Friday, December 23, 2011

Iris Squawks

We always think of Great Horned Owls hooting. But they actually do several types of hoots, a variety of chitters, and on occasion, some different kinds of squawks.

I have a fairly good handle on what most of the hoots and chitters mean, but the squawks leave me a bit clueless. They are quite uncommon, which makes it even more difficult to figure out what they mean.

The other evening while I was sitting in front of the computer Iris started squawking. COOL! And it wasn't a single or double was a 3-4 noter, repeatedly! (See video)

Interestingly, not long after Iris started squawking, a wild female started hooting just outside the cages. It wasn't Virginia, the resident wild female, or Scarlett Owl Hara, the female that tried for months to steal Rusty away from Iris. After reviewing spectrograms of the hoots, I think it was Jezebelle, a female who was here for a few days in August flirting with Rusty and trying to attack Iris. She's the one who hurt her eye slamming into the window where Alice was.

Talk about exciting...hearing Iris squawk AND this other female here!

Now the real question is: Did Iris know Jezebelle was out there before she started squawking, or did Jezebelle hear Iris and come over and hoot? We can only speculate.

But Iris did some multi-squawks again at about 10 PM last night (thanks to a viewer for catching that!) She was sitting on a perch in the flight cage next to Rusty. Nothing was going on. No other owls hooted. I couldn't come up with any reason she was doing it.

At any rate, please post a comment here if you hear any squawking so we can eventually figure out what it means.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Release Cage Updating

It's been a year since Rusty and Iris moved into their home here in Houston, MN. Although they didn't have kids this first breeding season, things are looking good for Year Two. So I decided it was time to get the cameras and infrared illuminators installed in the release training cage.

Alan Stankevitz, our tech guru extrordinaire, came over today to do the deed. Installing cameras might not sound too complicated, but it involves soldering on a microphone jack, mounting the base plate, connecting lots of wires, adjusting the camera angles and focus (the focus is REEEEEEEEALLLLLLYYYYY touchy on these cameras!), and probably some other stuff I'm totally clueless about.

I arrived halfway through the project (I had programs to do with Alice in the morning). My job was mostly to get the laptop setup out there so I could see what the camera saw and holler at Alan to move the adjustments up, down, left, right, zoom in, zoom out, and move the focus more this way or that way. The wireless connection from the house wasn't quite strong enough, so I used a long DSL cable from the hub in the breeding cage and sat outside.

Meanwhile Hein worked with some steel siding to cover up any and all gaps where mice and other critters might be able to sneak in and out of the release cage. But speaking of critters, we've had a little stinker of a red squirrel coming and going as he pleases from Rusty and Iris' cage. He seems to like to come in the morning for a drink from their bath pan. I had no idea how he was getting in and out, but while I was working outside on the laptop I saw it: the little fart had gnawed a hole in the aluminum screen on the outside of the cage! Man, wouldn't that hurt your teeth??

My standard fix for squirrel holes is to put a license plate over the hole. Always works with wood, so I plopped a license plate over this hole too. We'll see what happens when squirrel meets license plate tomorrow.

The extra infrared illuminators still need to be installed, but Hein will do that soon. He'll also put another one in Rusty and Iris' cage and move the other dome illuminator so we can see the nest area better as well as the far perch where they like to copulate. Then I think we're all set for babies!

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Looking Good for Breeding!

Rusty and Iris have lived in their aviary in Houston, Minnesota for a year now. They didn't breed the first year most likely because they were still getting settled into their new home and because a wild, unmated female named Scarlett Owl Hara harassed them every day throughout breeding season and even continued into June, August, and September!

But things are looking good for Rusty and Iris to breed this coming season. Firstly, Iris has been joining in with Rusty in his hooting bouts. Rusty is an enthusiastic hooter, hooting many, many times a day. Iris never really said much, which may have been part of the reason Scarlett was so intent on trying to get Rusty for her mate. But now I'm happy to report that Iris often hoots with Rusty, as you see in this video.

Iris is also spending her nights roosting by the nest...another good sign that she's starting to think about nesting. She and Rusty both cache their leftover food in the nest too.

But the most exciting thing for me is that it appears Scarlett has finally found herself a man!! There's a pair of owls that have been hooting about half a mile west of here for a few weeks now. Scarlett has a pretty distintive hoot, and the female of that pair sounds for all the world like Scarlett. And when those owls are hooting, I don't hear Scarlett in the yard. Perhaps this has bolstered Iris' hooting confidence....

At any rate, I'm very hopefully that we'll have nesting this coming season. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Nest Cam project will again be hosting Rusty and Iris, but this year on Ustream...commercial free! Keep watching for the new link. But for now you can still watch Rusty and Iris on Ustream at

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Rusty and Iris have been living in their spacious home here in Houston, MN for nearly a year now. We've done several minor remodeling jobs to help Iris feel more comfortable, but today was the day for a major remodel.

Roger Meyer, Laurel Oien, and Hein Bloem spent the whoooooole day working on it today. First they took down the plywood panels, and I removed the curtains. Then they cut wooden slats to size and put them up in place of the panels, spaced two inches apart instead of one inch apart like the other slats. This would allow Rusty and Iris to have more of a view, but still hopefully keep them from thinking they want to try to fly outside.

Since they really haven't hung on the chain link on the north wall, we just did slats three feet down from the ceiling. The south wall is the one that gave the owls fits, so the slats there went from ceiling to six to nine feet down, depending on the location.

The side branch perch was flipped over to give them a fresh perching surface, and now it curves out in front of their new slatted view. (It used to curve toward the nest.) I think they're really going to like it.

The nest got a major rework too. It seemed tooooo spacious for them, so the front half was covered with plywood and Astroturf and will serve as a "landing and delivery" platform. The back half is still a nest, but there is now a side and roof over it to give more of a "cavity" feeling I hope Iris will like.

The release training cage got a mouse-proof barrier installed on the inside, all the way around. This will keep the mice IN the cage when the young owls are learning to hunt live prey. That cage will also get a huge dose of new slats, and eventually a couple of hide boxes, a perch where they can sit in the rain, the infrared illuminators, and cameras.

While Rusty and Iris were in the release training cage when we worked on their quarters, I used the opportunity to do a good hose-down of all their perches. Lots of poop came off the perches and walls, so that was excellent. And I fished out all kinds of gopher parts in every stage of decomposition from fresh to slimy to mummified to skeletonized. And now Iris is wondering where the heck all of the gophers she cached in the nest are....

