Monday, December 16, 2013

Patience Goes to Wisconsin

I was getting very worried about Patience since her signal hadn't moved off the bluff behind the alpaca farm south of La Crescent for over a week.  It was a weak signal to boot.  Given that we found Patrick's tail feathers with his transmitter on the ground, that's what I was expecting to find for Patience too.

Hein had already tromped the hillside on Saturday on one landowner's property, with no luck.  This morning we went out on another person's property in the snow to see if we could find her transmitter there.

We didn't even take a bearing on Patience from the road...we just headed up into the bluffs where her signal has been forever.  It was a very weak signal, but we plodded along in the increasing snow on the hillside that got steeper and steeper.

Finally up near the top, out on a point, I got a good signal.  But I really, really thought it was coming from across the road in the marsh.  So we slowly made our way back down the hillside, to the truck, and to a gas station to use the restroom and get something to eat.

Then we stopped by the house of the person who owned the marshland across the road and she gave us permission to go out there.  That involved wading through a lot of tall grass, but also a nice mowed area.

It was snowing pretty good.  We kept walking toward the far trees, and the signal was still faint...fainter than up on the road.  I finally realized that our gal was a long ways away!

So back to the truck again, and I slapped on the rooftop antenna.  We drove down the busy road between La Crescent and La Crosse, pulling into a couple of parking lots to get signals.  Very surprisingly, we got a GREAT signal where the old Bikini Yacht Club was...across the road, not out into the river bottom.

So we headed across the road to Pettibone Park.  I chuckled as we drove in, since the sign said it was also a wildlife refuge.  I thought that would be a good place for Patience to go.  I wondered if she could read.

As we drove around, her signal got really strong.  Finally I got out and walked.  At one point in time I thought I must be standing on her because the signal was so loud.  Hein was watching the trees to see if she flew, but didn't notice anything.  But abruptly, the signal moved.  I headed in that direction while Hein went to get the truck.  Sure enough, as I got closer I saw her fly.  Woo-hoo!  She was doing fine, transmitter attached.  Not what I expected to find when we set out this morning.

I checked the state line, and I see she has officially entered Wisconsin.  Without permits.  I get a kick out of that, since to bring Alice into Wisconsin to do a program I need a health certificate from a veterinarian, a 'temporary wildlife exhibition permit' from the DNR, and a 'circus, rodeo and menagerie permit' from the WI Department of Agriculture.  I am not kidding.  Go Patience...without the permits!  Ha.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Finding Patrick's Transmitter

I have been feeling queasy lately since Patrick and Patience's transmitters haven't been moving.  I went out at 7 AM a few mornings ago to scour the bluff with my receiver, trying to locate him.  Although I got good signals, I simply couldn't pin it down exactly.  This morning Hein and I went out just after 7 AM for another try.

It's cold, but I realized after last time that climbing snowy, heavily wooded hillsides works up some body heat, so I dressed in lighter layers, but very obviously not for fashion or to look nice in a photo!!

We climbed and tried not to let gravity return us to the bottom of the hill, or to the ground.  I took very frequent bearings with the receiver (as I am doing in the photo.)  Finally, after quite some time, I got to the point where it was so loud and so directional that I had to be just about standing on it.  Sickeningly, the antenna beeped loudest as I pointed to the ground.

Hein was on the uphill side, and when I said that the transmitter had to be on the ground, he simply pointed and said "There it is."  Thankfully he was not pointing at an owl-shaped bump...he was pointing at the receiver poking out of the snow.

We picked it up and found it was still attached to the central two tail feathers.  I cleared the snow to make sure there were no other feathers, and there weren't.  It had simply broken off, leaving Patrick without his middle two tail feathers.  (They do this when the molt every year, so it shouldn't be a big hindrance to him.)

I was much lighter in my heart as we carefully negotiated our way down the hill.  Hein did the "butt slide" part of the way.

When we got back to the house we looked at the feathers more closely.  Hein said he made sure not to pinch the shafts when he tied on the transmitters, and the shafts had broken exactly at the leading edge of the transmitter's base plate.  

I'm guessing what happened is that the transmitter's base plate was big enough that it didn't allow the flexibility the tail feathers needed, so instead of just bending when in dense cedar trees like this, the central two tail feathers kinked and eventually broke off.

Hein went out looking for Patience later, without luck.  I suspect we'll find her transmitter too.  This isn't an unusual type of mount, and I think it's used on Peregrine Falcons.  But perhaps Great Horned Owl feathers need to work in a different way??  Not sure what happened here.  But at any rate, Patrick's free and unable to be tracked, other than his begging calls.  He was in the yard begging early this morning again, so I set up the two swimming pools the owlets used for rat catching outside, complete with dead gophers.  I hope he figures it out if he needs it.

We'll try again on Monday on a different landowner's property to find Patience's transmitter.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Looking For Pandora

Tracking the 3 P's has been a learning experience for sure.  First we realized that it was terribly difficult to track the young owls with just a directional (yagi) antenna, as we lost all three of them within one week!  So we got an omni-directional antenna that sticks to the roof of the car with a magnet, and it worked so well we found Patrick and Patience within a few hours of receiving the antenna in the mail.

But despite putting on hundreds of miles driving in every direction from Houston, we've been unable to locate Pandora.  The only other option was to go up in an airplane to give better reception range, and thankfully flight instructor Dale Scobie agreed to take us up.

We got a bead on Patrick before we left for the airport, so we'd have some kind of baseline to determine the range of the receiver in the airplane.  I got faint beeps from Patrick as soon as we were up in the air in Caledonia, over 12 miles away!

