Saturday, February 25, 2012

Argh! No hatch yet!

Today when I came home from work it was still a nice, sunny day.  I glanced over at the owl cages as I drove in the driveway and realized that this would be a great time to slap another piece of steel siding on the side of the cage by the food tray.

Every night for the past several nights cats and raccoons have been climbing on the side of the cage, trying to get in.  They can't get in between the screen on the outside of the cage and the chain link and wooden slats on the inside of the cage.  But it still bothers Rusty and Iris, and eventually it's going to damage the screen on the outside of the cage.

I announced my idea to Hein when I walked in the door and he was game.  He set to work rounding up the hammer, punch, screws and drill, then pulled out an extra piece of 10' long 2' wide steel siding from the shed.  I stuck a camera in my pocket, assuming Iris would flush from the nest when we did this, so we could solve the mystery of what's in the nest right now.

Rusty flew to the other cage right away, but Iris sat tight!  Even when we were banging loudly, punching holes in the steel for the screws to go in.  We worked as quickly as we could, so I don't think we were out there more than five minutes.  But just at the end I saw her fly into the flight cage.

I quickly handed off the tools to Hein, turned out the camera, and scurried up the exterior ladder that leads to the little door right behind the nest.  I didn't know what I was going to see.

I was quite surprised to see two perfect eggs, slightly stained, lying side by side.  Neither showed any signs of hatching.  They just sat there looking perfect.  I quickly snapped one photo, locked the door, and  scooted down the ladder so we could get away from the cage as soon as possible.

So now the question becomes are the eggs fertile?  Will they hatch?  When will they hatch?  Only time will tell.  You'd think with all that copulation (5-10 times a night for 6 weeks) and Iris' diligent incubation that they would be fine and dandy.  Let's all think positive and try to be patient.

I posted the full size image of the eggs here so you can click on it to enlarge it for more detail.


  1. Nice photo of the eggs! Its good to know for sure what we have in the nest. Do we know if Iris has ever hatched eggs before? Did she come in to REGI as an adult or hatch-year bird?

    Also: 2/25 at 9:26pm (Central), Iris left the nest for 8 minutes. She went to her typical perch. There was almost no hooting.

    Keep up the great work! And luck finalizing all the festival details. I sure you are super busy.

  2. Hi--

    Argh! indeed! And still nothing yet--just now (04:23 PST on 26 Feb 2012), Iris returned to the nest with food--she was clucking as she walked into the nest bowl, then she ate the food herself before settling down in the nest. Not sure what to make of that.

    Sorry I haven't posted the last few days. I can email you my rough (and somewhat cryptic) notes if you'd like--they do contain times and behavior stuff, which might help you when you're reviewing video.

  3. We don't know if Iris has hatched eggs before. She came into REGI as an adult.

    I think Iris tries to feed the eggs every now and then, so maybe that's to encourage the eggs to hatch??? I've been watching the videos pretty closely the past few days, so you probably don't need to post your detailed notes, screwball, but I appreciate you keeping them!

  4. Rusty was hooting a lot early last night. I had wanted to hear some hooting, & I finally heard it!:)

  5. 11:49pm- Some interesting chattering from Iris in response to Rusty's hoots.

  6. Also, Iris brought her food up to the nest around 1:30am and made some interesting vocalizations.

  7. Not much to report for the past couple of days apart from the usual, but Iris did bring food to the nest this morning (28 Feb 2012). She arrived at the nest at 04:24 PST, clucking, and with food in her beak. She went into the nest bowl and put the food down in the nest, appeared to look at the eggs, still clucking, then pulled the food closer to the eggs, still clucking. After about a minute, she picked up the food, put it back down, then picked it up again, moved it around some more (and may have partially shredded it--couldn't see), then picked it up and put it on the side of the nest bowl, then picked it up and dropped it back into the nest bowl, picked it up again, clucked some more, and finally ate it herself. It almost seems like she can't figure out why the eggs won't eat.

    Will you be removing the eggs at some point? Wondering if examining them might provide clues as to what's happened, since we're now at 36 days from the date the second egg was laid. Also wondering if maybe removing the eggs might stimulate Iris and Rusty to attempt a replacement clutch (did a quick search, and Audubon Massachusetts indicates that this does occur occasionally in nature and that GHO nesting season in their area runs late February - late March--do Great Lakes GHOs run early, or just your colleagues?).

  8. Yes, Iris is trying to feed the eggs. At some point I'll remove the eggs and check to see if they were never fertile, or if development stopped at some point. I'm not sure if it's best to let her sit to see how long she will sit, or if it's best to remove them now to see if she will lay a second set. Iris laid very early, so some wild bird around her lay as late as early March. I've sent an email to an owl breeder in England for suggestions.