I plan to do some camera and infrared illuminator adjustments also, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Move over Scarlett, there's a new girl on the block.

Scarlett caused quite the commotion for Rusty and Iris as they were working on breeding, harassing them every day, late into the morning and starting early in the evening, sometimes even pestering them in the middle of the day while being mobbed by crows. She gradually reduced her appearances so we only heard her maybe once or twice a week during the summer. But it's been maybe a month or so since we've heard her.

But the peace and quiet didn't last. ANOTHER wild female showed up a couple of mornings ago, and she seems just as adamant as Scarlett was. She started hooting at about 5:30 AM and kept on nearly straight through until 9 AM! Rusty was hooting and Alice was hooting and the new lady was hooting.

As with Scarlett's first visit, this new lady couldn't have cared less about us humans. We were able to open windows to do audio and video recordings as well as take pictures. She was in the trees right outside the bedroom window, and quite loud.

Eventually we had enough photos and videos and recordings, so went about our morning. But when I heard Alice jump against a window upstairs, I went up to investigate. Alice was looking down toward the top of the porch roof, so I looked over her shoulder. There stood the new owl only a few feet away!

I ran downstairs, grabbed the camera, and started taking more photos because she was so close. But I realized she was holding her left eye shut, and it looked wet. I quickly reviewed the pictures from earlier in the morning, and realized she had hurt her eye between 7:30 and 8:30 AM. Yikes! I certainly couldn't catch her, even though Marge Gibson, the awesome rehabber who runs the Raptor Education Group in Antigo, WI, was coming that morning to pick up gophers to feed to her birds. Oh well, hopefully it was something that would heal on its own.

At any rate, we heard the new lady the next night, but Rusty, Iris, and Alice had nothing to say this time. Virginia, the resident female, had something to say about it though! As I type this she's hooting again, and Alice is exchanging words with her, and not nice pleasantries either.

Hopefully this lady will move on faster than Scarlett did. Poor Rusty, he's such a stud that he attracts females like crazy!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Taking a Bath

OK, so yesterday wasn't as hot as it will be today...over 100 F without the heat index!! You know it's bad when the owls are panting at 5 AM. I'm amazed the technology out in the cages can handle this heat, but it does somehow.

Not surprisingly, Rusty had a bath this morning to help keep cool. Iris watched from the top of the hide box. Basically it's the same as a little bird taking a bath, except slower and bigger splashes.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

It's HOT!

This has been one heck of a hot summer and we are only finishing June! There have been a few days over 100 F here in the valley around Houston, MN, and today was another scorcher around 100 F. This is brutally hot if you're a human, but imagine wearing a feather coat you can't take off!

So how do Rusty and Iris manage to stay cool in this heat? They pant a good chunk of the day, since they can't sweat. They also compress their feathers so they don't hold in their body heat. When really warm, they droop their wings to expose their "wingpits" to help cool even further.

Rusty showed me something I had never seen before while Iris had a drink at the bathpan...he PLUCKED some of his flank feathers! I've seen zillions of preening sessions with Alice over the 13 years I've lived with her, and I've never seen her PLUCK a feather. They simply just fall out when she's preening. But in this video Rusty is forcibly plucking a few feathers that he could get out (but most were too stubborn to come out.)

They also take baths to cool off in the heat. I don't have a water bath video to post here right now, but I did catch Rusty taking a SAND bath last night. Iris started taking "dust" baths in the gravel on the floor of the cage this spring, so I put in a sand bath. This was the first time I had seen either of them use it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Epic Saga of the Money Creek Owlets

me with the first owlet

The month of April was the timeline for The Epic Saga of the Money Creek Owlets. I deal with quite a few hawks and owls in need of help, but never have the rescue efforts turned into such a protracted and twisted plot.

The whole thing started with a phone call from a camper at Money Creek Haven just north of Houston (MN.) I was home, still recovering from a bout of bronchitis or something along those lines, so the call went in to the Houston Nature Center. Connie Verse was volunteering at the Center while I was home sick, and she's realized that whenever I'm gone and she's in charge, she always gets calls about birds in need of help.

This time the call was about a young owl on the ground at Money Creek Haven. Since it was so close to Houston and it was a young owl, she called me at home for a little guidance. In my professional opinion, there's nothing on the planet cuter than a young Great Horned Owl. And young owl calls are a tricky business to ascertain: Should they go back in the nest? Should they go into an artificial nest? Do they need to go in for fostering? Are they injured? Or are they perfectly fine and just need to be left alone? I decided that I could muster the energy to go check it out with my husband Hein.

We drove around at Money Creek Haven just a bit before we spotted Wayne Fitting, owner of The Haven. He was with Troy, a man who had expressed interest in learning how to pick up and transport injured birds to rehab facilities. They guided us right to the downed owlet, which really looked like a possum lying on a horizontal tree trunk sticking out over a tiny creek. It had apparently been there for a few days, judging by the poop and prey remains around it. And Mom and Dad were taking care of him.

I needed to check to see if the owlet was old enough to be out of the nest. Owlets always look too young to be out of the nest at first look, because their head and body is all fuzzy. But when they fledge, their wing feathers should be mostly grown in and their tail feathers should be partly grown in. They can't fly well for a couple of weeks after leaving the nest, but Mom and Dad take care of them on the ground, and they can actually climb trees. This little fellow was too young to be fledging yet.

Young owls are ALWAYS best off raised by their parents if at all possible, so I looked around for the nest. It wasn't hard to spot, since there was another fuzzy owlet in the nest. The "nest" was impossibly small and ridiculous...Mom must have been pretty hard up. It was nothing more than a spot where a bunch of little branches all came out of the side of the tree in the same spot. As the owlets grew, the space available didn't. There was no way this little squirt could fit back in the nest with his brother.

brother up in the "nest"

Even if fallen owlets can't go back into the nest for whatever reason, they're still better off being raised by their parents. That means putting up an artificial nest for the fallen owlet. As long as they're old enough to make their squawky/shrieky begging calls, Mom and Dad will locate the kids to stuff food in their beaks.

It just so happens that Hein and I had been discussing a design for a Great Horned Owl nest BOX. All the artificial nest structures I'd ever seen were open...more of a "platform" style. This is because they very often nest in Red-tailed Hawk nests and other stick nests. Rarely can they find a hole big enough for Mom and a couple of rapidly growing kids. But Alice, my permanently injured education bird that I use at the Houston Nature Center, gets insanely interested in any potential "cavity", no matter how small, when breeding season rolls around . She wedges herself into the tiniest of places, convincing me she doesn't have even a hint of claustrophobia. But it led me to think that Great Horned Owls would probably prefer a cavity if they could have one.