View Pandora, Patrick and Patience Locations in a larger map

We essentially flew a large circle around Houston, periodically stopping to make small circles so the directional antenna would pick up the owls no matter where they were.  We went west to Lanesboro, south almost to Mabel, east to the Mississippi River, and north to Winona.  We covered a large area.

Patrick came in loud and clear anywhere to the south.  Patience, always checking out new places, had tucked herself into a little valley so her signal was only good when we were within maybe five miles.

But as much as we tried, there was absolutely no signal from Pandora.

So what does this mean?  Either her transmitter is no longer anywhere in the area, it has stopped working, or it was destroyed.  Even if Pandora had died her transmitter would still be transmitting.  At this point there is no way to know, so you get to choose your own ending to her story.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What's going on? 11-26-13

Although Rusty and Iris were successfully hunting and killing rats in the flight pen when the owlets were still there, mice seem to have complete and total impunity in the breeding pen. Here's a field mouse running around all over the nest again. Are these mice pets or what?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Rusty and Iris' Happy Reunion

Iris definitely missed Rusty when he had his eye surgery and was recovering in a dog carrier for nearly a week.  Rusty still heard Iris over the monitoring system, and he always hooted back immediately whenever he heard her. He also hooted back when he heard Alice, which certainly startled Alice to hear Rusty IN her house!

In Rusty's absence Iris had to deal with Rhett and Delilah's nightly intrusions.  Besides hooting on and around their aviaries, Rhett and Delilah figured out how to get INTO the open flight pen.  The door had been left open so the owlets could return to mooch food if needed, but they didn't.

It seemed a long wait to get through Rusty's medication dosing so he could go back with Iris.  I was only too happy to close the outside door to the flight pen to prevent the wild owls from coming in and to put Rusty back out there.  He was disoriented at first, probably from a combination of being in a dog carrier for almost a week and from the effects of missing his right eye.  Their eyes are huge, so missing that much weight on one side of his head could easily affect things.  

Rusty didn't fly much once he got up onto a perch, but he did hoot some, as did Iris.

It wasn't until the next night, after Rusty had eaten his last pill-laden food, that I could open the door between the pens so Rusty and Iris could be together again.  And what a happy occasion it was!!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Rhett and Delilah on the window ledge 11-12-13

This one is Rhett on the window ledge with Delilah flying in to hoot with him. They've been pestering Iris the last several nights, flying INTO the flight pen.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Rusty's Surgery

Rusty is in captivity because he was hit by a car and left blind in his right eye.  His bad eye has been bothering him lately, though.  A vet checkup led to a determination that his bad eye needed to be removed.  He had a large corneal ulcer, dislocated lens, and a big honking cataract.  His eye pressure was normal, so we were given the option of no surgery and trying to treat the ulcer.  This would involve catching and treating his eye three times a day for two weeks.  No guarantees it would work, and the cataract could still cause swelling and issues in the future.  We decided surgery to remove the eye would be far less stressful for Rusty, and would certainly take care of the issues.

We were anxious to get the surgery done so Rusty could be feeling good for the upcoming breeding season.  He and Iris normally start copulation by mid to late November, so that time is essentially upon us!

The day of the surgery we caught Rusty up, put him into a dog carrier, and drove him 2.5 hours up to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Medical Center in St. Paul.  We caught Rusty up and left at about 8 AM.

Dr. Henriksen and her staff were excellent to talk to.  Drew from The Raptor Center assisted, since they don't usually handle raptors at the Vet Medical Center.  Needless to say we didn't get to stay for the surgery, but they did take photos for us and got special permission for us to post them.  Thanks!!

Here's Rusty down and out for the count, under anesthesia.

Since owl eyes are so huge, you can see the side of them in their ears.  Because of this the incision to remove the eye was made from the ear over to the eye.  The surgical site had to be plucked of feathers first.  I think owls look a LOT nicer with feathers!!

I do have photos of the surgery itself, but I won't post them because I think most people wouldn't want to see them.  The photos show how they held the eyelids open, the eyeball itself coming out, and sewing up the large gaping hole.  This is a major surgery for an owl since one eyeball is about the size of its entire brain.  That's almost 1/3 of the stuff in the head being removed.  Dr. Henriksen said owls will sometimes hold their heads tilted after eye removal surgery.

Here's Rusty, all sewn up but still knocked out.  

We kept him in the carrier overnight.  He didn't eat anything and thumped around some.  In the morning I switched him to a larger carrier and quick snapped this photo.  Looking much more handsome than the last photo!

Tonight he needed his first dose of antibiotics and pain meds from us (he got them at the vet's the day of surgery.)  Hein held him, I put his pill in his food, and I fed him bits of food.  He ate VERY well, although Hein's sweatshirt got a nice amount of gopher blood on it (and Rusty got some blood on his bib.  Owl bibs aren't made for blood....)  He was full of spunk, but took his meds like a good owl.

Hein did a great job holding Rusty, even when he decided he didn't want to be held anymore.  But for the most part he resigned himself to being held and doing what we needed him to do.

Four more days and then back to Iris!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Delilah Comes to Visit

Now that the owlets are out and on their own, I'm leaving the door to the flight pen open for a while.  This is so I can still put out food on their regular feeding tray and they can come and mooch if needed.  So far no takers, although Patrick was back in the neighborhood for a bit this morning.

So with the door open, I'm hoping that the wild owls will make an appearance.  Tonight we had a heck of a hootenanny going on with Rhett and Delilah in the yard, Alice hooting in her outdoor patio, and Rusty and Iris going nuts trying to defend their little territory.

I knew it was going to go on forever, so I left since it was time to make supper.  As I was making supper I kept peeking at the cams, saying "One of these owls simply has to go into the flight pen!"

