Lighting was not optimal late this evening, but I'll take it, considering this was the first time that I've been able to get all three in one photograph. Mom and dad were hooting up a storm nearby, which I took to be the call for dinner on the way. They usually get fed just after it gets dark.
I can confirm that we have a brood of three this year! The third one was hard to see until a few days ago and I still have not been able to get a photo of all three together. It will come with a little patience. Today for the first time one of the chicks was perched on top of the hollow. Obviously they're getting well fed. This guy is obviously the largest of the three, probably the first born. It's a little early for them to be branching (usually they branch at 40 days), but I imagine things are getting really crowded in the nest so this is probably the reason they are branching early. Stay tuned, I'll have some photos of all three together soon. (For a full-size giant image, click on the photo.)
Today was actually the first day that I was able to photograph the chicks this season. Mom is beginning to leave the nest for extended periods now leaving the two owlets by themselves to peek over the edge of the hollow. I went out around noon and saw mom and one of the owlets (picture below). I came back a couple of hours later and mom had departed. However, dad was nearby keeping watch over the little ones.
This year's first owlet hatched on January 3rd followed by owlet #2 a couple of days later. I believe this is the third breeding season for this particular female. The first two years' brood was just a single owlet so this was her first year with two. The owls returned to their same hollow nest in the oak tree in our neighborhood. Last year the single owlet fell from this nest. We were fortunate that we were able to get a bucket truck from our tree service to drop by and help us put the little guy back up in the nest. I think one of the reasons he fell was due to the lack of access to the other branches in the tree. When the owlets begin to "branch", they hop along the adjacent limbs--half flying, half hopping. This is how they learn to fly. Since the large branch broke off a few years ago just above the nest hollow, we lost the ability for the owlets to branch out to nearby limbs. Instead the owlets were climbing on top of the concrete cap that we built in order to shore up the hollow. When the branch broke off at the hollow, we lost the branch network leaving the owlets isolated in their hollow. So last summer we came up with the idea to bolt an 8-foot fence post to the side of the hollow and lay it over the fork on an adjacent branch thus giving the owlets a new pathway to other branches.
Here's dad. He was in an adjacent oak tree nearby while mom was taking a break:
And here are a couple of photos of the work we did this past summer. The new owl platform is located in a hammock of old oak trees not too far from the current location of the nest. The idea is that the current nest hollow is in a state of deterioration so the new platform is our backup plan for when the hollow is no longer usable. According to the folks at the Avian Reconditioning Center in Apopka, FL, the owls will eventually find their new nest--it might just take a few years. We built it to last. It is made of Trex and carbon fiber with stainless steel hardware. And finally, we'll soon find out, but we're hoping the new fence post addition to the side of the hollow will provide a path for the branchers when they start the fledging process.
It was a nice day today: fair skies, cool temperatures, light wind. Feedings usually occur early in the mornings before daybreak and late in the afternoons just before sunset. Today's lighting was excellent as the sun was setting and with a little luck I was able to find the owlet in a nearby tree not far from the nest tree. The chick has been really branching out lately to nearby trees so it takes a while to find it, and today I was surprised when mom showed up shortly after I found the chick. And as mom flew in, she had what looked like a small rodent in her beak and then she shifted it to her talon after landing. Mom landed about 25 feet away from the chick and it was interesting to see the chick's reaction to mom's presence. First, it ignored her; then mom began hooting and the chick sidled up to her in a series of jumps and short flights.
It's almost the end of the season, so I would expect that the owlet will be gone within the next two weeks. Sightings will be fewer and fewer and photo opportunities rarer. It's gratifying that we were able to rescue this one this year, to give it a chance for survival, so it's great to see it almost fully fledged.
Today, I was able to get a photo of the male keeping an eye on the now branching owlet. This is the first time I've seen the little guy out of the nest and it seems to be doing well. It's been raining a lot, much more than usual, and very cold the last few days. I think this has been stressful both for the adults and the chick, but everyone seems to be weathering it fine. There don't appear to be any adverse effects from the chick's fall from the nest.
Notice the distinctive markings on the male: he has what appears to be a white collar on his neck and some different looking feathers on his chest. This makes it easy to distinguish him from the female which is a bit smaller and is missing the white collar.