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!