Monday, May 26, 2008

Alice Eats A Cricket

OK, turn your head sideways for this video. It's vertical on my computer, but heck if I know why it's rotated here.

Owls have a natural hunting instinct, but becoming an efficient killer is a skill that must be practiced. Mom and Dad may help this process along by not feeding the kids so much and letting them get hungry enough to be motivated to hunt.

Alice has a hunting instinct, but since I feed her every day, she's not overly motivated to figure out the whole hunting thing. So even though I live in an old farmhouse that most certainly gets mice in it, they are pretty safe from being eaten by an owl here.

That being said, Alice, in her 11 year life span, has a whopping kill list of ONE item (as far as I know). One camel cricket several years ago. Pounced on in the kitchen, one leg torn off (which I kept as a souvenir), and she crunched the rest down. What a mighty hunter!!

I've noticed her watching some other camel crickets in the house when she's been downstairs late in the past few weeks. A couple of nights ago we got home from work really late (11:30 PM after visiting with Tex Sordahl, my college advisor and Robyn Kutz, a gal I skinned birds with for Tex in college.) Alice eventually hopped down on the kitchen floor and eventually I noticed her doing some head bobbing, looking at something on the floor. It was another camel cricket.

So I took out my camera and switched it to the video setting. I wasn't holding my breath, but I had the camera ready nonetheless. The cricket didn't move, and Alice was losing interest. (That not moving thing is a really good defense when you're up against an owl.) So I pushed the cricket toward Alice. It acted dead and didn't move a muscle. Nothing from Alice. I pushed the cricket closer again.

I was about ready to give up when Alice launched into some serious head bobs, with her chin just about hitting the floor each time. I started the video recording, and wouldn't you know Alice walked right up to the cricket, reached over, picked it up in her beak, crunched it and swallowed it, just as if I had said "Lights, camera, action!" Again, she left a souvenir cricket leg.

Thanks to perfect timing, I have the video clip of Alice making another brilliant kill for your viewing pleasure. Go Alice!! May you eat many more camel crickets in this house.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Going to Wisconsin

Alice the Great Horned Owl is from Antigo, Wisconsin. But for her to go back to Wisconsin (even just to La Crosse) to do programs is quite a trick.

Each state has its own permitting procedures. I have a permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (Special Permit #1) to possess Alice for educational purposes. If I want to go to Iowa to present a program with Alice all I have to do is call the conservation officer for that region and let them know when I’m coming. Piece of cake. Wisconsin is a whole different ballgame.

When I first got Alice all that was required was a $10 permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and I had to let them know where I was going to be and when. Not a big deal. But one year when I sent in my $10 check for the annual permit it was mailed back to me with a copy of the new regulations.

Ever since then if I want to go to Wisconsin to do programs with Alice I now have to get a health certificate first ($40) then get a permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources ($50.) That wouldn’t be too bad if it was for the whole year, but it’s not. Both health certificate and permit are only good for 30 days. Ouch!

So since the Houston Nature Center is funded only by the City of Houston, I need to add these costs on to the fees I would normally charge for programs. This results in programs in Wisconsin costing nearly double what they cost in Minnesota. But I do still get a few groups that can handle the cost, and thankfully they often are grouped in spring so I can combine them onto one permit.

This year a couple of schools, a boy scout troop, and a retirement home in Wisconsin all wanted programs, so I e-mailed the Wisconsin DNR permit guy I normally deal with. He wanted me to talk to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture to make sure they didn’t want me to have an additional permit. They never had before, and when I left messages with the Department of Ag guy, they weren’t returned, so I figured that must mean I didn’t need a permit.

But the DNR guy sent an e-mail to the Dept. of Ag guy and copied it to his supervisor and several others, asking if I needed a permit from them. Well wouldn’t you know I got an answer pretty darned quick! Yes, in fact, I was also supposed to have a permit from the WI Department of Agriculture. Good grief! But at least there was no charge.

After all this discussion (and WI DNR office moving) my first program was rapidly approaching and I still didn’t have my permits yet. So Alice and I went to Appletree Pet Clinic in La Crescent so Dr. Laura Johnson could examine Alice and issue a health certificate, which she did. She wanted me to keep an eye on Alice’s lower mandible, though, since there was a slight crack in the left side, and the right side needed to lose a piece.

