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!!)


  1. Yikes! Sounds like a toss-up as to who was more scared by the whole clocking incident--Rusty, Iris, or you! Rusty's been sitting on the log perch for the most part while I've been watching this afternoon/evening (10 Jan 2011). He was on the food tray at 16:24 PST, and it looked like he might have eaten while he was down there.

    Haven't seen or heard Iris hanging on the wire since the curtains went in. She also seems to be flying a lot less and spending more time on the log perch by the owl door as opposed to the high perch in that far corner. She did do some fly-bys from that log perch earlier--once at 16:38, once at 16:45, and again at 16:50 (all times PST). Didn't quite catch where she turned around on the first two, but on the last flight, she turned just off the end of the log perch on the wall, where Rusty was sitting the whole time (and is still sitting right now). It looked like Rusty was watching her on all of those flights.

    Seems like the collision might have done something with Rusty's optic nerve, which could be why he had that eye closed (was wondering about that yesterday). If it's like what I'm guessing could happen, it could be like fireworks at point-blank range and not being able to look away because they're literally IN the eye. Ouch!

    He seems more or less okay to the untrained eye (*this* untrained eye, anyway) tonight--hope he's okay.

  2. I sure hope they are both doing well. Rusty helped Orion (the GHO I am working with, and you met) a couple summers ago. Best of luck!

  3. Screwball...yes, it looks like Rusty is doing MUCH better tonight, thank goodness! He did eat, and Iris seems to be flying less. Lets hope it holds out.

    Anonymous (Troy)...did Rusty foster Orion, or room with him for a while? Rusty is a great little owl, so I hope he's back in the saddle wooing Iris again soon.

  4. rusty roomed with orion for a few weeks. orion had numerous medical problems and difficulty with his captive situation. rusty is certainly an amazing owl. i am glad to hear that he is eating again :) Troy

  5. Just a couple of quick notes from last night/this morning:

    Last night (11 Jan 2011), at around 18:46 PST, I noticed that Iris was on the floor between the food tray and the stump perch. She looked around for a bit, then walked into the far corner at around 18:48. She seemed to be looking outside (is that back window area still open?). She stayed there until around 18:52, then started to walk away from the window while looking around the cage, then flew somewhere off-camera (presumably the nest?), then back to the high perch in the corner at 18:55. About a minute later, she flies towards the camera and out of the frame, there's a noise that sounds a bit like something knocking against the chain link, then she flies back to the log perch by the owl door. Not sure if she's hanging on the wire or if she just brushed up against it (if that was even the chain link making that noise).

    This morning (12 Jan 2011) at 03:29 PST, a faint hoot is heard, sounds like it's coming from outside, It's not any of the usual multi-syllable hoots, more like a rapid hoohoohoohoohoo (the trilling part of the usual call only), and it's answered by someone inside (Rusty? The pitch sounds like it's him) with a a couple of short syllables.

    Other than that, it's been a quiet couple of days--nobody's said anything while I've been watching. Iris has done some flying about, but no hanging on the wire (at least not on camera and not audibly off-camera). Haven't seen Rusty on top of the hide box since the collision--not sure if this is significant.

    At around 04:59 PST, there was a fair amount of sound coming from off-camera, sounded like eating and/or rummaging sounds from the nest. Again, not sure if this is significant.

  6. I always appreciate your detailed notes! When you saw Iris on the floor she was caching some gopher (and looking outside.)

    Great catching the faint hoot and Rusty & Iris' mumbled responses. Cool! I'm happy to hear Rusty hoot after bumping his head.

  7. Iris did many u turns in the cage one after another around 9pm cam time. She made no sounds as she flew. she it the pirch by the window making one turn, took a few after to work up her nerve I think. it was so cool to watch her turn in mid air. Not sure if this is normal behaivior, but it was cool to watch her fly again and again.

    PS: I want you to know i'm not giving up on rusty and iris. I have the site up even if i'm not logged in, or watching other owlboxes. mandozee1888

  8. hey it's me aurora, I watched iris flying around as well and found it very cool. I noticed that I could hear her wings flapping. I think perhaps Iris is going well if I can't hang on the cage, then I'll just fly around

  9. Some more notes:

    General observation - as mandozee1888 and aurora have noted, Iris was doing a lot of flying the other day (12 January 2011), with a lot of mid-air turns and starting and ending from either the log perch by the owl door or the high perch in the corner, but no hanging on the wire--at least not on camera and not audibly off-camera. Yesterday (13 January 2011), she didn't seem to be flying as much--a *lot* less, actually. Haven't seen much flying this morning (14 January 2011) either.

    Yesterday (13 Jan 2011), at around 04:56 PST, Rusty went from the food tray to the log perch on the floor, then Iris went to the food tray with Rusty watching. She went back to the log perch by the owl door about 3 minutes later, and Rusty went back to the food tray about 30 seconds after she left it. Not sure if this is significant, but it seemed interesting...

    At 16:20 PST Rusty hooted once, with his usual multi-syllable hoot. He hooted again at 16:31 PST (and may have hooted in the minute or so before that--my system crashed). He hooted once more at 16:34 PST--that time, the last syllable seemed a bit abbreviated.

