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
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!