So when I got back on to my computer after supper, I saw that critterwatcher had sent me a photo of an owl standing in the open door!  Whoa!!!!  So who was it?  I can only tell by voice, not by seeing them, so I immediately pulled up the video.  Thankfully the owl in question hooted repeatedly: it was Delilah!

After I went to bed at least two owls came INTO the flight pen.  I haven't had a chance to review and figure out who it was, but they didn't eat the gopher on the food tray.

Today's the big day for Rusty's surgery!!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Map of the Owlets' Travels

View Pandora, Patrick and Patience Locations in a larger map

Pandora is yellow

Patrick is blue
Patience is pink

Pushpins mean a pretty close location
Round pins are only ballpark

Please be respectful of the owls, us, and our neighbors.  This map is intended for you to share in the explorations of the owls, but not as an invitation for you to visit the area to try to see them.  The owlets will fare better if they don't have to deal with any more humans than the few that live here.  Thank you for your kindness and consideration.

The Release of the Owlets, 11-8-13

The day finally arrived for the owlets to fly the coop!  My criteria for releasing them was that they had to have developed their full adult hoots and could hunt respectably.  At nearly 8 months of age, they were there.

Bob Anderson and Amy Ries of the Raptor Resource Project had come a few days ago and put the transmitters on the owlets' tails so we could track them using radio telemetry.  We held them a few days to make sure the owlets didn't have any issues with their new "bling", and they didn't even seem to notice them.

Friday, November 8, 2013 was THE DAY.  I wanted to send them off with full tummies, so I fed them at 5 PM.  I wasn't going to give them any live rats that night, since I didn't want rats running around in the pen with no one to catch them if they weren't all eaten immediately.  But I caught a few deer mice in a live trap that day, so I plopped them in the flight pen along with the big chunks of pocket gopher.

The owlets went for the mice first, then ate their gopher, just as I had hoped.

At 7 PM, the appointed hour, I got onto chat, along with Hein, and did a little talking about the project, goals, and what we've all learned.  (I can't resist giving a little "program" when I have an audience of over 100 people like that for such a momentous occasion.)

Then finally Hein and I put on our jackets and headlamps and headed outside.  Hein had two ladders already stashed at the far end of the flight pen by the exit door.  He set up the wooden ladder for me so I could climb up and unlock the door and open it.  On my way up one of the rungs snapped.  Thankfully I didn't have much weight on it.  I guess that's what happens when you store a wooden ladder outside with one side on the ground!  (The ladder was originally bolted into place by the exit door, but we took it down to prevent animals from climbing up it.)

So Hein set up the folding aluminum ladder for me and up I climbed.  The padlock was easy to unlock, but the door took a little tugging to get open.  Bear in mind it hasn't been open since the building was built three years ago!

I climbed down and Hein took the ladder and put it up on the other side of the door.  He needed to install a new hook to hold the door open since the hook originally installed was bent open and wouldn't hold.  He had all the tools so it went fairly easily, but while he was getting set up the first owlet flew out!  That was unexpected, but the girls sometimes just fly around not knowing what to do when they're scared.

When we finished we simply laid the ladder down and walked away.  As we were leaving girl #2 flew out.  These owls flew out in fear, I'm sure, not because they were curious and ready to go.

So we went inside to assess the situation.  A sweep of the cam revealed Patrick snugly tucked into a hide box on the wall as faaaaar away from the exit door as possible.  He was staring out the open door, wide-eyed, and you could almost see the smoke coming out of his ears because he was thinking so hard.  I've seen this look from Alice before: something so new it's mind-blowing and requires a loooong time to process.

He tucked up a foot and I knew he had no intentions of leaving anytime soon.  Bets were on that moderator rose would be the only one to stay long enough to see Patrick leave.

I watched until 10 PM and then went to bed.

I woke up early the next morning to the sound of owlet begging calls in the trees outside the bedroom window, and I got up quickly to see if Patrick had left.  YES!  So I quickly reviewed the video so see when he left.  I watched at 64-speed as he sat there, got a snack, went back to his box, flew to the V-perch, went back to his box, and mostly did nothing.  But at 5:13 AM he finally was ready, and flew slowly out the door to the big world outside.

The owlets got an immediate lesson in Crows 101: they all got mobbed and chased and swore at by the resident murder of crows.  (Yes, that's what you call a group of crows.  A group of owls is a "parliament" which sounds much nicer.)

At any rate, the owlets all settled in nearby and we'll track them daily to see where they're going.

This post would not be complete without the creativity of wyoranch and teachcon.  Below are poems they composed for the occasion.  Thanks!

3P’s Farewell by wyoranch

Our 3 little P’s are quite grown up and ready to leave
                We’re so happy to see them go, so why do we bereave?

They have delighted us with their antics, demonstrated their hoots,
                Raced with rats, tinkered with toys and cached various loots

They have enriched our lives, these precious three.
                We wish you to grow strong, live long and to be free.

Find a mate, settle down and have a clutch of your own.
                Remember, wherever you are wherever you go, you’re never alone

Etched in our thoughts and forever in our hearts you will always remain
                Know the door is always open if you’re hungry and Karla won’t complain

Pandora, Patrick and Patience we love you with all our might
                Now away to the outside, to the sky take flight!

Alternate Ending:

Hmmm, hey you Patrick – did you miss your cue?
                It’s time to leave home, look at that view!

Fly out and back and do it over and over again
                Your future is waiting and a whole new life to begin!

