Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Owl Crop Circle

Owls have been important to human cultures since the dawn of time. A large number of cultures throughout the ages have assigned them high value...either as harbingers of death and doom, or as wise beings.

Now owls have been added to the world of crop circles! A large owl face crop circle appeared in a field in Woodborough Hill in the UK this summer. Some attribute the owl crop circle to aliens taking an interest in Harry Potter. Others think it's a sign that we need to be wise and think deeper about the world around us. Or I like to think it's to generate interest in the International Festival of Owls. (OK, so it wasn't anywhere near where the festival occurs, but I thought I'd throw another theory out there.)

Find the full article and photo here.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

4th of July Coping

Alice went to the dentist on the 4th of July. At least she experienced the owl version of going to the dentist, since owls don't have teeth.

Owl bills (beaks) grow continuously, in some miraculous fashion that is self-sharpening. In the wild the bill is worn down through exposure to hot and cold, wet and dry, and by feaking (rubbing) the bill on perches after eating to wipe off those leftover bits of meat. In captivity Alice doesn't eat as much and isn't exposed to the elements, so her bill needs to be trimmed every now and then to prevent it from getting overgrown.

Alice sometimes bites me when I pick her up off her perch to take her someplace. When she's getting a little "long in the tooth", her bill is more like a fang, and it really hurts even if she's not biting hard. And believe me, it was high time to get that weapon trimmed down a bit.

Erica Broberg from St. Charles, Minnesota was my falconry sponsor back in the 1990s. Her husband Jeff has had lots of practice trimming the bills on Erica's birds over the years, so he more often than not is the one who serves as Alice's "dentist."

As it happened, the 4th of July wound up being the day that worked to do the deed. Alice and I were working, so Jeff and Erica met us at the Houston Nature Center toward the end of the day. I cleared off the front desk, since Alice usually winds up flapping her wings pretty good, which sends everything that's not tied down flying. I also fished out my elbow length gloves for the job while Jeff got his Dremmel ready to go.

I put on the hefty gloves and had Alice step back onto my left gloved hand as usual. Then I reached in with my right hand and firmly grabbed her "ankles." This of course causes screaming protests from Alice and some wing flapping. Erica helped me gather Alice's wings against her body, then I held Alice's back against my chest with my left hand.

Jeff took Alice's head in his hand and started grinding away with the Dremmel. The tip of the upper mandible especially needed to be ground down. Once Jeff got going Alice behaved and didn't wiggle much. I think she's learned that struggling doesn't help. Besides the tip, Jeff also ground down the tops of the sides of the lower mandible, as the left side was flaring out.

In a few minutes it was all over. I let Alice stand on my glove again, then promptly put her back on her work perch in front of the office window. She gave a huge rouse (puffed up and shook her feathers like a dog), drooped her wings and started panting. The drooped wings and panting are the owl way of cooling down. After all, being manhandled, even if only for a few minutes, is quite stressful.

Thanks to Jeff for doing the coping and Erica for taking the photos to share.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Laos rat infestation could be good for owls

Northern Laos is experiencing the worst rat infestation in 20 years. This has resulted in massive crop failures and leaves thousands of people facing food shortages.

What to do???

Barn Owls are great eaters of rats, so the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization is telling people to leave owls alone and not eat them, and to not practice slash and burn to save owl habitat. Trapping rats is only a short-term solution, and they don't advocate using poison because of the environmental impacts. Go owls!!!

You can read the full article here.

Bad Economy Is Bad for Owls in India

The economy is taking a toll on rare Barn Owls in India, believe it or not. Apparently some businessmen in northern India are sacrificing live owls in the traditional belief that it will bring them prosperity. To meet the demand, poachers are stepping up their efforts in the illegal owl trade, much to the detriment of the already uncommon Barn Owls.

Read the full article in the Hindu News.

One Tough Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owls have a reputation for being tough. Unbelievably tough. I've heard of them smashing through the windshield of a semi driving down the interstate, getting hit by semis and being pulled out of their grills hundreds of miles down the road...still alive. The stories are incredible, but true.

Here is yet another story to prove just how tough these birds can be. This particular owl had been caught on a fishing hook in 2007 in Burnsville, MN, rehabilitated by The Raptor Center, then released. Now she wound up behind the grill of an SUV. Yes, stuck behind the grill after she was hit in the Twin Cities. The wheel panel had to be removed to get her out so she could go through a second stint with the fine folks at The Raptor Center.

KARE 11 News covered the story. You'll find the video on the right side of the screen.

