Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Removing the Eggs

With Rusty and Iris' eggs more than a week overdue for hatching, I decided to remove the eggs to see if we could figure out what had gone wrong.  I had originally planned to remove the eggs Monday morning after the International Festival of Owls.  But as things worked out, we wound up having our special guests over to our home on Sunday evening, and it seemed too great an opportunity to miss to have Prof. Dr. Michael Wink and Denver Holt present to help evaluate the eggs.  (And to have Tracy Eccles, Pot Plant Owl human, present to witness the event.)

After a fun-filled meal of pizza, beer, wine and lots of laughter, it was time to get down to business.  First I prepared the two gophers for Rusty, Iris, and Alice by cutting them open to remove the liver, stomach, intestines, and bladder, which they don't eat.  I put on my headlamp, went outside to throw out the guts, then took key and food out to feed Rusty and Iris.  I removed the uneaten food, cleaned the food tray, and deposited their fresh supper.

Then I walked around the side of the cage to the ladder that leads up to the peek hole behind Iris' nest.  Thankfully Iris flushed off the eggs when I was at the bottom of the ladder.  I quickly climbed, unlocked the padlock, grabbed one warm egg and tucked it in one pocket, then grabbed the other warm egg and tucked it into my other jacket pocket.  I shut the door, locked the padlock, and hurried back inside.

I handed an egg to Denver and he commented that it wasn't as warm a he would have expected.  I thought they cooled off quickly too.

I tried candling my egg by putting the egg on the end of a vertical toilet paper tube over a flashlight in the dark bathroom.  I couldn't see a thing in the egg.  I tried the other egg--nothing.  Then someone pointed out that I wouldn't see anything if the chicks had developed.  Duh!

Next I weighed the eggs and someone recorded the weights.  Egg #1 was 56.3g and egg #2 was 59.4g (Alice's was 59.3g).

Denver got to be the one to do the dirty work.  Over a paper plate he carefully tapped the egg with a knife around the middle, just like cracking a hard boiled egg.  Then he gently pulled it open.

Inside was a perfectly developed Great Horned Owl chick, complete with fat little toes and an egg tooth. It still had a yolk sac.  It wasn't alive, but it wasn't smelly or decomposed either.  With this knowledge I heaved a sigh of relief--Rusty wasn't shooting blanks!

Egg number two revealed the same, but had a runny pink fluid in with it also.

We removed the yolk sacs, rinsed and weighed the chicks, and put them in jars of alcohol to preserve them.  The yolk sacs and egg shells were put into plastic baggies in the freezer in case they would be needed for further analysis.

We may never figure out what happened to the chicks, but it is probably significant that both didn't hatch.  My suspicion is that they got jostled a few too many times when Iris bolted out of the nest as critters climbed on the cage, since shaking eggs is a method used to prevent them from hatching in some instances.

Iris checked the nest a few times and Rusty checked it a LOT of times.  He eventually dug it all up.  By the next day they were roosting in the sunshine in the flight cage not just side by side, but smooshed up against each other.  Copulations have picked up also, so there is a small chance they will lay more eggs this year.

This isn't necessarily all bad.  Now we will be able to clean the cage out, install the IR illuminators, add more nesting material, fix some holes, and do more predator proofing.  Then if they lay eggs again, things should not only go better, but we should be able to see better.

Let's all hope for more eggs this year!


  1. Aw, so sad. Thank you Karla for keeping us informed. I hope they succeed in having chicks someday soon .

  2. Thank you so much for the information. I think you are probably right in your theory that it was the jostling the eggs took - maybe on the night of the raccoon. Whatever the reason, it is very sad. At least there is every reason to hope that the next time will have a happy ending. Mapleowl

  3. That is sad news. I was so looking forward to seeing fuzzy little babies. It sounds like Rusty is going to make an excellent owl dad when he gets his chance. Thank you for the update.

  4. Hi, can't say much since I am more of a lurker then a chatter, but the jostling theory is a good one since they were so close to hatching. I'm watching for more eggs soon.


  5. Let's all hear it for "Double Clutching"!! Go Rusty!! Go Iris!! Get to it!!

  6. Oh, that is so depressing. I'd almost have preferred to hear that the eggs were never viable. Poor Rusty and Iris.

    Good luck and best wishes to them in the future.

  7. at 10:42pm Rusty was doing some weird hoots.
    I looked a long time to find this box, so by now I can' remember the details. But it was some constant hoots for a few minutes.
    10:43 kixxkixx: Rusty is right below the camera
    10:45 mapleowl: wild hooting - both at nest - one in it- Iris clucking?

  8. I sure hope they lay again.
    I have had this happen to farm birds. Just before hatching should occur the chick dies unexplainably.

  9. Wow. At least that answers some questions...interesting that there doesn't seem to be much evidence of decomposition.

    Saw you and Hein doing a little housekeeping earlier today, and it seemed like Rusty got very territorial as soon as you left--lots of very emphatic hooting. Appreciate the new IR lighting! Looks like you put some more padding in the nest--has either of them gone into the nest? Oh, and looks like you've got mice in the nest--just (18:29 PST) saw one down in the nest bowl, and it jumped onto the access hatch and ran off to the left, and just now (18:30 PST), another one ran around on the perch at the center of the nest platform.

    ( Don't know if you saw it, but I posted a few notes on the previous blog entry and left you a link on the last one--nothing important, just amusing.)

  10. Rusty's been in the nest a LOT with Iris watching. Yes, the mice had to check out all the cage updates too.