  9. Some more notes:

    On 28 February 2012, at 19:54 PST, Iris came off the nest VERY abruptly (there might have been a squawk, too) and took up a defensive posture on the log perch, with Rusty flying over to the far perch. Iris stayed crouched on the log perch with her wings held out, staring at the nest. Rusty went to the side perch at 19:57, staring at something in the direction of the flight cage, with Iris hunched over on the log perch, also staring in the same direction. At 19:58, Both of them flew off-camera in the direction of the nest, then Rusty went to the flight cage and Iris went to the far perch. Rusty came back into the breeding cage at 20:00, and Iris returned to the nest at 20:04. She didn't settle down, but only crouched down briefly, then stood up. She finally settled down at around 20:09 but stayed alert and kept looking at the ceiling.

    Yesterday (29 February 2012), Iris left the nest at 04:24 and went to the log perch, then to the far perch where Rusty was. They hooted together, and there was a copulation whistle while the video froze. Not sure when she went back to the nest.

    At 05:16 PST, Rusty left the nest (not sure when he got there), and it looked like he left food (there was something in front of Iris). Iris left the nest at 05:25, and the whatever-it-was was gone; she returned to the nest at 05:28 PST.

    At 16:08 PST, Iris left the nest after Rusty hooted. Rusty went to the nest at 16:09 and went into the nest bowl, apparently inspecting the eggs. He left at 16:11 PST.

    At 19:19 PST, Iris was on the right side of the far perch, with Rusty hooting on the log perch. Iris was back on the nest at 19:34 PST (unsure of departure and return times, sorry).

    At 21:29 PST, Iris(?) left the nest for the log perch, where Rusty(?) was. Both were looking at the flight cage door.

    At 21:36 PST, Iris was at nest, with Rusty on the log perch, then Iris left and came back, crouching on the rim of the nest bowl with her wings half-spread. Rusty went to the side perch, then back to log perch, then back to the side perch, then the log perch. Iris abruptly opened her wings and jumped back from the nest bowl (planting her butt in the camera), then went into into the nest bowl with much ruffling and turning around before not-quite-settling. At 21:51 PST, she was looking at the ceiling again.

    And notes from today (01 March 2012):

    At 04:05 PST, there was the usual hooting/clucking exchange. Iris left the nest at 04:14 PST and went into the flight cage, where Rusty was; both of them were hooting.

    At 04:23 PST, Iris returned to the nest, clucking, and with food. She went into the nest bowl and offered the food to the eggs before eventually eating it herself. Rusty was on log perch, hooting. Iris inspected and rolled the eggs before settling back down.

    At 04:46 PST, Rusty left the nest for the far perch (not sure when he got there) after delivering food. Iris clucked and offered the food to the eggs, then acted like she couldn't quite decide if she should eat it herself, and finally put the food down in front of her in the nest.

    At 16:00 PST, Iris left the nest, with Rusty hooting on the log perch. At 16:06 PST, Rusty was at the nest, and Iris was at food tray (unsure of arrival times, sorry). Iris then went to the right side of the far perch with food. Rusty went to the center of the far perch at 16:07 and hooted, while Iris kept eating. Iris was back on the nest at 16:11 PST. it's been pretty quiet since then.

  10. Hope the Festival of Owls went well!

    Saw you removing the eggs last night, and afterwards, it seemed like both owls were a bit confused--there was a lot of inspecting and digging around in the nest from both Iris and Rusty (times available if you need them, but it was pretty constant). They seem to have accepted that the nest is now empty, and Rusty seems ready for another attempt--I saw copulation on the log perch in the flight cage around 12:00 - 12:15 PST today, and again at 14:11 PST and 14:51 PST (the latter was *definitely* copulation--saw some tail gymnastics). There may have been other attempts as well.

    (Would providing additional food help with a second attempt? My understanding is that barn owls can and do adjust their clutch size according to food availability, but given that GHOs have significantly different nesting practices, I don't know how much, if any, of that would apply.)

    Here's hoping for a second clutch!

  11. And some more quick notes:

    05 March 2012: Copulation at 16:11 PST and 16:54 PST. Rusty made a quick double hoot, sounding almost like a chuckle, when he went to the log perch after the 16:54 encounter. Additional copulation events at 17:38 PST and 18:29 PST. At 18:45 PST, Iris was on the far perch and Rusty flew down to the floor below her, then flew off-camera in the direction of the nest wall; at 18:59 PST, he was back on the floor by the bath pan, then off to the side perch.

    And 06 March 2012:

    At 03:36 PST, there was copulation on the far perch, with Rusty going to the log perch afterwards and making another chuckling hoot (five syllables, I think).

    At 03:46 PST, Rusty was on the far perch and started grunting, then Rusty and Iris copulated, then Rusty flew off camera in the direction of the nest, with both of them hooting.

    As of right now (05:12 PST), Iris is on the log perch in the flight cage, and Rusty is on the right side of the far perch in the breeding cage (Iris' eating spot). It's been pretty quiet.

    Oh, and one more thing--saw this:

    and thought of you and Alice. :)