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 may be the year for an egg.