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.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Updated Cage Layout

We're still in the process of tweaking the cages so that Rusty and Iris feel comfortable in their new permanent home. We added hide boxes in November, so I've added them to the cage layout diagram here. For the most part the owls don't use the boxes, other than to perch on top of one of them. In a way this is means they aren't scared and feeling like they need a place to hide! I suspect the boxes are more likely to get used during the summer when I'm running the lawn mower....

At any rate, the biggest problem has been Iris hanging on the chain link. We added a couple of perches in the main spots where she hung on the wire and that helped tremendously, but now she's hanging in some new places. The key questions is WHY? It's obviously not out of fear. And I don't think she's trying to catch critters outside or trying to get to another specific perch outside. I think she just plain would like to get out of the cage which unfortunately isn't an option since she's blind in one eye.

I called Roger Meyer, master cage builder, last night to discuss our options. It seems we need to provide a physical barrier to prevent hanging on the chain link. I had suggested adding vertical slats over the chain link, but Roger asked about thin plywood. That seems like the way to go...they can't hang on it at all, and it would be the easiest thing to do.

I don't plan to put plywood over ALL of the chain link...just the top four feet. Owls like to be high and fly high and get higher, so I don't think they will fly down to hang on the wire. This will allow them to see outside still, but mostly just see the ground and grass and critters that are close to the cage. It shouldn't make them want to fly down and hang on the wire.

They will still be able to see some through the existing slats, so it's not like they won't be able to see anything. Rusty seems to deal with the chain link just fine, but Iris can't seem to handle it. Owls adapt slowly to change so I was hoping after two months she'd get used to her boundaries. No dice. So time for yet another cage modification in the interest of the owls' physical and mental health.

Roger's coming over in a couple of days to take measurements, then we'll see how long it takes to round up materials, cut them to size, avoid Christmas get-togethers, and get them installed.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Rusty Hoots

If Rusty and Iris are going to breed, they will have to start hooting with each other sooner or later. Iris has hooted before, but it was more out of frustration than as a mating thing. I hadn't heard Rusty do anything more than annoyed chitters when Iris landed on a perch too close to him.

Rusty finally found his hooter! A couple of nights ago Alice gave a single hoot from inside the house. Within one second Iris hooted back and Rusty was just a split second behind her. Alice didn't hoot again, but Iris did some excited staccato hoots (hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo, hoo), some empahtic hoots with an extra HOO! on the end, and severa regular hoots.

It took Rusty a bit to get warmed up. His hoots were a little croaky at first. He did some gutteral hoo, hoo, hoos that sounded more like a frog croaking before he got into the hoots. But he must have liked it because he kept on hooting for over five minutes.

I think Rusty and Iris are finally claiming the cage as their territory. They've hooted a couple of times since, and Iris usually hoots when she's looking to the west. I think she can see Alice sitting in the window from there and they watch each other....