A poem by teachon:

There was a great disturbance, in the land that day
The stores were overrun with people, in states of disarray
Shelves emptied of their stock
Leaving managers scratching their heads
What would cause this sudden rush, of folks running in their Keds
Unknown to the people in the land
There was some rhyme and some reason 
It had to do with the season
The owlies were leaving their little home, out into the world they were going
The run on Kleenix at the store? 
"Cuz sad chatters, all  their noses were blowing!

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

One of the Girls Swallows a Rat Whole

This morning at work I had the cams up and heard a noise that sounded suspiciously like an owlet hitting gravel.  I saw one owlet missing from the perch, so quickly logged into the PTZ cam and waited an agonizing amount of time before I had video.  I panned to where the other owlets were looking to find one of the girls on the ground with a rat that she had just caught.  Right after I panned over she proceed to swallow the rat WHOLE!  First time I've seen one of the owlets swallow something whole since they were 10 days old.

She proceeded to look for another rat in hiding, and a few hours later caught another one.  That one she tore into bits to eat, as usual.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Putting on Transmitters

When it came time to put the tail-mounted transmitters on the owlets before their release, I really wanted someone with some experience to help put them on.  I knew they were supposed to be sewn onto the central two tail feathers, but I figured a voice of experience could make the process go so much smoother.  Thankfully Bob Anderson and Amy Ries of the Raptor Resource Project were willing to take a good chunk of time to lead this project, despite being busy with the Decorah Eagle Cam.

Bob is a very thorough person.  He brought along an extremely solid thread used to repair wetsuits that "you can tow a car" with, according to Bob.  It simply won't break down.  He asked for all kinds of materials from us: alcohol, a squirt bottle, epoxy, towels, needles, boxes, and more. He walked all four of us through how the process would go before we ever went out to get the first bird.  We were ready.

Catching the owlets wasn't too hard, although more difficult than their parents.  The owlets didn't stay in the net when they flew in...they tried to get out right away, and all succeeded at least once.  Patrick was the first to be caught and telemetered, if that's a verb.

I carried him in, his feet were taped with painter's tape to make sure he didn't foot Amy, who would be doing "foot holding" duty.  His head was covered with a towel, he was laid on his belly, and I gently restrained his wings and upper body while Amy held his feet.

Bob separated the central two tail feathers and exposed the lower portions of their shafts. Hein sewed the thread through the four holes of the transmitter around the feather shafts, one piece of string wrapped several times around each shaft per hole.  This was seriously a four person job.

Bob put epoxy on each knot at the end, we let it dry, and then Patrick was put into a box until we finished with the girls.

Each of the girls went through the same process.  Bob was amazed at how well behaved they were compared to Peregrines.  Patrick didn't struggle at all, and each of the girls only had one squirm session.

When all of the owlets were outfitted with their new bling and we had recorded which owl had which frequency transmitter, we carried them all back to their flight pen.  We saved Patience, the last of the bunch, the insult of going into a box...I simply carried her out with a towel on her head.

We released them one by one and they all settled immediately onto their perches, ear tufts straight up to tell us they were not happy campers.

We'll keep the owlets a few more days to make sure there are no issues with them wearing the transmitters.  Then on Friday evening we'll open the door to the world and let them go.  I expect they'll come back into the flight to mooch food for a while until they're confident on their own, so we'll probably still get glimpses of them.  And there's also a chance we might finally get to see Rhett and Delilah on cam too.

It'll be exciting and a great learning experience to see where they go and how far they stray...and if Victor hooks up with one of the girls.  He's been single over a year, so he should be in the market....

Friday, November 01, 2013

Getting Ready for Release

Now that all three owlets have their full adult territorial hoots, it's time to get them on their way. I have the radio telemetry equipment, but wanted to have someone with some experience put it on.  I contacted a couple of experienced folks who would have been happy to help but were just simply too swamped. Thankfully Bob Anderson, although very busy himself, was willing to do it with Amy Reis on Monday or Tuesday.

The transmitter itself will be mounted on the central two "deck" feathers of the tail.  It will be sewn on to the feathers, and will fall off the owls when they molt those feathers next summer.  So the trick is to then get the transmitters reattached to the birds so I can track them for a full year as the MN DNR requires.

Here you can see the transmitter positioned on a dead owl (dead owls are great for practicing things like  attaching transmitters).

These are not satellite transmitters, and I'll need to track the owls with a receiver, pictured below.  Basically I tune it to the channel of each transmitter, move it around, and go in the direction that gives the loudest beeps.  I hope the range on these transmitters and the good receiver I got will be able to handle the travels of the owlets.

Now before the transmitters are put on the owls we need to practice using the receiver to locate the transmitters, and involve the man who has agreed to help us track the owls.  Kind of like playing hide-and-seek.

Once the transmitters are attached to the owlets, we'll keep them a couple of more days to make sure everything is going well with owls and transmitters.  Then we'll open the door to the big wide world and see what happens!

From Baby to Teen to Adult Hoots!

Patrick has finally gotten his hoot! The girls both were doing full-blown adult territorial hoots before Patrick, but he has finally caught up with his sisters. All owlets were doing "emphatic hoots" (hoots with extra notes in them that indicated they are not happy campers) before they did their real territorial hoots.

Now that they have gotten their hoots and have practiced on rats, they are ready to meet the world. I hope to get their transmitters put onto their tail feathers this weekend, then give them a few days in their flight pen to make sure everything is working well, then I'll open the door to the big, wide world outside. And I'll be crossing my fingers that Victor takes a liking to one of the girls so we have one that stays very close by.

Once I've opened the door to the wild, I'll still provide dead gopher in their flight pen so they can come back and mooch until they are self-sufficient hunters. This is called a "soft release" or a "soft hack."