Owl Hall of Famer Helps Arizona Owl

Dick Clark, recipient of a 2008 Special Achievement Award from the World Owl Hall of Fame, made the news in May. He had been observing a Great Horned Owl nest on a large power transmission structure near Prescott, Arizona and one day found a youngster hanging upside down by one leg, 80 feet up in the air. Read the whole story in The Daily Courier.

It's wonderful to know that researchers like Dick care about individual birds as well as populations as a whole. Thanks to Dick, the good folks at Western Area Power Administration, and Liberty Wildlife Rehabilitation Foundation for their roles in this dramatic rescue!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Going out west for owls

I thought things were good to go with Alice for my next trip since I had made arrangements for her to stay with falconer Erica Broberg in St. Charles, MN while I was gone. But two days before I left on my trip I had more problems: I used up the last of the gophers in my basement freezer and found the 150 gophers in the garage freezer were all moldy! The freezer was running, but was only keeping them cool, not frozen. So I had the honor of cleaning up the disgusting mess. All I can say is that if there's a murder in the area, they'll be confused by all the (gopher) blood in my garage and out back.

Once the wonderful cleaning job was over, I was left needing to find another food source for Alice, and I had just 1.5 days to find it. After some more phone calls, racking my brain, and a trip to the nature center, I found the number for Bernadette Snyder, a woman who breeds rabbits an hour west of here who once donated some of her culled rabbits as owl food about five years ago. And I was in luck--I went over to her place that night to get some rabbits and rats for Alice to eat until gopher trapping starts up for the season again.

The next day I loaded up Alice and a boatload of her stuff to haul to Erica's. Erica had a nice-sized mew (cage) cleaned up and ready to go for her, and we got Alice settled in it with her stump perch, bow perch, travel box, nest basket, food tray, eating mat, and water bowl so that she'd feel as comfortable as possible in these new surroundings. She seemed to take to it right away. Erica and I visited for an hour or two and I checked on Alice once more to see that she seemed comfortable, then drove home to an owl-less house...the first time I've slept there without Alice in over 10 years. It was a weird feeling to not wake up to an owl hooting in the wee hours.

Bright and early the next morning I flew out to Boise, Idaho and stayed the night with Katie McVey. Katie was an intern of Marge Gibson’s at the Raptor Education Group (where I got Alice), had the same college advisor at Luther College as me (Tex Sordahl), and is now finishing her Master’s degree doing research on Burrowing Owls. She took me out and showed me a Great Horned Owl nest the day I arrived, and I was able to record some of their vocalizations for my study on regional variations in the territorial hoots of Great Horned Owls. She also introduced me to some of the “owl guys” at the raptor research facility where she works. I had only corresponded with Mark Fuller by e-mail before, so it was good to meet him in person. Carl Marti would have been good to meet also, but he wasn’t in his office when we were around. I also met one of Eric Forsman’s students. Eric is a world authority on the Spotted Owl and was in Houston a few years ago for our International Festival of Owls.

The next day I drove through the mountains to the Owl Research Institute, north of Missoula, Montana. It was an interesting 10.5 hour drive for this girl who’s never been in the mountains to drive through them in a rental car with snow in a couple of the passes. But I made it safe and sound, even if my knuckles were white for parts of the trip. But I had already decided by then that I'd rather look at mountains than drive through them.

Shortly after arriving at the Owl Research Institute (ORI) and having dinner, founder Denver Holt was out showing me Great Horned Owls. I kept telling him how much trouble I had finding Great Horned Owl nests around here, and he kept saying he could show me 10 nests in an hour. He wasn't kidding! There are so few trees there that the owls are in the trees in people's front yards. And the trees are so short and the nests so conspicuous that they are really easy to find. And the owls are highly tolerant of people, something I'm not used to. Plus Denver has a resident female who's mate disappeared early this year, so my first night there I recorded his female and the pair to the north.

One of my main goals in visiting with Denver Holt was to see how he conducts educational programs in the field. He allowed me to tag along and assist with the grunt work for a two day course he was teaching through the Glacier Institute while I was there.

After a morning classroom session, everything was in the field. He taught the participants how to find Great Horned Owl nests, Long-eared Owl roosts and nests, Saw-whet Owl roosts (although we didn't find any Saw-whets in the roost areas we located), and watched some Short-eared Owl skydances at dusk. He even took the class to some cliffs where Barn Owls had bred in the past, but after a precipitous ladder climb up into the hole in the cliff, all there was to show for the season yet were some pellets.