    This morning (14 Jan 2011), at 04:54 PST, Iris was on food tray, Rusty was on stump perch on the floor, and they seemed to be watching each other fairly intently. Not sure if this is significant.

    General notes from this morning--from around 04:30(ish) to around 05:10(ish) PST, both Rusty and Iris seemed to be checking out the food tray a lot. Are they still getting food in the morning? I haven't seen the early deliveries the last few days.

    Also, at around 05:13 PST, when the nestcam was up, Rusty's bad eye was closed when he faced the camera. I hadn't noticed him doing that before the clocking incident this week. Not sure if this is significant--he seems okay otherwise, eating, hooting, flying, and hopping from perch to perch. Haven't seen him interacting directly with Iris at all, though.

    Hopefully, the courtship will resume in all earnest before too long...

  10. And more notes following the ones posted earlier (all times PST):

    Yesterday (14 Jan 2011):

    Noticed Rusty on top of the hide box at 16:29 - first time I've noticed him there since the head bump incident. His bad eye is closed when he looks into the camera at 16:50--something that he seems to have started doing after the incident.

    At 19:30, Iris flies from owl door perch to just off the log perch on wall, turns in mid-air, and returns to the owl door perch.

    At 19:36, Iris flies close to the wall and it sounds like she might have smacked the chain link with a wing--chain link rattling noises are heard, but she isn't hanging on the chain.

    More next comment (went over limit, oops)....

  11. And notes from today (15 Jan 2011):

    After breakfast is served at 04:53, Rusty goes to the tray first at 04:54, waits for a bit, eats a little, then takes his breakfast to the log perch. At 04:57, Iris lands on the food tray. Rusty looks over when she lands, then turns to face the food tray and resumes eating but keeps looking up. Iris is not eating yet, just looking around.

    At 04:58, Iris finally steps onto the food tray and takes the food, alternately eating and carrying it around. She finally turns to face Rusty, who looks up at her, then both resume eating. Rusty finishes eating at 05:05, while Iris keeps eating and occasionally looking up at Rusty. She leaves at 05:06, and the food tray appears empty.

    At 05:06, Rusty flies to the nest.

    At 05:08, Iris flies from the owl door perch to the midle of the cage, turns in midair, and flies back. A few seconds later, she flies to off-camera in the direction of the nest, then back to the high perch in the corner a few seconds later. About a minute later, she flies out to just off the end of the log perch on the wall, turns in midair, and goes back to the owl door perch. (I'll call these "boomerang flights.")

    At 05:11, she does another boomerang flight from the owl door perch to the corner perch. About a minute later, she does another boomerang flight, returning to the corner perch.

    At 08:26 - someone hoots, very faintly, perhaps Alice from the house?

    Afternoon notes in next comment (went over again, oops again)....

  12. And evening notes from 15 Jan 2011:

    At 15:03 - Rusty hoots! He's sitting on the log perch on the wall, and it's his usual multi-syllable hoot. He does it again at (times approximate) 15:03:54, 15:04:16, 15:04:38, 15:05:19, 15:05:40, 15:06:14, 15:06:51, 15:08:06, 15:08:36, and 15:09:18 before the broadcast is interrupted.

    At 15:59:15, Rusty is on the log perch on the wall, Iris on the owl door perch. Iris does a boomerang flight, turning almost in Rusty's face. Rusty pulls back, turns to face camera briefly (almost a "WTF?") after she lands, then goes back to watching Iris.

    At 16:18:08 Iris does another boomerang flight from the owl door perch to almost in Rusty's face - Rusty pulls back and lifts his wings - Iris circles back to owl door perch, Rusty gives the camera another "WTF?" look. This happens again at 16:19:26, and again at 16:20:27 (I've noticed a high-pitched rising/falling whistling sound at the point where Iris turns - this turns out to be Iris.

    At 16:29:57 Iris boomerangs at Rusty again - Rusty stands, opens his wings and turns to face her as she turns.

    At 16:31:54, Iris does it again, but is just off the tip of the log branch when she turns. Rusty stands, opens his wings, and turns to face her as she turns, then goes back to perching facing the nest wall, not looking at her.

    At 16:34:03 Iris and Rusty are both on the log perch, Iris towards the end, facing each other (not sure when she got there--stepped away for a bit). They are looking around as well as in each other's faces. At 16:35:23 - Iris leaves for the log perch, whistling when she takes off.

    At 16:35:51, Iris buzzes Rusty again. Rusty was standing, leaned back and opened his wings while she turned in his face. She went back to the owl door perch, he turned to face the nest wall and went back to sitting.

    At 16:37:02 - Iris does another flyby, but isn't so much in Rusty's face--she whistles as she makes her turn. Rusty stands, turns around and pulls back a little, but doesn't open his wings this time.

    At 16:38:12, Iris does it again, with the turn almost in Rusty's face (nearly bumping chests). He stands and pulls back, and his wings lift a little but don't open.

    At 16:39:33 Iris does it again. Rusty stands and pulls back, but his wings stay down. This happens again at 16:41:20, 16:42:29, and 16:43:40.