So Hein and I had previously discussed a design and rough dimensions for a prototype Great Horned Owl nest box. He had run off and gotten some plywood cut to size. It seemed it was time to put that box design to use for the fallen owlet. So we put the owlet in a cardboard box in the meantime and headed home to build the box.

Well, our rough dimensions were huge, so we had to totally revamp the size and design. A few hours later we were back at The Haven with our new Great Horned Owl nest box design, ready to install.

Wayne had brought over some extension ladders, but they weren't going to be long enough to get the box as high as we wanted in the nest tree. Enter Randy Meeks. Randy camps at Money Creek Haven, and also climbs utility poles for a living. He happened to be at The Haven, with his truck, super long ladders, and tools, and he was willing to help.

So all the king's horses and all the king's men worked to get that nest box up on the tree. The weather was warm and sunny, and Randy was later quoted saying "This is more fun than a barbeque!" I think he summed up everyone's feelings exactly.

Hein was the man at the top of the ladder. He realized that we had built a "left handed box", and he's right handed. But after contorting himself, he finally got the bolts into the tree. As he let go of the box to come down the ladder, the box decided it wanted to come with him! All but the back, that is. It seems we hadn't had enough attachment points for screws to hold the back onto the rest of the box. Needless to say, we aren't woodworkers.

So down the box came again, and with the help of Randy's tools, the design was reinforced.

Once the box was fixed, the box went back up again and then it was my turn. I got to be the one with all the glory: I stuffed the owlet into a cloth back, carried it up the ladder, and plopped it into its new home. He settled in nicely, and we were all quite pleased with the afternoon's efforts.

Over the next couple of days, we checked on the owlet regularly, as did Wayne. But our little owlet was an ungrateful little stinker...he hopped out of our super-cool nest box a couple of days later! Wayne spotted the owlet heading out to where we had found it, but when we went to look for it a couple of hours later, we couldn't find hide nor hair of the owlet. We found some pellets in the woods, but no sign of the owlet. I just had to hope the parents would take care of it like they had before while it was grounded.

We checked on the owlet still in the nest periodically, as did everyone else and their brother. This owlet family was locally famous. It sat there through rain, snow, and all manner of icky weather.

A week or more later I was contacted by British wildlife filmmaker Fergus Beeley. I was really's not everyday I get e-mails from a person who makes films for National Geographic, BBC, and Discovery! It seems he's working on a Snowy Owl film and wants to contrast Snowies with Great Horned and Great Gray Owls. He was looking for a Great Horned Owl nest to film.

I told him about the Money Creek nest, Scarlett the wild female Great Horned Owl here who wants Rusty and gets mobbed by crows every day, and about Alice, my education bird. He was convinced he wanted to come to Houston to film. COOL! I figured it wouldn't be long until the remaining owlet fledged, so I told him to hurry.

His cameraman from England couldn't get a visa to travel to the U.S. to film fast enough, so Fergus recruited Michael Male, who has done work for many of the same big name projects as Fergus.

The afternoon before Michael was to leave his Virginia home for a two day drive to get here, the owlet in the nest was found on the ground. YIKES!! I called Randy again for his awesome ladders. This time he used the 38 footer so we could get the owlet back in the nest. I wasn't sure it would stay there, but if it behaved itself it was possible.

That's a LONG ways up there!!!

We checked on the owlet at 8 PM that night, and he was still in the nest. Neither Hein or I slept well though, worrying the owlet would be on the ground in the morning again. I woke up about 5 AM and after lying in bed worrying for half an hour I asked Hein if he was awake. "No." was his response. So we got up, threw on some clothes, and drove to Money Creek.

The owlet was indeed on the ground. Its parents wouldn't likely feed it during the day, so I brought it home in a cardboard box, gave it some food, and had Randy meet us back there that afternoon to put the owlet in the box. Randy showed up in the rain, I climbed the ladder yet again with the owlet in a sack, and plopped it into the nest box. I also deposited a nice big gopher head in the box for the owlet to eat later. I was pretty sure he'd stay put this time.

But what to do about the filming? They couldn't film the owlet in the box...they needed a natural nest. Michael would arrive the next day, and Fergus a few days later. Fergus didn't want to cancel since there was always Alice and Scarlett and the chance of finding another nest. So I REALLY needed to find another nest!!!

I e-mailed everyone and then some, asking for locations of active Great Horned Owl nests. All the usual spots weren't occupied this year, and the only two nests I found out about weren't going to work. One was only accessible by a one hour canoe trip, with no land to set up and film from, and the other nest was high over a lake and not easy to see. I simply had no idea what we'd do.

So Michael showed up the Saturday night before Easter and Hein showed him around while I led a Woodcock Skydance program. The next morning, Easter, we discussed options. Michael decided to build a replica Red-tail nest in a tree right by the nest so we could put the owlet into a REAL looking artificial nest that would work for filming and for the parents. Sounded good to me, but I knew how hard a realistic nest would be to build. So we showed Michael our tools and let him have at it.

What he created was totally realistic. I would never have guessed it was built by a person. Totally amazing. But the weather was cold and rainy, and we didn't want to move the owlet out of the box to the new nest until it was nicer, even though it had sat through snow and rain in the original nest. In the meantime, Michael occupied himself with trying to call in Scarlett for some daytime mobbing footage, and watching the nest at night to see if the parents were coming in. The camera he had didn't have infrared, so he could only film during the day. Fergus would be bringing the night vision camera.

The day Fergus was to arrive I called Randy yet again about the ladders so the owlet could move into its new home. Randy zipped out to The Haven, whipped up the ladder, and I climbed up to get the owlet. But there was a problem: the owlet didn't seem as vigorous as it had been. Even Randy could tell. And there wasn't a shred of evidence that Mom or Dad had fed it. It was definitely very thin, but it's really hard to judge "baby thin" from emaciation. But I was pretty sure this guy was thinner than he should be. I looked in his mouth and his saliva was all sticky...a sure sign of dehydration. He needed help...and he wasn't going to be up for filming. And Fergus' flight was due in in a couple of hours! I was starting to sweat bullets.

We zoomed home with the owlet, I called The Raptor Center for advice, Hein threw a pizza in the oven, and I raced around taking and e-mailing photos of the owlet to The Raptor Center, getting some fluids in, getting it on a heating pad, then snarfing a few bites of pizza before we ran out the door to meet Fergus at the airport.

