Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Perches

Rusty and Iris have been here nearly a month. They haven't gotten themselves all settled yet, as owls are slow to adapt to change. Iris took up the habit of flying around and hanging on the coated chain link fencing, and Rusty would occasionally follow suit. I thought they might settle in and get over it, but they didn't, so it was time to figure out a solution.

So the question do you get inside an owl's head to figure out what it's thinking? Kind of a difficult thing to try to do, but since I've lived with a Great Horned Owl for 12 years, I have a bit of an idea. They were obviously stressed and not settled yet, and the chain link provided an easy opportunity to vent that frustration.

There were two main spots the owls hung on the wire: the east end of the cage above the bath pan, and the west end of the cage near the nest. They always hung on the highest part of the wire. Two possibilities came to mind:

1. Cover the upper four feet of the outside of the cages where there was chain link with a double layer of shade cloth so they couldn't see out. They still could hang on the chain link and it would seriously cut down on their view, so this wasn't my favorite choice

2. Put perches across the places they hung on the wire most so they physically COULDN'T hang on the wire in those places. This is the route we chose.

I called up Roger Meyer, the man who designed and built the cages. He came over, I showed him what I wanted, he took some measurements, he went home and found some branches that would do the trick. He pre-drilled them and put screws in so they could be hung in a jiffy.

Roger came over this morning to hang the perches. First we opened the door between the two cages and kind of shooed Rusty and Iris into the other cage so they wouldn't be so stressed with all the commotion in the cage. It took a bit of doing, but Iris went first and with much coaxing Rusty finally followed...after the guys started working!

First Hein and Roger set up ladders on the west side of the cage and put up a perch just to the left of the nest. The perch crossed right through the middle of the 4' tall by 2' wide wood frame segments, effectively blocking a Great Horned Owl from being able to hang on the wire there. But the perch was close to the wire so the owls couldn't hit it hard and couldn't jump at the wire from the perch.

Next they did the perch near the bath pan. Same deal...across the middle of the 4'x2' sections, 10 feet off the ground. Didn't take long at all.

In the meantime I cleaned up pellets, washed out the bathpan, and refilled it after the guys had their equipment out. Then I shooed Rusty and Iris back into their breeding cage. Again Iris went without much trouble, but Rusty was slow to go. Then I shut the door between the cages.

They were understandably nervous about all the morning's commotion. They flew around but guess what? They mostly just landed on the new perches! Awesome!!

We realized, however, that although the perch above the bath pan can be seen on camera, the perch by the nest is too high to be seen on camera. So guess where they spent the day? On the perch where we couldn't see them.

The infrared illuminator gives enough glare that you can't really see the perch above the bath pan at night, so we have to do some thinking there. And I think I'll mess with the other camera angle, but again we'll be facing glare from the infrared illumator. So perhaps we'll move the illuminator. More to think about!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Alice the Technological Genius

Today I sat down at the brand new computer that was purchased to handle all the video from the Great Horned Owl breeding project. After checking to see what Rusty and Iris were up to, I was going to quick check my e-mail. My login failed. Over and over. I tried logging into my work e-mail account. My login kept failing. I tried it on my computer upstairs and it was fine. Huh???

I knew Alice had been walking around the keyboard of the new computer, but there was no poop or dander in why wasn't it working?? It had to be Alice's fault one way or another.

This evening I sat down to try a few things. I could type out all the letters, small and caps, and all the numbers. That couldn't be the problem. But when I tried to type my password on a sticky note on the computer, it didn't work. I tried both passwords. Both goofed up. What???? I finally realized what was going on: I couldn't type two of the same letters or numbers in a row. Somehow she must have screwed up one of the settings in the control panel.

I found the keyboard part of the control panel. The repeat time was fine. But when I held down a key to test the repeat rate, it only typed the letter once. But there was no place to change the "repeat" settings. So I typed something into the search box and found a filter function that would prevent a letter from being typed twice...there had to be a one or more second delay before the same character could be typed again. And guess what? There was a shortcut to make this happen--hold down the right shift key for more than eight seconds. Aha! It's no problem to imagine an owl foot standing on the right shift key for eight seconds.

So I changed the settings back and disabled the shortcut. Now things run fine, and hopefully Alice won't find any more ingenious keyboard shortcuts (although she turned a screen saver on on my Mac and heck if I can figure out how to disable it again!)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Owl Cage Diagram

It can be a bit tricky to get your bearings watching the Rusty and Iris Ustream video as I change camera views, so here's a rough diagram of the cages. One square equals two feet, and the two cages are actually located end to end.

Click on the image and it will enlarge to full size so you can actually see it without a microscope.

I hope this helps! And don't forget to post your observations of Rusty and Iris here in the comments section of this blog. I'm especially looking for observations of:

-Hoots, chitters, squawks, hisses, bill clacking
-Preening each other
-Digging/scratching in the nest (other than caching food)

Thanks for your help!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010


Rusty sleeping with his face in the camera.

If you've been watching the Rusty and Iris cam lately, you've seen a lot of action...that is if you consider SLEEPING to be action. And Rusty has a nice tendency to sleep with his face just inches from the nest camera, with Iris hidden behind him.

Owls sleep during the day. We all knew that. It's a fairly light sleep, and you'll see them popping an eye open at the slightest sound, or taking time to preen. But generally they're sleeping.

But they also sleep at night! OK, I wasn't expecting this. But I knew Great Horned Owls were more crepuscular than strictly nocturnal. That means they are most active at dawn and dusk. And if you've been watching, they most certainly are most active at dawn and dusk. And they often take a nap after their dusk frolics and feasting! Yep, conked out on a branch dozing around 10:30 PM or so. Who'd have thunk it?

When owls blink their upper lid goes down, just like us. But when they sleep, their lower lid goes up! That's how you can tell when they're sleeping, especially when Rusty is right up to the camera. And they settle their heads down on their shoulders. Sleeping...owl style.