We'll be able to track the owlets using VHF transmitters. This isn't like satellite transmitters (which are very expensive) that just transmit locations that you can download every day. These transmitters require human beings to go out with a receiver and pin down the owls' locations by the beeping. Thankfully we have one person willing to help us with this task. We need to track them for a year to see where they settle and how they fare.

I'll let you know as we pin down dates for putting on the transmitters and for release, but it will be SOON!"

Friday, October 11, 2013

Exam Time

Rusty has been favoring his bad eye lately, holding it shut most of the time, shaking his head sometimes, and even sometimes rubbing his bad eye on his "shoulder."  Also, sometime his poop has yellow urates.  It was high time the boy got a checkup, and we decided to bring Iris also.

Capturing them was easy.  We have a big fish landing net with felt sown in in place of the netting.  When they fly I simply extend the net up so they fly right into it.  Easy squeasy.

Iris rode quietly, but Rusty thumped around some.  I think he wanted a bigger box.

We took Rusty and Iris to Dr. Laura Johnson, nearly a two hour drive from here.  (She's the one who took blood samples from the owlets for sex testing when we attempted to band them the first time.)

Rusty went first, and the biggest concern was his bad eye.

One look at it and Dr. Johnson knew it would have to be removed, a surgery she is not comfortable doing.  The fluid inside the eye is increasing, causing pressure and discomfort.

She also examined his ears, which were fine.

Owls have to say "ahhh" with a tongue depressor too!  He has a little tiny growth on the roof of his mouth, but it's hard so apparently its nothing to worry about.

Dr. Johnson measured the pressure in both of Rusty's eyes, and he seems to like it about as much as I enjoy having that done.

He seemed to have some surface issues on his good eye also, which stained green in this photo. Hopefully this will heal on its own.

Dr. Johnson also listened to his heart and lungs.

Finally he was done and could go back into a larger box for the trip home.  Then it was Iris' turn.

Iris' bad eye was the first thing to be looked at.  The gray scar tissue on her cornea is the same as three years ago, so is fine.  But she's developed scar tissue inside her eye from her original puncture wound that is pulling part of her iris (the yellow part) toward the back of her eye.  Should be OK though.

Iris had her eye pressure tested too, and it was low in her bad eye.  It could keep decreasing and eventually her eye will shrink.  We'll have to make sure that her body doesn't try to reject it at some point.

Iris had to say "ahhh" too, and everything looked good.

Dr. Johnson took a blood sample from Iris' leg, like she had done for Rusty too.

So we'll wait for blood test results and then figure out the best place for Rusty to have his eye removed. Makes me appreciate how healthy Alice is!!

I think Rusty and Iris are quite happy to be back home in their own space with no humans poking and prodding at them.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Patrick's Amazing Rat Catch

The rats are winning again.  Just when I thought we had everything sealed up so none of them could hide from the owlets, they got UNDER the baseboard for the walls.  They still can't get out since there is wire mesh buried two feet down into the ground attached to the outside of the baseboard, but they can hide nicely from the owlets.

I put out a pile of sunflower seeds to lure the rats out of their hole.  It worked beautifully, but the clock in the owlets' stomachs said morning isn't the time to eat.  So the owlets just sat and watched the rats.  Argghhh!

I happened to peek in and noticed an owlet hanging on the wire by the food tray.  Then it bit at the wire.  I thought it must have gotten stuck somehow and immediately started thinking about how fast I could get home to get it unstuck.

Then I noticed a rat on the other side of the wire, in the owlet's talons!  The owlet was trying to grab the rat with its beak to pull it through.  Eventually it succeeded!

When I got home I reviewed the video and found that it was our amazing Patrick that made the catch.  Why he went for such a hard catch while totally ignoring the rats on the floor in front of him is beyond me.  Maybe he just wanted to show off to his sisters.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Website compromised

The International Owl Center website has been compromised, so we are working with our web host to deal with the issue and establish new security protocols.  Thank you for your patience while we work this out.  In the meantime you can still watch the cams live on Ustream at:

Breeding pen:

Flight pen:

Monday, September 16, 2013

Victor and the Owlets, 9-16-13

The owlets are still working on their hoots and their rat catching abilities. Early this morning Victor, the neighbor wild male (single I might add) was over hooting in the yard. In this clip you can hear him land on the aviary roof (the owlets jump a bit.) Rusty is hooting back at him, but when one or the owlets interrupts him with a teenager hoot, Victor appears to freak and bolt. You can then hear him hooting in the distance. I wonder if he had no idea what that squeaky thing was...."

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Two Note Hoot

One of the owlets did a two-note hoot last night, IN AN ADULT VOICE! This two-note hoot is usually more of a greeting, so the context seems odd with the annoyed chitters, but it is a real adult voice! The juveniles are maturing!

 When all three are using their adult voices to hoot they can be released to the wild.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Oh, Rats!

We're back to using the medium-sized rats again.  The owlets were doing pretty well at first, then just slacked off and stopped trying very hard to catch the rats.  Maybe it was the heat, since exerting lots of energy when you're hot isn't so fun, plus they don't eat as much when they're hot.  But for whatever reason, I went in two mornings to retrieve rats that were still running around in the pen so they didn't start digging under steel and getting into the walls again.

But I was too late.  A gray one was already in the wall and has now been seen on the food tray drinking out of the water bowl.  And I watched on video while a white one climbed up the steel in a corner and got up into the wall through the chain link.  Sigh.

Last night I only gave them one piece of gopher and three rats.  They didn't catch any of the rats.  No one looks like they're starving.  So I'll go ahead for a while and offer very little food so they get motivated to learn how to catch rats better.  This is what their parents would naturally do...withhold food to get them motivated to hunt.