Since there was nothing else for Michael to do, we met him at the Nature Center in town to ride to the airport with us. Just as I was pulling out of the parking lot Fergus called. He was still in Chicago because he had missed his flight thanks to a really, really long line at customs. He'd be flying in a few hours later. That at least bought me some time. Michael and Hein went for coffee and I went into the Nature Center to make some phone calls to pin down a sorely needed flimable Great Horned Owl nest.

One of my calls was to Joan Schnabel, a volunteer at the National Eagle Center. She had read a Bird Chick blog post about a Great Horned Owl nest up in Minneapolis, and suggested I get in touch with her. Oddly enough, Michael had e-mailed her somewhere in the past, so he had her e-mail address. But my next phone call was to nature photographer Stan Tekiela, and although he didn't know of any nests off the top of his head, he had Sharon's (aka Bird Chick's) cell phone number. I called her immediately.

The call pulled her out of one of her Birds and Beers events, so she didn't have much time to talk. But she assured me these owls had made an informed decision about their nest location...they had been nesting in this park for about four years and were totally habituated to people. PERFECT!! They wouldn't be shy around the cameras. She did warn, however, that Michael and Fergus might be at risk of being propositioned by other men at night in the park after dark. Well hey, at least there were two of them together! I heaved a sigh of relief and hung up the phone.

We had some time to kill yet before meeting Fergus at the airport in La Crosse, WI, so we took the scenic route, on the off chance we'd find an owl nest along the way. Just outside of La Crescent we came to a quarry. I vaguely recalled that a student from La Crescent had mentioned a quarry outside of town that always had an owl nest in it. So I pulled out my binoculars, looked at the two holes in the rock face, and ta-da! There was an owlet right in the middle of one of the holes! It didn't look quite right though...dark eyes and the wrong facial disk. It was a Barred Owl! Weird...I've never heard of a Barred Owl nesting in a quarry before, but Great Horned Owl certainly do this.

There's really actually a Barred Owl owlet in the right hole! Look close.

As darkness fell, we still had time to kill so we took Michael to Cold Stone Creamery for ice cream...his first time ever! Then we hurried up to meet Fergus at the airport, only to find that his flight was delayed half an hour. So we lazily walked throughout the entire (tiny) La Crosse airport and chatted. Finally the flight came in, we introduced ourselves, and Fergus got his rental car.

Hein and Michael rode together on the way back, and I rode with Fergus to fill him in on the recent drama, and the bad and the good news. But he needed some rest before making any decisions, so we met at Cross Roads Cafe in Houston for breakfast the next morning. Fergus quickly decided that the Minneapolis nest was the way to go, and Michael went back to Money Creek Haven to pack up while I quickly showed Fergus Alice and where Scarlett comes around. Then they were off like a shot!

In the meantime, I still had the owlet, and was waiting for advice from The Raptor Center about how to proceed. The call came 20 minutes after Fergus and Michael had left for the Twin Cities: the owlet needed to go to The Raptor Center in St. Paul for evaluation. Shoot! I could have sent the owlet with Fergus and Michael! But I knew they were in too much of a hurry to turn around, so I agreed to meet a Raptor Center volunteer in Rochester with the owlet. That would be about half way for each of us to drive. When we got back later that afternoon I was pooped, but happy to have people and owlet on their way.

While in Minneapolis Fergus sent some text messages to let me know the nest was excellent for filming and just what he wanted. He inquired about the owlet and if it would be coming back to Houston, but that wasn't very likely, sad to say. I would have loved to foster it with Rusty and Iris, my breeding owls who didn't lay eggs this year, but after checking into permits, it turns out I would need to be a master level wildlife rehabilitator in Minnesota to be able to do this. Weird, since I'll be able to do it when Rusty and Iris have their own kids, but hey, laws are laws. Poop.

Fergus was also interested in filming a coyote, to portray them as a danger to owlets on the ground. But since I couldn't arrange for a good wild coyote location and he couldn't get any good footage at the Minnesota Zoo, and we weren't going to get the owlet back, that idea was scrapped.

Three days after heading up to Minneapolis, Fergus and Michael were back to film Alice. She was to be the super-close-up double for the wild owls. They came over to our place after I got off work, I plopped Alice out on a tree branch, and Michael filmed away. Alice did a good job pretending she was a real, wild owl, looking up at things in the sky, bobbing her head, and ignoring us. They got super close ups of her toes and eyeballs, as well as some head and shoulder shots, so I'm very curious to see how it will all come together.

Fergus, Michael, me, and Alice

After 2.5 hours they got what they needed for daylight shots, so we piled into my Chevy Tracker and went out for a scrumptious meal at Signatures in Winona. It was nice to actually sit down and talk for a bit with Fergus and Michael (and to enjoy a wonderful meal!) When we finished we came back to our place for another half hour of filming Alice in the dark with infrared (and me hoping Scarlett wouldn't show up to attack her, which she didn't). Then it was a wrap!

After handshakes all around, they hopped into the car at 11:30 PM and the filming was done. Whew! It all turned out OK. Miracles do happen!

A few days later I heard back from The Raptor Center. The owlet was rehydrated then fed, and he had a whopping appetite. But he couldn't keep his food down and he died a few days later. Bummer. At least he was in good hands there.

Thus ends the saga of the Money Creek Owlets. What an adventure!!

This is too embarassing not to mention, so I had to include it. It seems my wildlife photographer friends Sue Fletcher and Alan Stankevitz got permission to go into the quarry to photograph my Barred Owl owlet. They sent me photos asking if they found the right nest, since they were photographing a GREAT HORNED owlet! WHOOPS! I misidentified the owlet. Yowza. No question at all after seeing their photos. Alan gave me permission to share this one:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Iris Checks Out

Iris gets ready to go to the vet.

Last week one of the cam viewers on the Cornell website made a note that Iris had thrown up two pellets in the morning, and she had burped and there were other loud noises. Red flags went up in my mind and I quickly found the section of video in question.

Iris was at the nest and chowed down on a gopher. But within minutes her head stretched up and her neck looked funny. Then she threw up. Not a good sign. But she ate the gopher again, then threw it up again! Her guts gurgled in protest.

I was concerned and knew I needed to keep an eye on her. It could have been a problem with that piece of gopher, it could be stress, or she could be sick. Later that day I reviewed videos from during the Festival of Owls (I didn't have time to review them during the Festival), and found Iris throwing up on one of those videos also, a week before this vomiting episode. That ruled out the food, and prompted me to call a vet.