    At 16:44:33, Iris flies to somewhere off frame bottom (the nest?) - can hear landing noises (not chain link cling noises). Rusty is watching in that direction. At 16:46:09, she flies back to the corner perch.

    (more in next post--yes, over limit again....)

  13. (Last notes from 15 Jan 2011)

    At 16:48:17 Iris does another flyby of Rusty.

    At 16:49:11, Iris flies to log perch, whistling when she lands. Rusty opens his wings and flaps a bit as she lands. They face each other, then both look around. Through most of this, there are more whistling calls of varying pitch and volume, then a very loud and intense whistle as Iris takes off at 16:51:25 for the owl door perch. Rusty watches after her, then goes back to facing the nest wall.

    At 16:52:51, Rusty leaves log perch in the direction of nest.

    At 16:53:28, Iris goes to the food tray and looks around first towards the wall opposite food tray, then picks up the food there and flies to the owl door perch. There's been a bit of flying around by both Rusty and Iris since then, including some boomerang flights from Iris, but not any more of Iris buzzing Rusty. It's pretty quiet now, apart from the occasional boomerang flight from Iris.

    This netcast is quite different from the other owlcams I'm watching--this is the only one that isn't presently an established breeding pair, and the interaction between Rusty and Iris is really fascinating to watch. Thanks for sharing! (And hope these notes are doing at least a little something towards returning the favor.)

  14. I watched tonight between 8:30 and 9:30 and again about 11. Lots of U-Turns in the earlier hour and lots of hooting - some from inside the cage and some from outside. When I tuned in at 11, there was lots of hooting and Rusty ( I think) was peering out the window and then he flew back to the perch at the end near the door . Iris was sitting there. He did it once again while I was watching.

  15. Screwball and anonymous...thanks for your observations. Its wonderful to hear Rusty hooting again a bit. I'm hoping he'll ramp it up and do some serious pair bonding/territorial hoots. I'm hoping Iris will join in also.

    The boomerang flights indicate Iris is still restless. But I'm VERY happy she's not hanging on the chain link! Here's hoping that her hormones kick in stronger every day and get her to pay attention to Rusty.

    The chitters during the boomerang flights are ones of annoyance...either from Rusty or Iris.

    Yes, this is different to see the dynamics of pair bonding in an unestablished breeding pair...and very educational.

    Here's hoping Rusty and Iris get to the breeding thing soon, but if they don't this year, I'll see about getting them an orphan to foster so we still have family dynamics to watch, and they have something important to do and get practice for when they decide to breed.

    I keep remembering to have patience. Alice, my GHO, didn't do territorial hoots for 2.5 years after I got her, and didn't lay an egg for another 7 years or so!

  16. A few quick notes from the weekend:

    On Saturday (15 Jan 2011), Rusty started hooting at 18:13 PST, with his usual call. He kept this up for a couple of minutes (5 calls total over that interval). He was off camera, so no idea what else he was doing at the time. Iris did a fair amount of flying, but no hanging on the chain link and no discernable vocalization.

    On 16 Jan 2011, at about 16:13 PST, I thought I heard a faint hoot from outside - maybe Alice? A few minutes later, somebody (Iris?) chittered briefly, then Iris made another boomerang flight. Both Rusty and Iris did a little bit of flying (Rusty going from one perch to another, Iris doing boomerang sweeps).

    At 17:46 PST, Rusty hooted (normal hoot). He hooted again at 17:47:54, 18:57:35, and 18:58:00, at which point Iris did another boomerang flight from/to the high corner perch. Rusty hooted again at 18:58:43, Iris bomeranged at 18:59:00, and Rusty hooted once again at 18:59:13. After that, Iris made maybe 1 or 2 more flights, then it was pretty much all quiet after that, until I logged off (@ around 19:25 PST).

    Quiet morning today--just the two of them eating, nobody hooting.

  17. And a few quick notes from this morning (18 Jan 2011):

    At 02:27 PST, Rusty hooted - his usual call, just once.

    There was some flying after breakfast was served this morning - looked like Iris might have taken all the food, as she was on the tray first (around 04:55 PST), then Rusty went down at around 04:57 PST and perched there, bobbing his head and looking a bit perplexed, while Iris was on the owl door perch, apparently eating. Rusty went down to the bath pan briefly at around 05:05 (looking for mice, maybe?), then up to the owl door perch by Iris. Both owls were there for a couple of minutes, then someone (Iris, I think, from the color) went to the food tray. Both owls did some flying around from perch to perch, with one boomerang flight from Iris at around 05:11 (from/to high perch in corner), but otherwise pretty quiet until the broadcast stopped just now.

    (Maybe time to try the live prey items again? That seemed to get Rusty started on the courtship feeding last time...)

  18. This morning I put out one big and one small piece of gopher, so Iris took the big one. I think I'm going to generally skip live prey from here on out because the owls aren't hungry enough to be too interested in it. I agree that it got Rusty motivated the first time I gave live mice, but he ignored it the second time, and he ignored the rabbit. And even Iris ignored the second mouse and left the rabbit after she killed it. I'm hoping time will help the hormones kick in....