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.
This has been an eventful owl season thus far. First, apparently we have a new pair this year. Both the male and female are different and have very distinctive markings that distinguish them from the old pair. So what became of the two that have been coming back year after year for at least the last 10 years? Are these two offspring from the old pair? And how did they know that the old pair wouldn't be back, as apparently they did since they moved in like they owned the place?
Secondly, the owls began nesting much earlier this year. We usually start to see them hanging around the nest in early December--this year it was early November. By my calculations, she laid her eggs around the middle of November and the first owlet hatched around mid-December. I first got a clue that there was a hatchling on Christmas day when I thought I saw the yellow top of a chick's head. I never saw evidence of a second one, so I began to think there would be just one hatchling this year. It makes sense if you consider that this was the first reproductive year for this pair. You would think that the young female is not as fertile yet as she'll be when she reaches maturity.
We had some excitement a couple of days ago (January 7th) when the one hatchling fell out of the nest. This is the third time in many years that I have been involved with rescuing a fallen owlet. As you might remember, a couple of years ago we rescued one, took it to the rehab center in Apopka, Florida, and then later were able to bring it back and release it near the oak tree where it reunited with its mother and sibling. From my experience with the folks up at the raptor rehab place, I learned that the best option is to try to get the fallen owlet back into the nest if at all possible. If this can be done safely, it will maximize the little one's chances for survival in the long run. We had previously made arrangements with our tree service guy for just such an eventuality, and we were fortunate that they had a bucket truck nearby that they were able to free up. The owlet was caught in the crook of the main trunk about 12 feet above the ground, so it hadn't fallen all the way down. This complicated the rescue a little because we had to position the bucket to pick up the chick from the "V" near the base of the trunk. Nelson from Jimmy's Tree Service was the guy in the bucket with me. He ran the bucket while I held the golf umbrella over our heads. Mom was highly agitated and stressed with all this going on, and since I had been hit twice on the head before by angry owls, I definitely needed the umbrella to prevent getting hit again. I can tell you that it felt like I'd been hit by a Louisville Slugger--twice. Both the male and the female attacked me two years ago and I flat out didn't want to go through that again! The little guy readily allowed me to pick him/her up when we got the bucket in position, and Nelson got us right up to the nest level smartly and I deposited it back into the hollow. I was able to check the little one on the way up and it seemed to be fine, extending both wings for me so that I was able to somewhat determine that it wasn't injured. I noticed that mom had left her perch above the nest and was flying around, but she kept her distance this time--perhaps because there was not another one in the nest. I think it's the fact that they think you are going after the one in the nest that really bothers them. So, anyway, we were definitely able to confirm that there was only one in the nest this year. We got the boom put away and left the area as soon as we could so that things would begin to calm down. I rode my bike back just before dark to check on things and I was gratified to see mom perched on the edge of the hollow and appeared to be feeding the little one.
Here it is two days later and everything seems to be back to normal. I've seen the male feeding the chick early in the morning and mom seems to be perched nearby most of the day. The photo below was taken around 4 this afternoon. Here's a look at the new female looking over the chick, hopefully being more careful now. It's way too soon for it to be branching, something that I don't expect for a least another couple of weeks. I haven't been able to get a good photo of the chick as it's too small to poke its head up above the rim yet. I'll post one as soon as I can.
This past summer Ron Holub and I put up a new owl platform in one of the oak trees on our property. We found the perfect place: a large oak that's isolated from the residences, and we located the platform on a sturdy branch about 40 feet in the air. Our hope is that another owl family will discover it soon and possibly we might have a second pair nesting in the 2017 season. We built the platform out of Trex, which is a wood composite that should last a long time; and we secured it with stainless steel hardware. We got the idea from the folks at the raptor rehab center, so we're keeping our fingers crossed.
So I was out working on my airplane yesterday and these guys just happened by. They were pretty unconcerned with my presence, except for the little ones who were quite shy and wanted to hide behind mom and dad. It's interesting that the chicks obviously can't fly yet so the adults must be camping out nearby. I think this is the same family that I saw about a year ago.
What's ironic is that these birds are extremely dangerous around airplanes; one, they are quite large and have been known to bring down an airplane in a collision; and, two, they seem to have no fear of the human element. So I guess their attitude is, "well we were here first, deal with it."
They are quite beautiful creatures. They gobble like a turkey would, but different sounding. They seem to be feeding on grubs or other insects and every so often will hand (beak) one to an infant, who seem to be doing more observing than anything else.
Here's a closeup of an adult:
For about a week now I haven't been able to find the little one in the nest oak tree. I knew that he was probably branching out to the adjacent trees but couldn't figure out which one. Until today. Finally found him in one of the lower oak trees about 200 yards from the nest tree. But what was really a shocker was to see big daddy a few feet away from the little one. Haven't seen dad in a long time. Mostly just mom this year. Looks like dad had the duty to keep an eye on junior this afternoon. Maybe some hunting lessons later this evening?
Is it my imagination or is dad starting show his age? Here he is with his head turned around keeping a close eye on the camera:
Right on cue, he turned around on the branch and gave me a view of his front side:
And just a few feet away, the little guy. He's obviously fledged and is about 2 months old now. He's flying at least 200 yards to get here so he's probably not going to be around much longer.
What's interesting to note is that dad is perched at exactly the location that I had selected to locate an owl nesting platform that I'm building. I'll have it up by this summer. My hope is that a new owl family will take up residence here this coming December. I'll take it as a good omen that dad is perched there.