I called Alice's former vet. She was willing to see Iris, but she is only in the office one day a week. If it would turn out to be anything serious, she'd send Iris to The Raptor Center in St. Paul. So I decided to make an appointment for Iris at The Raptor Center.

Really the first thing that needed to happen was to catch Iris and feel her keel (breastbone) to see if she was in good condition. But I didn't want to catch her more than necessary, so I decided to wait to catch her and check her out myself until the day of the appointment.

The appointment was scheduled for 10:30 AM, and it's a 2.5 hour drive to St. Paul from here. So we got up early, not knowing how long it would take to catch Iris. It turned out to be a piece of cake...she flew right into the net I held up to catch her!

I got control of her feet and felt her keel...she was in no way thin! I tried to get a weight on her while she was wrapped in a towel, but she and the towel together were too heavy for my triple beam balance. At that point I figured she was probably OK, but for my peace of mind, I wanted to take her in anyway.

The roads were icy that morning, and we passed five cars in the ditch. We even fishtailed ourselves, which did nothing to help my nerves. But we arrived safe and sound, and right on time.

The doctor took a history and then checked Iris out. She weighed a whopping 2080g (4.6 lbs)!!!! She certainly wasn't in poor condition. Her feet were quite dry and showed signs that she had hung on the chain link in November and December, so thankfully that issue is resolved. If let go it could have caused permanent damage to her feet. She had one feather louse, but didn't have any sign of a brood patch or readiness to lay an egg. Bummer.

They also ran blood tests which were all normal. They also did a fecal exam for internal parasites. None there either. So basically, our lady seems fine and dandy. Her feet were salved, she was treated for lice, and she was sent home.

When we got home it was Rusty's turn. If Iris had lice, he likely did too. We caught him with no troubles, gooped his feet (Hein got poked a couple of times), and treated him topically for lice. He did NOT enjoy it one bit.

Before we let the owls go I had Hein take down the far high perch...the one behind the IR illuminator on the ceiling. The poop trajectory from that perch hits the bath pan, which isn't acceptable now that it's warm and they can use it again.

Once that was done we released Rusty and Iris back to their home and they've been perching together on the high perch by the nest most days.

So what was Iris' problem? It may have just been stress from being harassed so much by Scarlett. Will she lay eggs this year? It's not looking promising. But perhaps they'll wind up as foster parents if there's an owlet in need.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cat Fight!

OK, so they aren't cats, but it's the females fighting!

Scarlett (named after Scarlett O'Hara) is a wild, unmated female who showed up about three weeks ago. Apparently she wants Rusty, and she wants him bad. Her level of aggression has escalated from hooting later in the morning than she should and starting earlier in the afternoon than is wise (she gets mobbed by crows a lot), to an all-out fray yesterday.

Starting around 1 PM (yes...early in the afternoon!), Scarlett showed up in the yard hooting. She landed on the cage many times, including on the "rain roof"--an area of slats covered with screen to allow the rain to fall through. Rusty and Iris were beside themselves, hooting like crazy, flying around, and holding their feathers very compressed with ear tufts up.

Eventually Scarlett switched over to squawks and started landing on the ground, trying to find a way into the cage. She landed on the braces of the cage. She was doing anything to get in.

She even flew into and hung on the chain link on the west side of the cage, where she could see inside. Iris was the one who met her challenge by flying at the chain link to attack her. Thankfully there is screen on the outside of the cage and chain link on the inside, so they couldn't get at each other. WOW!!

This disruption sure isn't helping nesting efforts. Despite the daily ruckus, Rusty and Iris keep mating, Rusty feeds Iris, and they dig in the nest. Early this morning it even looked like Iris tried to preen Rusty, even though he wasn't interested.

Stay tuned for the next exciting episode of "As the Nest Box Turns."

Friday, March 11, 2011

If looks could kill...

Scarlett on the garage roof, glaring at Alice.

At the suggestion of critterwatcher, a Rusty and Iris cam moderator, I've decided to name our new unmated wild female owl "Scarlett". The name is based on the character Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind. Their personalities seem similar.

I'm quite certain now that Scarlett wants Rusty. Rusty, however, doesn't seem particularly interested in her. He still keeps mating with Iris, even when Scarlett is hooting nearby. Scarlett lands on the owl cage, hangs out on branches very near by to the cage, and basically seems to stay within about a 5 acre area right around the cage.

Scarlett is a BOLD lady. We SEE her everyday in the yard. She doesn't go to bed early, and she gets up early in the afternoon...sometimes by 3 PM. We've gotten lots of photos and videos of her. We always know where she is because we have a watch owl named Alice. (My human-imprinted education bird.)

Alice and Hein watching Scarlett.

Alice and Scarlett hate each others' guts. At least three times Scarlett has physically slammed into the window Alice was sitting in front of. Alice just sits there. But when Scarlett flies away, Alice jumps at the window, like she wants to go after her. They hoot at each other and hoot and hoot and hoot. Both have their ear tufts up in the fully alert position. They stare daggers at each other.

Throughout it all, Iris says virtually nothing. But she and Rusty carry on with their mating activities, and Iris perches by the nest a lot, so I hope they'll still lay eggs...albeit a very late clutch.

So basically folks, we've got an owl soap opera going on here. It'll be interesting to see what happens next!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

New Girl on the Block

Life just got a lot more interesting (and hooty)! A couple of days ago a new female started hooting right in the yard. It was the same day that Victor and Virginia, the wild resident pair, had already been hooting at the edge of the yard.

This new female hooted all night and into the morning. I got audio recordings of her and even photos! The crows were mobbing her, but she seemed determined to stay right in our yard, right by the house. She even perched on the side of BOTH of the artificial nests I have up in the pine trees!

This new female wasn't a one-day wonder. She's stuck around. And she hoots allllll the time. You can hear her on the live video feeds on Ustream and Cornell. Rusty hoots back at her, and so does Alice from inside the house.

This new gal is awfully cheeky. Not only does she hoot all night, late into the morning, and even in the afternoon, she has landed on Rusty and Iris' cage. To top it off, last night we heard a loud THUMP--something had hit the window in front of which Alice was perched. It was dark outside and the light was on inside, so I'm sure Alice was easy to see. Judging from the marks on the outside of the window, I suspected the new girl.

This morning at 6:30 Alice was sitting on the same perch as I walked by. And a Great Horned Owl flew right at Alice's window, veered at the last second, and landed on the roof above us. Then I was certain it was this owl that had thumped the window the night before!

