Saturday, December 25, 2010

Pull down the shades!

I was hoping that Iris would settle down in the cage over time, but she still is flying back and forth. So I finally decided it was time for another cage modification: plywood over some of the chain link.

Iris has been hanging on the chain link, but it's always on the top four feet. Owls, like most birds, have a natural tendancy to want to be as high as possible. So if she's going to hang on the wire, she's not going to fly down to do it. I figured if we could cover up the top four feet of chain link in the cage, that should essentially eliminate the hanging opportunities.

I talked to Roger Meyer, cage builder mastermind. I had suggested putting up slats over the chain link, but he recommended thin plywood. This would be easy to do, and there's no way they could hang on it. I agreed.

So Roger came over, took some measurements, got some plywood, cut it to size, and painted it. Then he was over to install it. The whole process only took a few days in typical Roger high-speed style.

We shooed Rusty and Iris into the other cage while the plywood was installed to avoid stressing them more than necessary. All went well with installation, other than needing to cut one additional panel. Piece of cake!

After the guys had cleaned their equipment out of the breeding cage I opened the door between the cages (from the flight cage side.) To get an idea of what the new decor looked like from an owl's point of view I leaned forward through the hatch into the breeding cage. I couldn't see any trees from owl-perch height (just the ground) thanks to the plywood, so I figured all should be well.

But just as I leaned in to start my visual assesment I heard a swoosh of wings and felt something on my shoulder: Rusty! A split second after he landed on my shoulder he left again. I had to smile inside...I know he doesn't see as well as he should, but it made me feel like he wasn't overly scared of me to head straight for me in the first place.

Once I was out of the way it only took a few minutes for Rusty and Iris to move back into their breeding cage, and there was definitely some extra head bobbing going on as they checked out the "screens" that looked like they had been pulled partway down on the walls of their cage.

It seems the screens are diminishing Iris's flying, and she's spending more time at the nest now. Eating and caching there, and occasionally hanging out by Rusty. Hopefully all of these are good signs.

Oh, and for those of you wanting to learn to tell Rusty and Iris apart in black and white, this photo should help a bit. Iris is lighter colored (which mostly helps when they're together until you get used to the difference), but you can see that Iris' bad pupil is smallish and oddly shaped. Rusty's bad pupil is big and round.


  1. And a few notes from this morning:

    At around 03:32 PST, a brief hoot came from somewhere off-camera.

    And around 04:33-04:34 PST, there was lots of excited hooting (Hoo hoohoohoohoo Hooo Hoo!) from somewhere off-camera, which sounded like a female from the pitch (Iris? Or Alice, from the house?). This was repeated a few times, and eventually, Rusty (again, guessing from the pitch) replied (Hoo hoohoohoohoo HOOOO Hoo!) twice. Someone was perched on the hide box during all of this, but I'm not sure who it was.

    Also, someone (Iris?) seemed to be spending a fair amount of time walking around on the floor along the far wall (the wall separating the breeding and flight cages). Not sure if this is sigificant...

    Fairly quiet morning, otherwise.

  2. And another note from this morning (26 Dec 2010):

    At around 08:02 PST, some quiet, low-pitched staccato hoots (just single hoots) sounded from off-camera (Rusty?). Iris was eating, looked agitated, picked up her food in her beak, and flew off. The hoots continue for about 2 minutes. Iris came back at 08:04, with her food in her talon (presumably the same item--looked like it), transferred it to her beak, then cached her food in the far back corner of the nest). The hoots continued briefly off-camera while Iris went to the edge of nest by wall, facing outward, where she is now.

    Thanks for the pointers about how to identify them on the IR camera! I've also noticed that on both IR and color, Iris' feet are white, while Rusty's are noticeably darker.

  3. And another note from 26 Dec 2010:

    At around 14:27 PST, Rusty hoots in his usual pattern, crouching forward with his ear tufts up, staring intently at something at the far end of the cage. He repeats this three times over about a minute and a half.

  4. It's nice they're hooting so much now. Most of it is in response to Alice's hooting, especially Iris' excited hoo, hoo, hoo, hoos. But the afternoon hoots by Rusty weren't provoked by Alice. The owl on the floor of the cage is nearly always Rusty, but I've seen Iris on the floor once or twice.

  5. Sounds like Rusty and an outside/wild Owl [ Victor? ] were having a good/loud conversation.
    apx 22:21 onward

  6. Rusty giving us some nice hoots.. Dec 28, 4PM CST

  7. And a few notes from last night (29 Dec 2010):

    At around 16:36 PST, a quiet, multi-syllable hoot came from somewhere off camera--sounded female (Iris? Or Alice, from inside the house?).

    And at around 17:51 PST, an off-camera hoot sounded, answered by Rusty in his usual pattern. Rusty hooted twice more, in his usual pattern, with his ear tufts up, staring intently at something off camera (far end of the cage?).

    Nothing much happening this morning--some flying, some eating, some caching of prey items, some preening (but no allopreening) but no hooting.

  8. And a few more notes from yesterday (30 Dec 2010):

    At 13:01 PST, Rusty hoots, ear tufts up, watching something above him.

    At 14:12 PST Rusty flies off the nest and hoots briefly from off-camera.

    At 14:37 PST,Rusty hoots from off camera in his usual pattern. He hoots again at 14:39, and again at 14:41, also in his usual pattern.

    And at 17:33 PST Rusty begins hooting, continuing with long pauses between hoots for around 4 minutes.

    And a note from this morning (31 December 2010)--at around 05:13, Iris was hanging, briefly, on the wire by the food tray. I've noticed her doing this on other occasions as well--always the panel above and to the right of the food tray, and only for a second or two.

    She did it again just now (05:19 PST)--was on the food tray, then jumped to the wire and climbed up to just under the plywood before flying off.

  9. Wow, thanks for all these detailed notes screwball! Nothing gets past you!

    I'm still thinking of ways to provide enrichment for Iris to hopefully help her settle into her life here and notice Rusty's hooting!!

  10. Just a note from yesterday afternoon (31 Dec 2010):

    At 16:06 PST, Rusty hoots from somewhere off-camera (usual pattern, one time), and again about a minute later.

    Fair amount of flying, but no hooting last night. Tuned in late this morning, so no idea if anything happened overnight.

    Just wondering--are there any toys or activities that Alice enjoys that could be adapted for Iris? Also, I'm reminded of the stories of polar bears in zoos that wouldn't stop pacing. (There's a study referenced in a paper at that mentions that spreading food items around the bears' enclosures helped to reduce those behaviors--perhaps something similar might help?)

    (Just suggestions--not an expert by any stretch on any of this, just observing and suggesting, and hopefully not offending (and if I am, please accept my apologies)....)

  11. Funny you should comment on the toys thing... I just put three of Alice's old toys in the nest to see if they would interested Rusty or Iris at all. I see the tennis ball is on the floor this morning but the other two are still in the nest.

    I appreciate the suggestions because yes, this is the point we are at....finding enrichment activities for Iris to give her something to do instead of flying back and forth. I'm going to try live mice, but I'm definitely up for other suggestions!!