Monday, February 13, 2012

Alice is a Free Woman!

Alice did a magnificent job incubating her two infertile eggs. She one took 1-2 short breaks a day (10 minutes or less each) for 35 days straight. Since their normal incubation period is 32-34 days, I was going to take her eggs away a few days ago. But Saturday morning she took a break at 2:30 AM instead of 6:30, so I totally missed that opportunity. And that night she took a break while Hein and I were immersed in conversation when I got home from work, so I missed again. But Sunday morning I was ready for her.

I was totally asleep, but thankfully my subconscious woke me up when she hopped out of her nest. I threw on a fleece jacket over my pajamas and walked down the hall to hoot with her. She REALLY likes attention when off her nest since the rest of her day is pretty long, boring, and lonely. After hooting for a few minutes I quickly stepped into her room, snitched the eggs and quickly put one in each jacket pocket.

I got out of the room as quickly as I could, but Alice was already on her way in to get back onto her nest. I stood with my nose at the rim of her nest as she settled back down onto her non-existent eggs. Weird that she doesn't notice they're gone when I first take them away.

Normally after about an hour she figures out the eggs are missing and she starts hooting. This time she didn't. She just sat there all day.

While she sat on her nest we measured the eggs. The big one weighed 59.3g and was about 5.6 x 5.0 cm. The small one weighed 37.0g and was about 5.0 x 4.2 cm. Quite a big size difference!

The next step was to blow the eggs. Hein is my egg blowing specialist, so I fished out the official egg poking pin and he made holes in each end of the egg. Then he pushed the pin all the way in and scrambled the innards. He put his lips to a hole on one end of the egg and out squirted the yolk/white mixture into a bowl. The big egg went really quickly, but the little egg was a bit of a pain and took some fiddling around to get it empty. Then they were washed inside and outside with soapy water. Once dry they will be put on display at the Houston Nature Center.

Alice's eggs are pretty good sized, but more rounded than a chicken egg. This year's big egg was just a little smaller than a really big chicken egg.

So now Alice is a free woman. When we came home that night she was off her nest. Since then she's spent most of her time in the living room and kitchen with us, obviously wanting attention. This morning she got into her nest when Hein came into her room, but shortly thereafter she came downstairs to join us in the kitchen.

I know many people don't think it's appropriate for Alice to be in the house. But she's safer from West Nile Virus this way, and the only reason I do it is because it's what SHE wants...not what we want. I could make her live in a pen outside by herself, but she does begging calls for more attention when I've done that in the past. I'm simply trying to give her a life that she's happy with, as best I can, and trying to learn as much as possible from her in the process.


  1. I would never doubt that you are doing the best for Alice, Iris or Rusty although I didn't know that West Nile was an issue for owls.. Is it just owls or other raptors?...Michelle

  2. Karla,
    Great post thank you. Onecraftyone :)

  3. They were squaking when i was watching at about 6:56

  4. Ramblingwoods, West Nile Virus hit Great Horned Owls very hard when it first swept across the country in 2002. It is most often fatal to Great Horned Owls. It hits other raptors too, but Barn Owls don't seem to get it, and Eastern Screech-Owls are asymptomatic as I understand it. It isn't nearly as bad now as in 2002, but it seems to still hit pockets here and there.

    1. That is really sad Karla..We do hear about here in western NY from time to time but I had no idea that it could affect some owls..Good thing Alice, Iris and Rusty don't have to worry about it...Michelle

  5. And more notes from the last day or so...

    13 February 2012

    At 15:44 PST, Rusty was hooting on the log perch, Iris clucking and hooting in response. Some of her clucks are starting to sound like grunts--or maybe that's Rusty and I can't tell them apart when it gets like this. It's a long exchange--at 15:45, Rusty went from the log perch off in the direction of the nest, but he didn't turn up on the nestcam. When he hooted at 15:49, the call was much fainter--not sure where he was.