I don't think she's got a mate, or if she does, he hoots very little. But if she does, I REALLY REALLY REALLY hope she nests in the yard, even though it might drive Alice and Rusty and Iris (and therefore US) crazy.

In the meantime, I need to come up with a name for her that reflects her bold and cheeky personality.... Any suggestions?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Alice Gets a Break

Alice has proven herself as a good incubator. She laid her egg on January 17 and has dutifully incubated it, staring at the wall for hours on end. OK, sometimes she watched out the window too, but jeepers, sitting in the same spot for 32-34 days is BORING no matter how you cut it. Especially if you only have 1-2 seven minute breaks a day.

The end of her 34 days would have been this past Saturday. But she kept sitting. I wanted to give her a few days extra to see if she'd just stop incubating. She was still going strong today, so I decided to take her egg away to give her a break. And get her ready to leave the house for the International Festival of Owls March 4-6.

When she took her evening break at 6 PM tonight I snuck into her room and removed her warm egg from the nest. I tucked it into my pocket so she didn't see I had it when I walked past her. When done with her break she settled back onto the nest like nothing had changed, same as she did last year when I took her egg away.

We let the egg cool before blowing it. OK, so Hein blew it...I didn't. He used to have an egg collection as a kid, so he's a pro at this. Her egg weighed 55.3g, and displaced about 55 ml of water. It also floated, showing it was no good anymore. That being said it didn't stink at all when Hein blew it.'s been at about 104 F for about 37 days, floated, and didn't stink!

Alice has already gotten off her nest a few times since we removed the egg, then she gets back on. If it goes like last year, within a couple of days she'll be entirely done with her nest and happy to have her freedom again.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love is in the air!

Things are heating up around here...both the weather and Rusty and Iris! The weather took a sharp turn to the warmer here starting Saturday, and it was about 50 F on Sunday! Rusty and Iris responded in earnest.

I had only seen them copulate a couple of times previously. Then early Saturday morning they copulated twice! Saturday night to Sunday morning was a workout and a half, with a total of NINE copulations that I noted. Iris started getting into the spirit and hooting along too on Sunday night and between Sunday night and Monday morning they copulated about TEN more times!

So far I haven't noticed Iris paying any attention to the nest. I would expect her to start digging in it and checking it out soon, but these are wild animals, so they'll do whatever they darn well feel like doing. She's still eating, so I wouldn't expect eggs in the next couple of days, since they normally stop eating for a couple of days before laying an egg. I guess this leaves more room for a big egg in the abdomen without needing to compete for space with food and intestines.

If you watch the cam you're going to see LOTS of action all night long now.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

He did it again!

Rusty's persistence has paid off! Every night once or twice Rusty flies over to Iris' perch by the hatch and does some low, sexy hoots. Iris always meets him with hisses. And when he isn't hooting to her, he offers her food, which she often has refused. Of course it might help if Rusty offered the food BEFORE Iris had her own supper....

At any rate, just after 2 AM this morning Rusty tried his best hoots on Iris. Although she hissed, he hopped over on top of her and apparently copulated! Woo-hoo!

Maybe there's hope for a Valentine's Day egg....

Monday, February 07, 2011

Brave Mice, Fat Owls

I have seen little bright-eyed critters running around in Rusty and Iris' cage for quite a while now. I assumed they were shrews since shrews are meat-eaters, and these little guys were eating gophers that Rusty and Iris had cached, dropped, or otherwise left lying around.

The little critters were first seen on the feeding platform eating leftover bits and gnawing on whole unclaimed pieces of gopher. Then they showed up on top of the hide box where a bonanza of uneaten food was just lying around. Then the moment of truth came: the little buggers showed up IN THE NEST!

There's a camera right in front of the nest, so when they ran around there I was able to get my first good look. These weren't shrews...they were MICE! Carnivorous mice, I guess. Carnivorous mice that had been running around in a cage with some owl with impunity. But I thought that might change since the mice showed up in the nest.


Within a day of the mice showing up in the nest I saw Rusty perched on the side branch by the nest... the perch that some viewers have dubbed the "stuffed squirrel perch" because if you look at it in two dimensions instead of three it looks like a posed squirrel.

At any rate, the mice poked in and out of the nest and ran along the edge of the nest, about a foot from dear Rusty. He just slept and mostly ignored them. Then apparently one of the mice bet the other one that he wasn't brave enough to run out and touch that owl. And one of them ran out onto Rusty's perch and all but touched his toe! Did Rusty lift a toe or make any indication of trying to catch the mouse? No.

I guess I feed them too well.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Go Rusty!

Rusty has been working on putting the moves on Iris every night. He flies over to her perch at least two or three times a night in hopes of seducing her with his low, abbreviated hoots. If all goes well, he can mate (copulate) with her as you see above.

But most of the time Iris is a bit 'owly' about it all and as he advances with his sexy hoots, she just hisses at him, and nips at him if he doesn't take the hint. See the video below for his cool reception from Iris.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Rusty has had his work cut out trying to woo Iris. He's hooted to her some (she almost never hoots with him.) He's fed her a few times. He gets close and makes quiet, deep, "sexy" hoots without the last two notes. But Rusty and Iris didn't exactly seem to be hot and heavy.

Last night I got up to go to the bathroom at 4:30 AM. As I always do, I fumbled in the dark to turn on the computer monitor to see what Rusty and Iris were up to. Within about two seconds of switching the monitor on, Rusty hooted and hopped on Iris's back! Wow....their first mating!!!!! Talk about a miracle to see it live at 4:32 AM!!

The video isn't spectacular, but hey, it's still a video of the moment! Hopefully things will pick up and Iris will start to show an interest in the nest.

In the meantime, Alice has been toooooo dedicated to her nest...not getting off at all for the past 3-4 days. I finally started hand feeding her moistened tidbits of meat while she incubated, and she accepted. I also squirted water into her mouth with a squirt bottle. (She's used to this when we're away doing programs.)

Then when I got up to feed Rusty and Iris at 6:30 AM, I heard Alice hop off her nest down onto the stump in her room. I ran up to hoot with her and see what she did. She hooted back quite a bit, then backed up to the edge of the stump and squirted out the biggest load of poop you've ever seen. Lots of clear runny stuff with dark chunks, but also a huge gob of white stuff the size and shape of a pigeon egg. It's been building up for quite some time so WHEW did it stink!!!!!

