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 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 may be the year for an egg.