    At 16:13 PST, Iris was off the nest (not sure of departure) and nowhere on camera--in the flight cage? Rusty was on the side perch, head-bobbing, then he went to the nest, walked into nest bowl and dug around, looked around, stepped out of the nest bowl and onto the platform, then went back into the bowl and dug around some more. During this, Iris reappeared on the right side of the far perch. Rusty seemed to settle down on top of the eggs momentarily, then stepped back out onto the nest platform, then he eventually went back to the log perch. Iris was still on the right side of the far perch, apparently eating. Rusty alternately watched the nest and watching Iris, then at 16:19 PST, he flew to the left side of far perch, then into the flight cage. There may have been some hooting during this (I can't decipher my notes here). Iris was still (eating?) on the right side of far perch, looking at the nest occasionally.

    At 16:22 PST, Iris from the far perch to the log perch to the nest, walking straight into the nest bowl. Rusty was visible through the flight cage door, then back in the breeding cage on the left side of the far perch.

    At 18:51 PST, there was a brief vocal exchange, with Rusty hooting and Iris clucking back.

    14 February 2012
    At 02:49 PST, Iris stood up briefly and dug around in the nest, with Rusty hooting intermittently.

    At 03:59 PST, someone hooted--not sure who, only that it wasn't a usual Rusty hoot. Iris was in the nest looking relaxed with her eyes closed--I don't think it was her. Rusty was on the log perch, looking outside.

    At 04:04 PST, Rusty hooted repeatedly, with Iris clucking and hooting back, repeatedly.

    At 04:33 PST Iris left nest, with Rusty still on the log perch looking outside. No idea where Iris went--she wasn't visible on either cam.

    At 04:34 PST, Rusty went to the flight cage (maybe Iris went there when the video feed skipped?). Audible hooting followed, sounding like both Rusty and Iris (definitely two owls, at any rate).

    At 04:36 PST, Iris was on the far perch, right side. Rusty was audible from flight cage. Iris then flew to the log perch, seemed to check the ground underneath, then went back to the nest.

    At 04:41 PST, there was a VERY loud hoot from Rusty. Iris was on the nest giving the camera an annoyed look.

    At 04:43, Rusty reappeared at center of the perch on the other side of the flight cage door.

    At 18:08 PST, Rusty went to the nest with food. Iris was lying down with her eyes closed, but she opened her eyes when he waved the food. He did the usual slow approach with a quiet hoot after passing her the food. She put the food down while he went to the log perch. Iris stayed on the nest for a few seconds, then picked up her food (for some reason, Rusty seems to favor giving her the posterior end of the gopher) and left the nest at 18:10 PST for her usual spot (right side of far perch). Rusty watched her leave, then resumed watching the nest,
    occasionally glancing at her.

    At 18:19 PST, Iris returned to the nest, lingering on the platform edge before going into the nest bowl.

    At the moment, it's pretty quiet, with the very occasional hoot from Rusty (who seems to have his eyes closed).

  6. That's a *very* interesting size variation in Alice's eggs. How large have her previous eggs been? And any idea which one of these came first? Just wondering...

  7. Last year's egg was 55.3g at the end of incubation. I didn't record he dimensions. I'd have to dig to find the other egg weights, but she's had a lot of size variation. This year it was the big egg that came first. But the very first egg she ever laid was small. But her second or third was HUGE.

  8. And some more notes:

    15 February 2012

    At 04:40 PST, Iris returned to the nest (unsure of departure time). She and Rusty had a clucking/hooting exchange at around 04:44 PST.

    At 15:55 PST, Iris was in the doorway between the cages on the flight cage side. Rusty was on the log perch, hooting. At 15:56, Rusty went to the nest, hooted, and then slowly walked into the nest bowl, rummaging around and hooting. Iris came back into the breeding cage briefly but only as far as the far perch. Rusty looked up at her as she left, then resumed then digging around in the nest bowl, looking up periodically. He exited the nest bowl at 15:57, walked across the platform, stopped at the platform edge, and hooted again. Iris was in the doorway again on the flight cage side. At 15:58, Rusty left the nest, presumably to the flight cage--the video feed stuttered then. Faint hooting was audible.

    At 16:02 PST, Iris was back on the right side of the far perch (her eating spot), looking at the nest, then into the flight cage back at the nest. She went down to the food tray, then returned to the far perch to eat. At 16:08, she went to the log perch, then to the nest.