I do have to say that Denver is a master showman. He's an expert at finding nests and roosts to say the least, but he's also a marvelous presenter. He knows how to make the class fun and exciting for the participants in addition to just providing top-notch information. If you ever have a chance to participate in one of his classes, jump at it! I guarantee it will be worth every penny.

After my visit to ORI, I'm starting to think more seriously about getting together a group of volunteers to help with owl nest finding and perhaps owl surveys around here.

I drove back to Boise through the mountains with beautiful weather. I managed to have another "mountain" experience on the way back through: There was a medium-sized rock in the middle of my lane and a car coming toward me in the other lane. Being used to a Chevy Tracker that has a little clearance, I thought I could straddle the rock. But there was a horrifying thud as the car lurched when I hit the rock.

I had a sick feeling in my stomach as I watched the digital readout on the dash of the Chevy Cobalt I was driving. It could tell me the pressue in each of the four tires as well as if there was ice on the ground, so I figured it would tell me if the rock had done damage. But by the time I got to Lower Stanley, Idaho and the gas station there, I knew something was wrong, even though the car didn't say anything was wrong. Sure enough, all the transmission fluid was pouring out, and that was where my car was going to stay.

I had a marvelous visit with Judy at Jerry's Country Store there while I waited two hours for a tow truck and a new rental car. Stop in and say hello to the nice folks there if you ever go through there! (By the way, I found out from my insurance adjuster that my insurance company will cover the damages 100% with no deductible since I'm from Minnesota! Very sweet, since I have a $1,000 deductible on my car insurance since my vehicle is old. I've got American Family Insurance, in case you're wondering.)

I was late getting back to Katie's in Boise that night. The next day I spent at the World Center for Birds of Prey, which is part of the Peregrine Fund. This is an organization that got it’s start breeding Peregrine Falcons to release back to the wild when their numbers were so low. They’ve now moved on to breed other rare raptors, like the Aplomado Falcon and the California Condor.
They have a wonderful, competent, and friendly staff at the Center's interpretive building. I spent all day visiting with Jack Cafferty, Nick Piccono, and Trish Nixon, learning how they work with birds, manage staff and volunteers, run their gift shop, and more. It was very helpful as I'm ruminating on the details of starting an owl center here in Houston, MN.

My last day in Boise Katie took me out for a “play day." She took me out to her study sites and I saw zillions of Burrowing Owls—the first time I had ever seen them in the wild. They are in artificial burrows, so Katie dug up two of them to open up the 5 gallon buckets they nest in to show me a clutch of 6 eggs (more yet to come) and a cache of prey that included a kangaroo rat and other miscellaneous rodents. It was absolutely awesome to see the owls with someone who knows so much about them!

Katie wanted to show me some other owls too, so we went to another site in the Snake River valley. We checked a Barn Owl nest box (it only contained pellets) and flushed a couple of owls, but didn’t get good looks at them. Then I climbed up a tree to check a Western Screech-Owl nest box that was active last year. Sure enough, there was Mom and 5 young chicks inside! (See the photo above.) Katie asked me to pick up Mom to see if she was banded, but warned me she would poop. Mom didn’t resist in the slightest when I picked her up, and just as Katie said, she pooped. I expected a small poop, since this was a small owl. But this owl dumped a huge load of pudding-consistency poop that landed all over my binoculars and jacket. Then as I lowered her down for Katie to photograph the band on her leg, the owl let go of another massive poop that landed on my jacket, jeans, and shoe.

Katie laughed and apologized for the mess. I couldn’t care less—it’s not like I haven’t been pooped on by an owl before! I was just so happy to see my first ever Western Screech-Owl, see the chicks, and get to hold her. Too cool.
I cleaned up as best I could in the field, then we continued to look for possible Long-eared Owls or Great Horned Owls. My binoculars reeked of screech-owl poop, but it just made me smile each time I got a whiff. Katie’s expert eyes picked out a half-hidden Great Horned Owl roosting in a tree. Excellent!

Besides the owls at this site, we were also treated to the sight of a male Northern Harrier doing his courtship flight. He would fly nearly straight up in the air, flip over, then dive straight back toward the ground over and over again. It was amazing to watch, and I couldn’t help but think he must be having a bit of fun too.

After nine days I flew back to Minneapolis and caught my shuttle to Rochester. Upon arrival, I found out my luggage hadn't made it on the shuttle and was probably on the next shuttle. Since I was the only person on the next leg of the shuttle to Winona, my driver graciously agreed to wait for my suitcase to arrive. And since there had been a mix-up with my luggage, he also kindly agreed to stop to pick up Alice when we drove through St. Charles so I wouldn't have to drive back there with my vehicle once I got to Winona.