Hunting is a natural instinct and just requires practice (which takes motivation.)  So here's to motivating the juveniles to hone their hunting skills!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Rusty takes a Sand Bath

I only knew owls took water baths until one day several years ago I saw Iris thrashing around on the floor of her pen. I thought she was having a seizure, but realized she was trying to take a dust bath. So we added a pan filled with sand, and occasionally the owls now take sand baths. I think this is the best video we have of a sand/dust bath, since Rusty was nice enough to do it during daylight hours for us. Why do they do this? Good question. Perhaps it can help control ectoparasites like lice and flat flies. Or maybe it just feels good. No idea.


Great Horned Owls make all kinds of sounds we don't expect. Yes, they sneeze. They also make a soft, short squeaky sound when they stretch a wing and leg sometimes. But chat room moderator rose noticed a different kind of sound: a short "chirp" that is given just as an owlet starts to fly. I'm not sure if its only one owlet doing this, but I don't think its all of them since otherwise I think we'd hear it a lot. But some nights when she's doing her late shift of observations she notices it several times. What does it mean? I have absolutely no idea. I'm certain this sound has never been recorded or described before, so let's watch to see if it's only one owlet, all the owlets, if it's always given when they start flying, or any other details of what's going on. Thanks rose for catching this so many times!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Owlet Chittering and Hooting in Its Sleep

I've always known that owls can talk in their sleep since I've seen and heard Alice do it many times.  But I never had a recorder or video camera handy, and it happens way too fast anyway.

Thanks to dedicated cam viewers, we're finding out new things about owl vocalizations.  Jonnetje from The Netherlands was online in the wee hours of our morning (daytime for her) and she noted an odd vocalization.  I went back to the place in the video she indicated and found this clip.

The owlet on the right is sleeping, but with the sound up you'll hear quiet chitters, but they are annoyed.  (Obviously no one is doing anything to annoy the owlet.)  Shortly after is a mumbled, muffled, high-pitched hoot.  A "sleep hoot" is muffled and mumbled anyway since the gular sac can't expand when their head is settled down while sleeping, but this owlet sounds extra odd because it's vocal apparatus is not developed enough to give a low adult-type hoot.

Notice that the owlet woke itself up with its hoot.  Alice does this sometimes too.

Thanks to all of you who are watching and submitting your observations!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Teenager Hoots

This is another MOMENTOUS occasion: one of the owlets started doing big kid hoots this morning at 3:57 AM!

One of the things I'm working to document is the development of the territorial hoot in young owls.  We recorded the tiny little peeping hoots they did when just over two weeks old.  Those only seemed to last until four weeks or so, and then nothing has been heard since.

Yesterday we separated the juvenile owls from the adult owls.  It was simply the time of year to do it, and the kids weren't roosting by their parents so much anymore.  I figured the owlets wouldn't start hooting as long as Mom and Dad were around to defend their territory.

Last night Rhett and Delilah, the resident wild owls, were in the yard hooting for a few hours.  After a couple of hours of hooting, one of the owlets flew to the V-perch and started hooting!!  The hoots aren't as quiet and peepy as the nestling hoots...they're squeakier more like a rubber ducky trying to hoot.  But a hoot it is, with proper hooting posture (throat pouch inflated, leaning forward, tail cocked up.)

Based on the video and the rhythm, I am suspecting it's one of the girls doing the hoot...maybe Pandora, the oldest?

I'll be anxious to hear when the others start hooting, what they sound like, and how long it takes to make a real adult-sounding hoot.


Friday, August 09, 2013

Another fun poem

This time the fun poem about the Rusty and Iris cam is by teachcon:

why, oh why, oh wyo?
why do the owls fly-o?
why do they screech at the sky-o?
and on their bellies lie-o?
so glad we can ask wyo!

(For those who don't know, wyoranch is one of the moderators, and she often goes by 'wyo'.)

Friday, August 02, 2013

The Barn Owl has Officially Arrived!

It's been an incredibly busy week with Natural Playground progress, a long meeting, trying to finish up the Rusty and Iris program I'm giving tomorrow night (still not done yet), Owl Center plans, an injured owl, etc., etc.  But hallelujah!  The Barn Owl has officially arrived!

The owl has spent the last several months with rehabbers Sue and Merv Broten in Chaseburg, WI.  As with most rehabbers, they are always busy, and always need more cage space.  So they were VERY happy to send the Barn Owl to its new home with us--so happy they drove it over themselves!  (OK, so they wanted to see the Great Horned Owl breeding and research set up in person too....)

The owl is not at all comfortable with humans yet, so it will be a slow process to get it used to people.  We will not put jesses (leather straps) on its legs until it is more calm.  For now we'll just let it get used to its new living quarters, where the perches are, what they're good for, etc.

And now I get to learn about Barn Owl behavior....