    At 19:33 PST, Rusty arrived at the nest. Iris stayed lying down, and nobody hooted. Rusty walked onto the platform but did not approach Iris. He stayed for a bit, then went to the log perch.

    A little before 21:15 PST, Rusty returned to the nest, hooting, with Iris lying down and clucking and hooting back. Rusty continued to hoot intermittently until he left for the log perch at 21:19 PST. He landed, turned around, and hooted again. Iris looked at him but didn't get up.

  9. And more notes:

    16 February 2012 - not much to report in the morning, sorry...

    At 15:59 PST, Iris was eating in her usual spot on the right side of far perch, with Rusty hooting in the flight cage. She returned to the nest at 16:01 PST, walking straight into the nest bowl.

    At 17:37 PST, Iris was digging in the nest, facing camera. *Really* digging.

    At 18:26 PST, Iris started clucking back at Rusty, who had been hooting intermittently. Rusty then arrived at the nest (not sure from where, was away from monitor, sorry), landing on the platform edge and hooting at Iris, who clucked back at first, then seemed to fall asleep. He hooted again and looked around, but stayed put and did not approach Iris. Rusty hooted intermittently for several minutes, with no reply from Iris, who did open her eyes and turn her head--at 18:34 PST, she was looking out into the cage.

    At 18:41 PST, Iris was digging rather vigorously in the nest, with Rusty still on the nest platform with her. As of right now, she's asleep (or relaxed with her eyes closed) in the nest bowl, and Rusty is still on the nest platform, just barely visible on the right side of the frame. He just hooted at Iris, who hasn't budged.

    (And before I forget, thanks for getting back to me with the egg information--that's quite a range! Wonder if (in)fertility has anything to do with the variation?)

    I checked on the Owl Pages, and they gave the incubation period for GHOWs as 26 to 35 days. Are we on hatch watch now?

  10. I consider the best source of info to be the "Birds of North America" account for Great Horned Owls. It's written by three of the top GHO researchers, as a synthesis of everything that was known about GHOs at the time of writing (about 10 years ago, I think.) I think the range they list for incubation to hatch is 32-34 days, so that's what I'm going by. We'll see! But even if we're not on hatch watch for a few days, I DO think we should be watching very closely to see if Iris is communicating with chicks in the eggs.

  11. I was watching the cam and at 6:11 cst mom left the eggs and dad flew in after. She went to the other pen. Dad went over by the eggs and looked at them, maybe rolled, not sure. He was watching out towards the other pen and then went back to the eggs and maybe rolled again. Rusty then flew off at 6:16 and I could hear 2 owls hooting at 6:17. I could see one owl at the other entrance. Iris then flew in at 6:18, possibly rolled the eggs and did a shimmy. Could hear, I believe Rusty hooting at 7:18.

  12. Tonight - maybe about 9:30 EST, Iris looked suddenly startled, got up, and then spent some time checking out her eggs and digging around in the nest . It made me wonder if she felt some movement within one of them. Soon she settled down again. Rusty has been out of sight all evening. I might have heard him hoot a minute ago and I think I heard a screech owl. I thought it was on the computer but, since we have one in the neighborhood, it could have been ours.

  13. More notes from the past couple of days or so...

    17 February 2012

    At 03:11 PST, Iris left the nest, with Rusty hooting intermittently. Iris went to her usual spot, right side of the far perch. Rusty arrived at nest at 03:12 PST, landing on the platform edge at the right side of frame, and hooting facing the nest. At 03:13 PST, Iris started hooting back, then Rusty went to the log perch, facing Iris and hooting. At 03:16 PST, Iris and Rusty were both in flight cage, hooting. At 03:18, Iris was back in the nest, digging around a lot as she settled down. Rusty was still in the flight cage.

    At 04:36 PST, Iris clucked, and Rusty answered.

    At 04:44 PST,Rusty was hooting on the log perch, Iris stood up in the nest, looking out into the cage, then settled back down.