I was very anxious to see Alice again. Erica had sent updates via e-mail so I knew she was eating and doing well, but quite frankly, I missed her. And I was curious to see how she'd react to seeing me again. Especially after Erica told me she had been heard hooting with a wild male the night before!!

Alice didn't say anything as I talked to her while approaching the mews, but as soon as I opened the door into her pen she started hooting. Her plumage was compressed with ear tufts up, so it wasn't how she normally hoots to me. But I lowered my head, went up to her and hooted back. She let me do it, and I like to think that she appreciated that I was back. She hooted every time I came into the mews as we loaded up all of her paraphenalia. She even let Erica bow her head against hers and hoot to her!

Alice was quiet in her travel box on the way back to Winona, and didn't say anything as we finished the last leg of the trip in my Tracker back to my house. But when we got into the house she hooted and hooted and hooted. I think it felt good to both of us to be back home again. Alice had lost 200 grams (nearly half a pound) since I had left, so thankfully she was beefy enough that it didn't make too much difference.

The next day I met with MaryBeth Garrigan at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha. (MaryBeth is serving as a mentor for my Bush Leadership Fellowship.) Alice had been snoozing in the hall, but when she heard me put on my shoes and jacket to leave, she started hooting. I think she was concerned I was going to leave her again, since she normally doesn't hoot when I do this. But things were fine when I returned home that night after a wonderful visit with MaryBeth, and we're back to our normal routine. And gopher trapper Ron Ehlers has already deposited 30-40 more gophers in my parents' freezer for me to pick up when I'm there for Easter.

So although it was an excellent trip overall, I'm happy to be here in Houston, MN with our little 300 foot bluffs. I'll leave the mountain driving to other people, thank you very much.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Holy Cow! What a Festival!

I think pretty much everyone agrees that this was by far the best International Festival of Owls ever! We had great weather on Friday and Saturday (50 F and sunny), and attendance was in the ballpark of 900 people, up from 500 last year!

The main festival programs were moved to the Elementary School this year. This meant that all of our festival street corner signs had to be repainted, but we had a nice setup at the school. The school classes had the building decorated to the hilt with owls, and Principal Rick Bartz bent over backwards to do everything he possibly could to help the festival.

Tobin, the World Bird Sanctuary’s European Barn Owl who flies over and skims the crowd’s heads, is always a smashing hit with everyone. He performed both Friday evening and Saturday morning for over 500 people.

Little Bit, the Raptor Education Group’s Northern Saw-whet Owl who stands a whopping six inches tall, was the hit of the Saturday afternoon live owl program and also of the Sunday photo session.

The owl prowls were both successful, with Larry Dolphin and Alex Watson from the Hormel Nature Center in Austin, MN calling in two Barred Owls for the family owl prowl, and champion owl caller Steve Weston from Eagan, MN calling in a BOATLOAD of owls: two pairs of Great Horneds, a Saw-whet, and three Long-eared Owls!!! Needless to say I’m going to pay this man a visit in the near future to learn his secrets to success.

Both the pellet dissection and nest box building programs sold out. They were led by Nova Mackentley and Chris Neri from Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in Michigan. Chris and Nova also gave a program on their work at Whitefish Point, and the room was overflowing with people who wanted to hear about it.

With record attendance, everyone was kept hopping in the kids’ activity area. And the kids turned out in force for the owl calling contest with over 30 participants. We even had to have a hoot-off for third place. Little do the kids know they were being judged by Great Gray Owl researcher Jim Duncan, Snowy Owl researcher Norm Smith, and expert owl caller Steve Weston.

As always, the owl bake sale was a huge hit, bringing in over $500 this year, thanks to a LOT of people baking a ton of creative owl-themed goodies. And as always, we go through a lot of cake for Alice’s hatch-day party. The owl face pancake breakfast at the Lutheran Church took in over $1,000 too.

This year we added a few more adult programs, so in addition to the Whitefish Point program, I gave a program on my Great Horned Owl vocal study, and retired art professor Les Crocker did a program on owls in art throughout history. Both were very well received.

We had our first ever medallion hunt this year. It was found early Saturday afternoon down at the Houston sign in Trailhead Park by Kirsten Zoellner and her kids from Rushford, MN.