Then without so much as getting a drink she hopped back up to her nest and settled down to incubate again. But I'm glad she got that out of her system!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Streaming Issues

Technology is can do anything. If you know how to make it do it.

The Ustream cam has been down a LOT most of the time. The problem isn't Ustream's...the problem is that I'm streaming Rusty and Iris to Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website too! They've got a citizen science nest watch project where folks can post their observations, see video highlights, and watch a variety of different birds nest.

It took a while to figure out how to get my video feed to stream properly to their website (thankfully that wasn't my job to figure out!), but now that it's up, the problem is that my internet connection is too slow in the upstream department, and Ustream seems to take lower priority. So at any rate, I need to adjust my internet connection again! My go-to guy at our local phone company is out until Monday, so you'll probably have to put up with the Ustream cam mostly being down during that time.

On the up side, you can watch the nest cam on Cornell's website! They have limited bandwidth, so I think only up to 25 people can watch at a time, and I think you can only watch for 10 minutes at a time. But at least you can get your Rusty and Iris fix!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rusty's still making moves on Iris

Although Iris likes to do boomerang flights and Rusty has to duck sometimes, he's still working on putting the moves on her. I caught him feeding her again on January 17 close to 11 PM Central time. Go Rusty!!

Another great thing that a couple of viewers have noticed: Rusty is doing some abbreviated hoots when he's near Iris. I think these are what I call "greeting hoots". They are lower pitched than regular hoots, and the last syllables are missing from his regular hoot.

Rusty approached Iris on two occasions and did a series of these greeting hoots. I think it must be the Great Horned Owl way for a male to sweet talk a girl. Sounds kinda sexy....

Things to watch for now:

-Rusty feeding Iris
-Rusty making grunting sounds (this usually means he's going to feed her)
-Iris making grunting sounds
-Rusty or Iris making hoots with fewer than the normal amount of syllables
-Either owl biting down in the nest and digging with their feet. Or on the floor or hide box. This is digging a "nest bowl" for a potential nest site.
-Rusty and Iris hooting back and forth to each other
-Either owl playing with or moving the toys in the nest basket (I saw Rusty fly in and pounce on the big ball once!)

And just for fun, if you're awake in the middle of the night, watch for the little critter that likes to run around on their food tray. I think it must be a shrew...they eat meat. And Rusty and Iris just ignore it. It's probably good to have a shrew doing cleanup duty on their feeding platform to help keep it clean.

Thanks, everyone, for your helpful observations!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Alice lays an egg!

While we've been focused on Rusty and Iris, Alice has been busy doing her thing. She's been hooting up a storm (which some of you have heard as distant hooting on the Rusty and Iris cam), following us around the house, sitting on her nest, and refusing to go to work.

She stopped eating a few days ago. I wasn't concerned because owls stop eating for a few days before they lay an egg. If you think about it, there isn't much room in a bird's abdomen for an egg in the first place, let alone for an egg AND food. And the eggs and poop all come out the same "out door" (the cloaca) anyway.

This past week I HAD to bring Alice to work a couple of days. One day because Hein was painting in the house, and one day because Roger Meyer, our cage builder, was gluing some Formica onto some new countertops for us. Too stinky to have an owl in the house, as birds are more susceptible to fumes than humans.

The first day Alice didn't want to go, but I was able to round her up and take her in. She wouldn't sit on her perch in my office, but jumped to the ground and started walking around. Normally I wouldn't allow this, but this time of year virtually no one stops into the nature center. Plus Alice can't fly, so I didn't have to worry about her escaping. She wandered around and checked things out and finally settled in to sleep on the chair of my office assistant...Connie Verse. Thankfully Connie was OK with this.

The second day Alice had to go to work required drastic measures. I would never have done it if the gluing of the laminate hadn't come up. I could not get her out of her nest and onto the glove, so I literally took her nest basket down off the wall of her room!! Then she got out. But she was even more restless at work, even though I had brought her portable nest basket along to work. She wanted nothing to do with it. After two hours of restlessness, she settled on the back of Connie's chair again.

In the evenings she has been coming down stairs to hoot and hoot and hoot and hoot and get attention. She has been hooting if we cough, sneeze, fart, flush the toilet, or make any kind of a loud noise. I told her I didn't believe she was going to lay an egg yet though because she hadn't started to lose any belly feathers so she'd have a brood patch. So she started dropping belly feathers in earnest on Saturday.

Sunday night she was squatting in her nest instead of sitting. Same thing yesterday (Monday) morning. We went to La Crosse shopping for the day and didn't get home until 9 PM. Alice hooted from her nest upstairs when we arrived, so I went up to say hello. She was sitting in her flattened incubation posture, but I didn't figure she had laid an egg yet. Just for the heck of it I stuck my hand under her to check. There was an egg!!!

She's a diligent incubator and only had a short break this morning. I'll have to pay attention to how often and how long she takes breaks, but last year it was usually once a day for about 7 minutes. Just remember that eggs would freeze quickly in the wild if they took long incubation breaks! Oooh, and it'll be fun to see if she lays a second egg this year. The past two years she's only laid one egg.

I'm happy she laid her egg so early. Now she can have her full month of incubation and still be ready to go for the International Festival of Owls the first weekend in March.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Courtship Feeding, Curtains, and Getting Clocked

Lots of mixed news since my last post!

The most exciting news is that Rusty fed Iris! In my attempts to try anything and everything to help get Iris more settled, I switched to feeding half their food at night and half in the morning. She normally settled down after the evening feeding, so I hoped it would help with the morning feeding.

Two mornings in a row Rusty flew down to the feeding tray and ate his breakfast. Then he took the other piece, flew up to the far perch where Iris usually sits, and started making low grunting sounds as he walked toward her. These two times she accepted the gopher with a polite chitter! She took it directly from Rusty's beak and flew to the nest where she proceeded to eat the nuptial offering.


But even though Rusty was starting to woo Iris, Iris still had ants in her pants and would hang on the chain link. I simply had to try more visual barriers to prevent this, and I eventually settled on the idea of using white bed sheets over the chain link on the south side of the cage. We went to the store and I was a bit surprised how expensive a single flat white sheet could be. Hein was in the aisle next to me and said, "Hey, why not use curtains instead of sheets?"

I had to chuckle at the idea...curtains in an owl cage. How fancy! But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. We could get sheer curtains so there would still be a lot of light coming in and they could still kind of see out, but hopefully it would obstruct the view just enough to prevent hanging. So we came home with two sheer "eggshell" panel curtains.

