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!


  1. "Pet Rat"? I think it would become dinner pretty quick. I have one of those . . . eventually I think my 'bait rat' will become dinner for my hawk. I wish I had a suggestion for enrichment. Maybe just some prey items would be what she needs. I could suggest, based on a recent hunt trip, maybe set up something where several mice could hide in, and come out at night. It could present random hunt opportunities, rather than just putting them into the mews. Last week my bird caught 4 mice, one after another, after each kick of the old kennel out in the field ... they had made a nest in there. Good Luck trying to get into the mind of an owl.

    Carolyn in Spring Grove

  2. A fairly uneventful night/morning (02 Jan 2011). Nobody hooted, at least not while I was watching. At 5:01 PST, Iris jumped from the food tray to the wire, climbed up to the plywood, and flew off towards the camera before circling back to the high perch by the door. She seemed to be spending a lot of time there last night/this morning, while Rusty spent a good chunk of the morning sitting on top of the hide box in the middle of the wall.

    I noticed the toys on the IR camera last night and thought they might be pellets, but when the light came up, it was obvious they weren't (unless it was the morning after Halloween, or Easter...).

    A couple of thoughts:

    1. Perhaps you could try contacting falconers with great horned owls to see what they do for their birds during the off-season? It seems that since falconry owls would probably be wild-caught, they might be having some of the same lifestyle change issues as Iris. I'd guess that falconers as a whole would be a good resource in this regard, but those with great horned owls may have additional insight into the quirks of these birds in particular.

    2. Maybe offering some larger prey items whole (large rat, large gopher, maybe even a rabbit?) might give them something to do (i.e., shred their own food) and provide an outlet for some of that nervous energy. It'll undoubtedly be messy, but it would be a bit more like what they're accustomed to, and it might even provide an opportunity for courtship behavior (something more impressive-looking for Rusty to present).

    Just speculating....

  3. Thanks for the suggestions!

    There are exceedingly few falconers who fly GHOs...I know of one in Michigan. Falconry birds at least get the excitement of going out hunting on a regular basis.

    Some of the owls at The Owl Foundation in Ontario play with brushes for their bath pans or other "toys" offered to them. These are permanently injured owls that are in a breeding situation like Rusty and Iris.

    I think we'll get some live mice today and give them a shot and maybe think about getting something big to feed them whole.

  4. Some more notes from today (02 Jan 2011):

    At 10:21 PST, Rusty hoots, pauses, then hoots again, both times in his usual pattern.

    At 13:31 PST, Rusty is in the nest and Iris can be heard flying around. At 13:35 PST, Rusty takes off, and an off-camera hoot follows (Hoo hoohoohoohoohoo)--sounds like Rusty, based on pitch, and it's his usual hoot minus the last two syllables.

    At 13:36 PST, another hoot comes from off-camera, sounds like Rusty (Hoo hoohoohoohoohoo Hoo--his usual hoot, minus the last syllable).

    Caught the special food delivery today--looks like it didn't go over so well with Iris (still flying laps and hanging on the wire the food tray--did she even try for the mice?), although Rusty seemed to enjoy it. Maybe something a little larger (rats?)?

  5. I love your observations...perfect on the time and descriptions!

    The shortened hoots you heard Rusty do were greeting hoots...they lack the last syllables. It's the first time I've heard this hoot from either Rusty or Iris. Thanks for catching it!!

  6. And notes for today (03 Jan 2011):

    No hooting this morning. Iris did spend a lot of time flying around, occasionally hanging on the wire by the food tray (it seems that she'll start by standing on the food tray, not sure if she's actually eating anything, then she jumps to the wire, hangs for a second or climbs up to the plywood, then flies off). Rusty was on the floor by the bath pan briefly (sometime between 4:50 and 5:15 PST? didn't note the exact time on that, sorry)--perhaps looking for more mice?

    (No daytime observations--offline from around 06:00 to 15:40 PST. Sorry.)

    And at around 17:00 PST, Rusty was on the log perch on the wall, hooted in his usual pattern, paused for a bit (under a minute--around 30 seconds?), then hooted again in his usual pattern. Nobody's said anything since. Iris did fly around for a bit, but not as much as she did this morning. At present (18:06 PST), Iris is somewhere off-camera and Rusty is on top of the hide box, (seems to be his preferred roost).

    Found a little something online at - it's from the Jane Goodall Institute's education program, and there's a paragraph about making enrichment items for raptors. One thing that they suggest is inserting food items into cardboard boxes and tubes. Maybe try putting some prey items in toilet paper tubes so Iris will have to unwrap her dinner? It's a cheap and easily implemented experimental option, at least...

    (And another thought--where was Iris found? Maybe there's something in or about her old territory that could be brought into her present environment.)

    Glad that these observations meet your approval. Hope they're helpful for your study. This is turning out to be a surprisingly educational and enlightening experience!

  7. Of course, I posted too soon....

    At 18:27 PST, Rusty (on the hide box) hoots in his usual pattern (posibly in response to something outside?). He hoots again after about half a minute, again after about 20 seconds, then again after 20 seconds, and once again after a little over a minute, all in his usual pattern. During this, Iris flew from the perch by the owl door to off-camera (the nest?). At 18:34 PST, Iris flies to the high perch by the door, then back towards the camera (and sounds like she's hitting or smacking something), then back to the high perch by the door. Rusty then flies back towards and off the camera (to the nest?).

    As of 18:37 PST, nobody is saying anything, and nobody's visible on camera.