Saturday evening’s banquet was wonderful. We had great food, and the Houston boy scout troop got a standing ovation for doing such an excellent job serving the tables. Then Jim Beckman did a great job with the live auction, especially since he filled in at the last minute! Thanks to everyone who donated and bought items.

It was wonderful to have two of the three World Owl Hall of Fame award recipients attend: Jim Duncan from Winnipeg (he was our 2005 keynote speaker) received the Champion of Owls Award, and Maryann Duke from Shoreview, MN and Lisa Duke from Seattle, Washington came to receive the Special Achievement Award for husband/father Gary Duke, who passed away in 2006. Only Tony Warburton from England was unable to attend to receive the Lady Gray’l Award for his beloved Barn Owl Georgie, who passed away in 2003. (Tony was here in 2007.)

Norman Smith from Boston, MA gave a phenomenal keynote presentation. His slides were wonderful (yes, the man still uses slides…someone please donate a laptop and projector to Blue Hills Trailside Museum and get his slides scanned for him---airport security messed with his slides saying they could contain plastic explosives!!) His message about everyone one of us needing to care for our environment and the need to involve kids from an early age came through loud and clear. And earned him a standing ovation.

Despite freezing rain on Sunday (hey, this is Minnesota, and the weather can change at the drop of a hat), the photo session at Valley High Golf Club went well. Alan Stankevitz, the photo shoot coordinator, had wonderful perches lined up (the Saw-whet perch was contributed by author/naturalist/photographer Stan Tekiela), and despite the weather, the photographers were able to get good shots of the birds. Birds and handlers had to be rotated inside to stay thawed out.

And the birding and natural history bus trip went out Sunday morning despite the weather. Since there are two topics to cover, if the trip is light on birds, it can be heavier on natural history thanks to our two guides, Fred Lesher and Brian Lee. And it always ends on a great note with lunch at Houston’s own wonderful German restaurant.

The bottom line is always important too, since this is a fundraiser for the Houston Nature Center. The festival netted approximately $8,500, with another $1,000 or so in net merchandise sales and $840 raised through the raffle for the Global Owl Project. And the lodging and eating establishments around town also were kept busy.

The festival planning committee is already working on making things better for next year. With attendance so high, we need to address all kinds of logistics. So if you have suggestions for improvement, now’s the time to let us know so we can make next year even better.

Here are a couple of video links…one before and one during the owl festival (including Alice hooting in the WXOW clip):



Thanks to the nearly 100 volunteers it takes to put on this festival, the sponsors, the donors, and everyone who attends. All are essential to make this festival so successful.

And it’s not too early to put next year’s festival on your calendar: March 5-7, 2010!

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Alice EATS Her Egg

Today is Thursday, and Alice hasn't eaten a speck of food since last Friday. Just some sips of water. They don't eat when laying, but she never did lay a second egg.

And this morning there was an open eggshell under her nest basket.
There was no mess on the floor, so it didn't fall and break (she would have had to figure out a way to pick it up and toss it out for that to happen.) And there was no mess IN the nest. From the marks on the egg, I'm betting she ate the insides. I thought she might have eaten the shell for the calcium, but all of the shell was there.
So I decided this woman needs to get off her nest and eat something! I took away the replica egg left in her nest, so she had nothing to sit on. Fifteen minutes later she was off her nest making a beeline for the gopher head on her feeding tray. She grabbed it and started hooting and hopping around with it. I was sure she'd eat it. But instead she cached it and went back to sit on her empty nest!
I started to wonder if I'm failing as her mate in some way. Am I supposed to make a certain sound when I offer food? Behave a certain way around the nest? Something that I'm not doing to cue her to eat?? Nothing I could figure out....
So she hooted on her nest when I came home from work, and only got off her nest for a bit. Later on after I returned from a walk she was in the hallway. Hallelujah! I checked in her room and she had eaten a few bites of gopher. Not much, but still it was something. After maybe an hour or two she returned to sit on her nest.
So much for the whole idea of having her sit on her egg and observe behavior and vocalizations. She doesn't seem to have it figured out yet, as sometimes happens with first-time owl moms in the wild.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Alice Lays An Egg!!!

How's this for a motley assortment of eggs?!?

It started a few days ago with Alice sitting on her nest all day. The tan plastic Easter egg had been sitting on the side of her nest for years, and she'd never shown interest in it, but now she was sitting on it.

So I brought home my replica Great Horned Owl egg from the Houston Nature Center. She happily accepted that one too.

She hasn't eaten anything for a few days. According to those in the know, they often don't eat anything before laying eggs...probably because things are full enough in that little abdomen when cooking up an egg without adding food to the intestines.