Sunday, July 28, 2013


The owlets are getting older but they are still playful.  Here they are playing with each others' feet.  You'll hear some annoyed chitters as one tries to get away and the other doesn't let go.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Owl Poetry

It seems we have some poets among the Rusty and Iris cam chatters!  I'd like to share the following fun poems with you:

critter oh critter
when you're gone we are bitter
cuz we need our cam sitter
and when when she's gone we send rose to git her

by teachcon

3 little P's perched by the wall
2 of which are having a ball
These little owls are as nosy as can beEach one ready to fly through the trees.
Meticulous grooming referred to as preeningIs what we humans think of as cleaning
Each little feather must be perfectly in place
To show all of us each beautiful face

by wyoranch

Pandora, Patience, Patrick and Iris all lined up on the door.
Rusty down below since there's no room for one owl more.
Five beautiful owls we are privileged to watch and see,
each one as unique as you and me.
Three little ones we have witnessed blossom and grow.
Their lives have touched ours more than they'll ever know.
What discoveries are yet to be made by these precious few?
Only time will tell but one thing is true,
Their calls and hoots began much younger than thought.
Karla has proof on tape - their voices have been caught!
Someday before long a new adventure awaits each,
their sole mission here was for them to teach.
Into the great outdoor world they will live and fly free,
to mate and to nest in their very own tree.
Their mission here will all too soon be complete.
Congratulations to all for this extraordinary feat.

by wyoranch

Monday, July 01, 2013

Mews Rebuild

We are planning to get a Barn Owl to add to the education staff at the Houston Nature Center as we anticipate growing into an International Owl Center.  The owl we will get contracted West Nile Virus last fall in southwest Wisconsin.  It recovered, but it blind in one eye, leaving it unable to survive in the wild.  It is being placed with us on my education permit.

The first gigantic order of business (besides the permit) is housing.  We had an old mews here I built for falconry back in 1996.  But back then arsenic was still used to treat lumber, so we didn't use treated lumber.  Needless to say it needed essentially a total rebuild.

Hein has put a lot of time into it in the past month or so, and I've helped some on my days off.  We hope to finish it in the next several days if all goes well.

The main sides are up.

Doors and windows in.

Adding a food tray and door.

It's even got electricity!

Electricity is important since Barn Owls have a tough time with our winters in southeast Minnesota.  We'll need to provide supplemental heat.  One other plus is that we can plug in a camera so we can watch the Barn Owl...especially important as it settles into its new home and is being trained.

Thanks to rehabber Dr. Laura Johnson for caring for the owl and offering it to us, and to rehabbers Merv and Sue Broten of Coulee Wildlife Rehab Center for caring for the owl until our facilities are ready.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

New Owlet Vocalization

I've been collecting and studying Great Horned Owl vocalizations since 2004, so there's not a whole lot I haven't heard (or heard of) before.  But there's always more to discover!

A few nights ago all the owls were spooked by something.  All but Iris flew into the breeding pen and were alertly looking around.  Iris was looking at something outside, and every now and then another owl joined her to look at the thing outside.

I couldn't see what it was, but a shrill call I had never heard before was given repeatedly.  I couldn't figure out what could make a noise like that, especially that would be something that would scare them.  Mammals came to mind, since I don't know many of their vocalizations.  I couldn't imagine this was a deer.  I could imagine it coming from a woodchuck, but that certainly wouldn't scare them.

After several minutes I realized the sounds were louder in the breeding pen.  After watching those cams alertly, I realize the "shoulders" of one of the owlets moved just slightly when the sounds were made.  I zoomed in, and sure enough, the owlet moved slightly with each sound.  It was facing away from the camera, but it had to be that owlet!

I followed the owlet around with the PTZ cam, and eventually was able to get a frontal view of the call, where you could see the owlet opening its bill when making the sound.

The sound seems to be the same alarm call that Iris gives for the family when danger is near.  Oddly, IRIS wasn't making the sound at all, although it certainly seemed to be the context for it.  Perhaps only one owl in the group is supposed to make the call and an owlet took it on instead of Iris?  More to learn, since this has never been documented before!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Owlets Showering

The owlets have sure figured out all about showering!  They took full advantage of the downpour yesterday to enthusiastically shower.  Thankfully the light was good so we could get such good video of them.  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Rusty Squawks and Emphatic Hoots

What the heck?!?  Who knew Great Horned Owls made sounds like this??

The squawks and emphatic hoots Rusty is doing here are a very uncommon vocalization given by Great Horned Owls.  I think Victor is the only other GHO I've heard make this vocalization, but I haven't heard him do it for a few years.

I've seen Rusty do it a few times, but generally there's absolutely NOTHING going on and Iris is snoozing when he does it.  Victor did it the night Rusty and Iris moved in.  Rusty seemed to have given up on hunting when he did it here. So what does it mean?  No idea.  I still need more and more observations to help figure it out.

Thanks to the people who reported it, otherwise I would have missed this important vocalization!

Monday, June 03, 2013

The Owlets' First Live Prey

With all the playing the owlets were doing, it was high time they got started on live prey.  Hein and his friend Jeroen finished the rat barrier (to keep the rats IN the flight pen), so all was ready.

This morning we made a trip to get our first live rats from Monster Breeders.  We got about a dozen just weaned rats, and Matt, the owner, sent us home with a cage to keep them in, bedding, and food.  We wanted to start with really small rats to give the owlets the best chance of success, to build their confidence.

The feeding was scheduled for 7 PM, but it was delayed due to Ustream issues.  But I finally got the cams up and running and put two live mice into the flight pen, along with some dead gopher (but less than usual.)

One rat went right behind a stuffed animal under the food tray.  The other ran along the side of the enclosure and then froze.  We had the pan/tilt/zoom cam following the action, but we missed both kills!

For the first one Rusty flew down near the rat.  He walked over near it and when it ran, he grabbed it with a foot.  How dramatic.  LOL.  He kindly gave the rat to an owlet.

The PTZ also missed the next action.  (Easy to do with 5 owls to keep track of!)  The rat was along the side of the pen and one of the owlets flew down near it.  The rat ran a bit, then the owlet did a defense display to the rat.  Ha!  Iris came running to the rescue (literally on foot) and caught the rat.  The owlet did a defense display again to that scary little rat.  Iris clucked and eventually gave it to another owlet.