We decided to install the curtains yesterday afternoon. I opened the hatch to the flight cage so Rusty and Iris could leave while we worked in the breeding cage. It didn't take too long to get the curtains up, and since the ladder was there I cleaned out piles of frozen gopher from the nest. I also reset the egg in the nest so it could be seen again.

All went well and I was happy with the look. While Hein put everything away I walked into the flight cage to shoo Rusty and Iris back into the breeding cage. Of course they were nervous and flew around as I walked in, but just as I was getting to the far end it happened: Rusty and Iris collided in mid-air.

I wouldn't have expected that to be too much of a problem, and they both landed on the ground. Iris flew to the ground on the end by the breeding cage. Rusty landed less than 10 feet in front of me, and his head kept jerking to the right...something that's called 'nystagmus.' It often indicates a head injury.

My heart jumped. He was barely able to stand. He had been hit by a car originally, and that's why he's blind in his right eye. Should I run over and pick him up? I thought that would stress him out even more, so I waited with my heart pounding.

In about 30 seconds the nystagmus seemed to stop, and he stood up a little straighter. His right wing drooped just slightly. Eventually he seemed to gain focus and he looked at me with his good eye half open and his bad eye shut. He just looked...not seeming fearful. I just stood still. Then he flew a few feet toward me and landed on a stump. He just sat there, with an obvious headache.

Iris, oddly enough, just stayed on the floor on the other end of the cage. She was staring at Rusty as if to say, "Oh my God! Are you OK?!?" After a few minutes Rusty flew up off the perch and to the hatch. Then he flew into the breeding cage. I was incredibly thankful to see him fly!! It wasn't super strong flight, but it wasn't terribly weak either. He had no trouble making his perches.

Iris continued to sit on the ground for quite some time with a freaked out look on her face. I didn't move...I wanted to let her leave in her own time. After several minutes she finally flew up to the perch by the hatch just above her. She remained there for at least five minutes, looking outside of the cage through the chain link, before she finally flew into the breeding cage.

Hein was in the house and of course had no idea that anything had happened. Rusty had landed on the side perch in the breeding cage when he flew in, then when Iris came in, he flew over to his usual spot by the nest. And that's where he's been ever since, mostly just sitting there with both eyes shut.

He didn't eat last night or this morning (but Iris did.) This morning he's got a very, very slight nystagmus, so you can see his head turn almost imperceptably to the right. He still responds to noises normally and can hop from perch to perch with good balance, so I'm hoping he can recover from this just fine. Just in case, though, I have a call in to The Raptor Center to see if there's anything else that should be done.

Here's hoping for the best!! (Oh, and Iris didn't hang last night, thank goodness!!)

Monday, January 03, 2011


Last night I tried a variety of things to help Iris get settled and think more about nesting. We put out two live mice (one at a time). Iris mostly ignored them, but Rusty had a great time catching them. He at the first one, but the second one he took to the feeding platform and left it. Iris later flew down and ate it.'re supposed to feed Iris directly!

I also put a cardboard box on its side with shredded egg cartons in it in a corner of the cage. Alice loves to check these out as potential nests, so I though Iris might too. After NEVER seeing Iris on the ground, I caught her on the ground for about six minutes at about 7:25 this morning as she walked over to the box, went in, came back out, and thought about it a long time. Maybe she wants a different nest!

I also put a replica Great Horned Owl egg in the nest. So far no one has paid any attention to it.

But tonight we had REAL action!! I was away from the computer but thought I heard low grunty sounds coming from Rusty. I checked the video and he was on the hide box making quiet grunts. It didn't take long, though, and he flew to the perch at the far side of the cage and landed near Iris. The grunts continued and he walked toward her. The light wasn't great but it was easy to see that he was trying to stuff the food in her mouth! She wasn't as receptive as she could have been, but she didn't fly away. She did a couple of flights to hang on the wire, BUT she came back to land right next to Rusty both times.

I think hormones are starting to kick in even though she's fighting them a bit yet. Keep at it Rusty!!!

Saturday, January 01, 2011


It's time to REALLY try to get into Iris' head now. We've made several cage modifications in an attempt to help her feel more settled (Rusty's been settled for some time now), but she still gets flighty early in the evening and mornings some days. If we could provide her with something to DO that she enjoys, she is likely to settle down.

Alice, the human-imprinted Great Horned Owl I use in educational programs, has a variety of "enrichment activities" that she enjoys. She looooooooves to shred egg cartons, so lots of people in town save their cartons for Alice. She has no intention of eating them...she just pounces on them, foots them up, and shreds them with her beak. Makes a mess, but it's good exercise for her and gets rid of frustrations and pent up energy.

Alice also likes to pretend to kill things like blankets, pillows, and clothing. Sometimes even just the carpet on the floor. These same articles are also cached, or hidden in corners for later. Caching is something that owls instinctively do with food since you never know when your next meal is coming, but Alice applies this instinct to all kinds of other things.

And of course since Alice lives in the house, she's allowed to freely interact with my husband and me. Since she's a human imprint and thus thinks she's human, this is something she really craves the closer we get to mating season.

So what will work for Iris?

I tried putting egg cartons out in their cage. They were ignored on the stump and the owls wouldn't touch the food I set on them when I put them on the feeding tray. So much for that idea. Maybe they need higher levels of stimulation than Alice since they can fly and she can't.

Last night I put a few of Alice's old toys in Rusty and Iris' nest basket. I selected a tennis ball with a rope attached so it can be picked up, a "mouse" made out of rope that has a little rattle inside, and a "giggle ball" that laughs when it's dropped. I reviewed last night's video to see what they thought of them.

At first Rusty stayed away from the nest...kinda like "Hey, what the heck is all that weird stuff in there?!?" Eventually he sat by the nest again and rummaged around as he often does. Somewhere along the way he picked up the tennis ball and dropped it below the nest...something Alice always loved to do.

This morning Iris landed by the nest a couple of times. She did some head bobbing as she checked out the new nest contents. She eventually hopped in a couple of different times and nibbled at the giggle ball. It rolled around a bit, but not much. It made me think maybe I should put my replica Great Horned Owl egg in the nest and see if that gives her any good ideas....

We will probably also try offering some live mice in the next few days. That should provide some serious mental stimulation, and it will be interesting to see if they can catch them given their visual impairment. Heck, maybe they would like to have a pet rat in their cage....

We'll see where this takes us. Feel free to offer other suggestions for enrichment ideas for Iris!