She's only gotten off her nest for brief periods the last couple of days. She came into the bedroom about midnight last night and hopped up onto my pillow to make me hoot with her (which I do, since the alternative is to get talons in the face. There's just no arguing with that.) Thankfully she wasn't in the bedroom more than 15 minutes.

(This is where I need to mention that owls do NOT make good pets. It's not legal to have them for pets in the U.S. and many other countries. I have Alice under a permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to do programs for the Houston Nature Center, and she does indeed have to work. But since I'm a one-person staff, she can't live at the Nature Center. And it's a very long story about how she wound up in the house, but because of it I've been able to conduct a vocal study on her species due to my close association with her. So she is indeed a working girl, I never intended for her to live in the house, and I don't recommend it.)

So today she didn't get off her nest until about 5:30 PM. She wasn't off long, and I didn't check on her. She got off again at 8 PM, and I went in to hoot with her (and put my hand on her back--that's as close to copulation as we can do...me being a human and all.) But before I left her room, I poked my nose over the edge of her laundry basket nest and ta-da! There was this motley assortment of eggs!

The plastic egg is easy to identify. The off-white one in the middle is the replica, which is actually noticeably bigger than the REAL egg, which is white, in the front, and looks a heck of a lot like a ping pong ball.

So after calling a bunch of people to spread the news and get some advice, I will remove the plastic egg the next time she's off and leave the replica egg for now. And see if she lays any more eggs. I'll let her sit on the eggs and record her vocalizations, since it's up for debate as to whether a human-imprinted owl will have the same kinds of vocalizations around the nest as an owl that knows it's an owl.

So, at nearly 12 years of age, Alice finally laid her first egg. Maybe because it's just her and me now....

Sunday, January 04, 2009

An Egg This Year?

Hormones are raging again! Alice is now very hooty...hooty enough that if I bring her to work she hoots at anything--someone walking in the door, me talking on the phone, sneezing, blowing my nose, anything.
Besides being hooty, she's gotten into "receptive mode" where she's very interested in being mated with. Now I'm not exactly a male Great Horned Owl and can't do the deed, but if I put my hand on her back (the male would land on the female's back), that seems to do it for her.
How do I know when she's "in the mood"? She hoots over and over again with the last note dropped off her hoot. Her tail is cocked up vertically like her normal territorial hoot, but when I put my hand on her back, it's like I pushed a button and it instantly drops down to the horizontal position. She cocks her head slightly to the side and her undertail coverts lower and expose her cloaca (the one and only "out door.")
Alice is "in the mood" several times a day now, and spends her days sleeping on her laundry-basket-nest in her room. Since there are very few visitors to the Houston Nature Center this time of year, I let her play hooky and sit on her nest at home.
A couple of days ago I noticed that the tan plastic Easter egg that's been on the edge of her nest for a few years wasn't in its usual spot. Alice was in her nest, but I was able to see that she had moved the egg down toward where she was sitting. She's never shown interest in it before, and it's too big (not to mention the wrong color!) for a Great Horned Owl egg, but she seemed interested in it now.
She hasn't been losing belly feathers like crazy like other years, so I don't think she's developed a brood patch, but she certainly seemed interested in the whole egg thing. So I brought home the replica Great Horned Owl egg from the Nature Center. It's the right size, shape, weight and color for her.
When I came home from work yesterday, as best I could tell she had her plastic egg underneath her, since I couldn't see it, and it wasn't beside her. She wasn't sitting completely down in the incubation position, but she wasn't totally standing either.
I slowly put the fake egg in her nest, and she took notice. It's like you could see the wheels in her head turning as she slowly looked at it. I left her to her own devices, since owls never seem to do anything fast. At least Alice doesn't.
I checked back later, and she had indeed moved the new "correct" egg between her legs. I still couldn't see the plastic one, but the white one was visible (see photo.) Her mouth is open and her head feathers slicked down a bit because she doesn't like me in her face now. Normally she likes me to have my nose in her nest while she's busy scratching around and clucking, but not now.
I didn't get my owl breeding cage built this year, so in some ways it would be helpful if Alice did lay an egg so I have a clue what kind of behavior and vocalizations to expect around the nest in the breeding cage to help with camera placement and such. But she could also get really crabby. And there would be no programs for a good month while she sits on her egg (not that I do many this time of year anyway.)
This year is different since now that I live alone it's just Alice and me. No husbands for competition. So who knows...it may be the year for an egg.