Rusty was totally in hunting mode then, so I delivered another live mouse.  This one, however, hid and stayed put.  Time will tell who gets the privilege of that rat.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Flight Cam PTZ Installation

Today was a good day.  Hein woke up and after breakfast said "It would be great if Ace called today and could put the ends on the cables at 9 AM."  A few minutes later Mike from Ace Communications called and said he wanted to come out and put the ends on the CAT 5 wires!  Hein said he's put on his pants and be ready by the time he got here.

Ace donated alllll the wiring we've used for the cams in the Great Horned Owl breeding project.  Hein runs the wire, then someone from Ace comes out to put the ends on, since that job requires tools and some skill.

Right after Hein got off the phone with Mike I called Alan Stankevitz, our tech guru who installs all of the technology for the project.  He was willing and able to come over shortly after Mike was done, so we were in business for installing the new pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) cam for the flight pen, and for hooking up the new wire for the cam who's wire got chopped when the PTZ wires were run.

When Alan arrived he went to work doing some soldering to put the correct jack on the microphone.

Then we unpacked what looks like R2D2 here--the PTZ cam.  We took out the packing materials and put in the moisture absorbing strips.

We freaked out the owls by shooing them into the breeding pen and shutting the door to the flight pen.  Alan then put a new end on the extension cord that Hein had strung into the flight pen for the PTZ cam.

Then I went up into the ceiling of the pen after Hein removed a few boards and we bolted the cam into place.

Then it was Alan's turn on the ladder to work his magic with wires and install the box for all of the connections.  I went inside to verify that things worked.  We had video, but no audio.  Then Alan remembered we needed a stereo jack instead of a mono jack for the mike.  Thankfully we had a stereo jack so he just did a little more cutting and soldering and we were in business.  Woo-hoo!

Hein spent the rest of the day finishing up the rat-proofing so we can release live prey into the flight pen.  He removed the ladder to the hatch door and installed a fold up ladder that the rodents can't reach but us humans can.  Then he put metal over the entry door, the last bit of metal needed to keep mice and rats from climbing up and out.

So enjoy the new views of the flight pen, and seeing the owls up close!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Owlet Enrichment

The owlets, at about 10 weeks of age, are at a stage similar to human toddlers...they're into everything, exploring every aspect of their environment.  They are working on depth perception, eye-foot coordination, flying, carrying things, and more.

To help with their development, I've added a variety of toys for their enrichment, and they have been using ALL of them!  In the first part of this video an owlet drags a stuffed bear onto the floor and drags it a bit.  The Patrick (I think) makes a big haul: he got the large piece of purple fabric untied from the hatch perch in the flight pen and hauled it over to the nest!

Not to be so easily satisfied, after a rest he went and got the giggle ball from the floor and hauled it up to the nest platform too.

I have now added an empty box to the breeding pen, so I'm curious to see what they'll do with it.  Alice loves to check out boxes and tight spaces.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Remodeling and Updating

Back in 1996 we built a mew (facility to house a raptor) for a Red-tailed Hawk I intended to get for falconry.  Turns out I got an American Kestrel instead, and it was much easier to do the weight control necessary for falconry having the kestrel live in the house.  Alice lived in the mew for one year before moving into the house, so the mew really hasn't been used much.  Time, however, has taken its toll.

I am hoping to get a non-releasable Barn Owl from Wisconsin as an education bird, but we need to have a place for it to live before I can get the bird added to my permit and then get the owl.  Hein and I spent the day yesterday dismantling the old mew down to the posts so we can rebuild it.  The existing wood was rotting on it (much of it was untreated because at the time treated lumber had arsenic in it.)  We'll be ordering materials soon, and Badger Corrugating in La Crosse, WI always gives us great prices for our owl projects.

We now have a new pan/tilt/zoom cam to add to the flight pen so we can watch Pandora, Patrick, and Patience much better.  Before the cam goes in, there's a lot of wiring to be strung.  We started in the entryway to the breeding pen, where all the electrical stuff is housed.  Hein pulled off a board so he could string the wires and found the mice had rebuilt their home again.  It's made almost entirely of fluffy owl feathers.  Must be snug in the winter!

Hein carefully threads the wires (both a power cable and CAT5 wiring for the cam) through the slats and chain link so it won't flop in the breeze and the owls can't mess with it.  

He had to drill a hole through the wall of the breeding pen into the flight pen so the power cord could go through.  Here he is doing the splits while drilling.  All was going well until the drill started jumping around in his hand.  He had hit a wire for the cam that views the far end of the flight pen.  Oops.

So we went into the flight pen (all but one owlet promptly left as soon as we got near) and Hein drilled from that side so he wouldn't hit any more wires.

In the meantime I was cleaning the pens while Hein was working.  Again, this owlet didn't leave when I was cleaning the flight.  It was definitely giving me the pop-eyed look of fear, but it wouldn't leave for anything.  Not sure which one it is...can you see if it has a band on the right leg (a female) or on the left leg (Patrick)????  Not with those bloomers!!!

Hein will work more on wiring tomorrow and we'll get going on the mew after we get the materials.  Always something to do!!

Cute Close Up of Two of the Owlets :)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Owlets Playing

The owlets seem to be at an age where they are primed to play...especially together.  They were running around on the floor, seemingly looking for trouble, so I put some toys into their aviary.  They include a fake lemming, a fake mouse wrapped with colored rope, a little stuffed moose, a big stuffed bear/dog thing, a giggle ball that laughs when jarred, a leather glove, and maybe one or two other things.

The owlets seem to like to play at dawn and dusk, and this is a lengthy video that shows you some of their play behavior.  They are learning to pounce and drag things, and probably even caching.