in his airplane for her first flight ever. We will need to spend some time on the ground beforehand getting Alice used to the noise of the plane, and likely building her a special travel box to use in the plane, so she can watch out the window comfortably without the danger of her spreading her wings and trying to hop around inside the small plane.

Before setting this up, I consulted with Alice's rehabilitator, Marge Gibson. Marge has flown in small aircraft holding Bald Eagles before (I believe when she was in charge of the Bald Eagle Health Assessment Project after the Exxon Valdez oil spill.) She said the birds loved to watch out the windows of the plane, and thinks Alice likely will too.

What will make this flight doubly special is that there are four seats in the airplane. One for the pilot, one for me, one for Alice, and one for someone else. That "someone else" seat will be auctioned off after the Festival of Owls banquet on Friday, March 2 as part of the live auction. So the lucky person who gets to go up with Alice on her maiden flight could be you! Even if you don't get to go up with Alice, if you attend the Festival of Owls you'll get to see Alice fly over town, announced by the city's siren.

Alice and I will be meeting with the pilot this week to get Alice used to the plane, and work out the logistics of the flight. I'm a bit nervous about how Alice will react, but I think she'll be fine once we're airborne. She instinctively knows to lean into corners when riding in the car, so I'm sure she'll lean into the corners in the airplane too. She's gotten to perch in a small oak tree at the top of a 300-foot bluff overlooking Houston, and she thought that was great. So I'm hoping even higher will be "even greater" for her.

Don't worry, even if you can make it to witness Alice's first flight, I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

Monday, January 01, 2007

No News

I've been patiently waiting while Alice dropped her belly feathers to develop a brood patch to incubate eggs. (Or so I thought.) She dropped this small mountain of feathers, a handful per day, over the past several weeks.
But during this time she got less interested in hooting together and made her irritation known by biting me every time I tried to put my hand on her back.. I started to think her hormones were ebbing and we might not get an egg this year. But those belly feathers kept falling to the point that she often looks like she had a cowlick between her legs since so many feathers are missing.
I've tried to get my fingers up into Alice's abdomen feathers to see if I could feel a brood patch. From what I understand, the skin thickens and becomes filled with blood vessels to warm the eggs. (I've only felt the brood patch of a dead Great Horned Owl.) Of course Alice doesn't like it when I attempt to stick my fingers into her belly feathers, but once she got distracted and I was able to do it. Felt just like bird skin always feels.
Then in the last week in December she dropped her left outer tail feather. Not a good sign. From what I've read, female owls hold off on molting their flight feathers until AFTER they're done incubating eggs. And we don't have an egg here (other than the replica in the photo that Alice isn't interested in.)
Then she dropped the next outer tail feather on her left side. Then one more! She now is missing one quarter of her tail...all on the outer left side. So much for a symmetrical molt, but I suppose she's not exactly exposed to normal light and dark cycles living in the house....
Alice has also started to molt all kinds of body feathers. Every time she does a big rouse (puffing up all of her feathers and shaking like crazy), a small blizzard of feathers goes flying. (This explains the feathers we get in our furnace filter.)
I'm pretty much giving up the ghost on an egg this year, but doesn't that replica egg look nice in the pile of belly feathers she lost in December? But then again, I've learned that there's a heck of a lot I don't know about Great Horned Owls, and for all I know Alice could be right on schedule to lay an egg in a month. Only time will tell, but I'm not holding my breath.