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.

Friday, February 24, 2012

We probably have a chick

No pictures to post because we haven't seen it yet! But Iris's behavior is indicating that she probably has a chick. I'm carefully reviewing every video sequence where she stands up to see if I can glimpse something under her, and listening carefully for any chicky sounds. I'm also watching for any signs of eggshells, either lying around or being eating. I'll let you know when I have definitive evidence.

But the way she fusses so carefully under herself for so long and so often, I'm convinced we've got a little owlet. So imagine it drying off and turning into a cute little fuzzball, with Iris gently preening its tiny feathers.  And we'll watch for chick number 2 to arrive sometime in the next couple of days.

In the meantime I think Iris has realized the raccoon and cats that have been trying to get to their food tray lately simply can't get into the cage. When they show up she certainly goes on alert, but she doesn't get out of the nest now like she did for the raccoon a couple of nights ago.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Countdown to Hatching

Iris has been incubating her first egg for 29 days. As I understand it, incubation is supposed to take 32-34 days in Great Horned Owls, so we are getting close to hatching.

I've asked people to keep an eye and ear out for signs of Iris talking to the eggs and/or the eggs talking to her. This morning a viewer reported Iris potentially talking to the eggs. I took a quick peek at the video and thought Iris was just clucking because she had food in her beak and it was breeding season.

Later in the day I reviewed the full night's video and realized that IRIS had brought this food to the nest. This is the first time she's done that. And she appeared to be trying to feed it to the eggs while clucking, although it was much too big a piece for a tiny chick to eat.

Later on she took the food in one foot while still sitting on the nest and tore off two chunks and ate them. She has never torn food up on the nest to eat...she's only eating the small pieces that Rusty brings which can be swallowed whole.

She messed around with the remainder of the gopher a few times, trying to move it to the edge of the nest bowl. It kept sliding back down by the eggs.

But this is new behavior, which to me indicates we're on hatch watch now. So look and listen for sounds of baby chicks in eggs or Iris talking to the eggs. I REALLY hope we can hear them before they hatch!

But yes, she still definitely has eggs, as can be seen in this photo from today.

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.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

A Gray Squirrel Comes to Visit

Rusty and Iris' cage was supposed to be built so few if any insects (including mosquitoes) could get inside. In reality, there must be some small spaces here and there that are awfully hard to pinpoint. Unless you're one of Rusty and Iris' "pet" carnivorous mice who live in the cage and much on fresh gopher every night. Or if you're a squirrel.

A red squirrel got in a few days this summer, but I eventually found the little spot where he was coming and going and sealed it up. I was a bit smug that I'd won out. But today an even bigger GRAY squirrel got into the cage. How I don't know, but it kept Rusty and Iris on their toes all day.

Thankfully Iris didn't seem too agitated by the squirrel. For the most part it was just entertainment for these well fed owls. But it was too much for the squirrel to come onto the nest platform and Rusty went after that squirrel again and again.

Poor Rusty didn't have the normal advantages of a higher perch from which to drop down onto the squirrel, space to maneuver, or even binocular vision. He wasn't fast enough to get the squirrel, but he was persistent, and the squirrel didn't stick around to test his luck.

Rusty never did get the squirrel, but by the end of the day the squirrel found its way out. I kinda doubt he'll try to come back any time soon.