So I went back to the nature center, faxed copies of the health certificate to the WI DNR and WI Dept. of Ag, and by the end of the next day I had my DNR Non-Resident Temporary Wildlife Exhibitor Permit in hand as well as my Circus, Rodeo, and Menagerie Import Permit from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. Dead serious…these are the permits I need for a single Great Horned Owl who was hatched in Wisconsin to bring her back to her home state just 20 miles away.

The program went great, a few weeks passed, and it was time to get health certificate #2 to go with my second Non-Resident Temporary Wildlife Exhibitor Permit from the DNR and to fax to the WI Dept. of Agriculture so they could issue another Circus, Rodeo, and Menagerie Import Permit.

Alice stood on my gloved fist in the vet’s office again for her exam like a trooper. She did some really loud annoyed chitters and nipped a couple of times, but overall did an excellent job of allowing herself to be poked and prodded during the exam. But she needed her bill trimmed, and that’s not something she’ll tolerate.

Dr. Johnson wrapped a towel around Alice’s back and wings, then firmly grabbed her off my fist. Her assistant held Alice’s feet as Alice lay bundled in the towel like a burrito with Dr. Johnson holding her head and filing her beak (they didn’t have the dremmel around that day, which is what they normally use.)

Alice screamed some at first, then resigned herself to being manhandled. It took a bit longer than usual using a file instead of a dremmel, but all went well and Alice was perched back on my fist panting in a matter of five minutes or so. A few minutes later she shook all of her feathers and really got settled again. What a trooper!

So I went back to the office, faxed off copies of the health certificate to the WI DNR and Dept. of Ag, got another Circus, Rodeo, and Menagerie Import Permit and we’re now cleared to do three programs in Wisconsin during Earth Week.

Does anyone have any friends in high places in Wisconsin who have the inclination to work to make it easier for a single owl to go back to her home state to educate people about her kind??? I’ve gotta ask…I never know who reads this…or who a reader might have connections to.

Washcloths and Shades

I just realized I haven’t written much about Alice the Great Horned Owl lately. Sometimes I think I just get used to her antics and don’t think much of them (other than laughing when they happen.) But it’s time to share some again.

When Alice and I get home from work, as soon as I open the door and set foot into the kitchen Alice jumps from my gloved fist to the back of the closest kitchen chair. Heaven forbid the chair not be in its normal pushed-in-to-the-table position, or she might wind up landing on the floor. (This has actually happened when the chair was not even close to where it normally sits.)
From there I take the leash off the leather jesses that Alice always wears around her ankles, and Alice is allowed to do as she pleases. This almost always involves some hooting (she likes me to hoot back), then she usually heads upstairs (with my pajama tops if I forgot to bring them upstairs after my morning shower) where she passes the time watching the wildlife out the window at the top of the stairs.

Lately Alice has developed a new twist. When she finishes hooting, she hops/flies the short distance to the kitchen sink from the back of her chair and grabs the washcloth. From there she stays put, takes the washcloth to the floor, or takes it out into the living room. No matter where she winds up, she always clutches it tightly with her feet, reaches down to grab it with her beak, and with a solid tug proceeds to shred it.

You can’t just take something away from a Great Horned Owl who’s bound and determined to hold onto it. I’ve tried substituting an already-shredded washcloth by putting it on her feet over top of the intact washcloth. No go. She just tosses it aside and proceeds to shred what she has. There’s not too much I can do about it aside from really being mean about the whole situation. So I’ve taken to using half shredded washcloths to do the dishes rather than leave out any more intact washcloths (although I’m not sure I even have any….)

Another thing Alice started doing with some regularity before the washcloth episodes is to head upstairs into the bedroom after work. The shades are normally kept closed in there to discourage Alice from going in to watch out the windows (she can open the door since it’s warped just enough that it doesn’t latch well.)

Closed shades no longer stop Alice. I assume out of frustration Alice started biting and scratching at the shades. Well wouldn’t you know, if you bite or scratch just right (and give the right tug), the shades magically fly open! And then you can watch the goings-on out the window.
What this means is that the shades are kind of getting shredded. I’m would assume the long tears in them are from talons, but I’ve got to believe she also grabs the edges with her beak too, which results in less damage.

At one point I took the shredded shades down, intending to replace them. But then I thought “What’s the point?” New ones would get shredded too. So I just used a lot of packing tape to patch them back together and put them back up as is. And Alice still goes into the bedroom sometimes to open them up, but hopefully since they’re almost solid tape she won’t be able to rip them so easily.

These are just more reasons normal, sane individuals would never let a Great Horned Owl live in their house no matter what the circumstances.