    At 04:53 PST, Rusty went to the log perch with food. He stayed there watching Iris, who watched him back. At 04:56 PST, Rusty went to nest with the food. Iris twittered in response as he seemed
    to try to stuff it in her beak (he was blocking the view). He finally set the food down behind her--she gave him an annoyed look and resettled herself in the nest. He went off camera and hooted quietly, then went to the side perch. She turned around to pick up the food. It looked like she might have been eating--her back was to the camera, but her head wsas bobbing as if she were gulping, and she seemed to be shredding her food (barn owls seem to do this as hatch time approaches--don't know about GHOWs).

    At 04:57 PST, Iris went to the far perch with food. She returned to the nest at 5:01 PST, settling with much ruffling of wings and wiggling.

    At 17:49 PST, Rusty went to the nest, without food. He was on the platform at the right of the frame, Iris lying down in the nest looking at him. He was looking around a lot. At 17:52, it sounded like there might have been noises on the roof--Iris was looking at the ceiling, but didn't seem too concerned and returned to watching Rusty. She did look up at the ceiling again at 17:53, scanning from (our) left to right, then returned to watching Rusty, who seemed to be watching her.

    At 17:55 PST, Rusty grunted softly, then started hooting and grunting; Iris clucked back. The brief exchange was very brief.

    At 17:59 PST, both were still looking around at something. She was looking out into the cage, he was looking at the back wall, then the cage.

    At 19:49, Rusty was on the log perch (was in the nest up until now), with Iris in the nest, not watching him, facing the camera.

    At 19:55 PST, Iris went to the right side of the far perch.

    At 20:04 PST, Rusty started hooting, and Iris returned to nest, with much digging in the nest bowl before settling in.

  14. And from 18 February 2012:

    At 03:47 PST, Rusty had been hooting intermittently, for a while, now Iris clucked back.

    At 04:31 PST, Iris got up and went into the flight cage, with Rusty hooting from the flight cage.

    At 04:34 PST, Iris came back into the breeding cage to her usual spot at the right side of the far perch, Rusty still hooting in the flight cage. She went to the food tray at 04:35 PST, then returned to the perch to eat, with visible through the flight cage door, perched on the other side and hooting. Iris finished eating and returned to the flight cage.

    At 04:41 PST, both were in flight cage, and Iris's copulation whistle noise was heard amid a whole bunch of hooting.

    At 04:45 PST, Iris was back on the nest (unsure of arrival time, sorry).

    At 04:54 PST, Rusty was on the log perch, hooting, then he flew in the direction of the nest (sounded like he was close, but was off camera). Iris clucked back, then started digging in the nest bowl before settling back down.

    At 06:09 PST, Rusty went to the food tray from the flight cage, with Iris watching from the nest, then giving the camera an annoyed look.

    At 06:13 PST, Rusty was off camera hooting softly with much vibrato (haven't heard him use that voice before), Iris with clucking and digging emphatically in nest before settling back down.

    At 06:16 PST, Rusty was back on log perch, with Iris on the nest relaxed, eyes barely open (not closed because she blinked).

    At 06:32 PST, Iris was crouched down in nest, puffed up, alerting to something (lawnmower? snowblower? I think it was coming from this cam). Rusty was on log perch, looking at something (not sure what). Iris dug in the nest, then settles back in with much wiggling and deruffling.

    At 14:54 PST, Iris was digging in the nest again with much wiggling when resettling, while Rusty was in the doorway to the flight cage.

    At 16:53 PST, Iris was in nest, alert and looking around, but firmly down on the eggs; Rusty was on the log perch, facing nest wall with his eyes closed.

    At 16:56 PST, Iris was up and rummaging in the nest with feathers fluffed, Rusty looking at nest. She settled down fairly quickly, still alert.

    At 18:59 PST, Iris stood up and fluffed up her feathers while digging around the eggs again with her beak; was Rusty nowhere on camera.

    Seemed to be a pretty quiet night--didn't catch the nighttime meal break, but in general, Iris seemed a bit restless and was moving the eggs around a lot more than she has been.

    Not too many notes from today (19 February 2012), but there was a brief hooting/clucking exchange at 04:09 PST and again at 04:24 PST and 05:00 PST, with Iris digging around a lot in the nest. At the moment, she's in the nest with her eyes closed, and he's on the log perch; both have their eyes closed. No noises from the eggs yet or observations of Iris talking to them, at least not that I can tell...