International Owl Center Blog

Name the Owlets

We have genders! The oldest owlet is a GIRL and the younger one is a BOY.

Now it's time for the NAMING CONTEST!
Submit names using the observation form below the live cam feed, as a comment under this Facebook post, or email me directly if you have my email. Be sure to include your chat name and email address so I can contact you.

-Names should be gender specific.
-Names should be appropriate for an educational ambassador owl.
-The owlet names will start with the same letter. You may submit names that do not start with the same letter, as we may select one name submitted by one person and another name submitted by a different person.
-Avoid names already in use in this vocal study: Victor, Virginia, Wendell, Wheezy, Scarlett Owl Hara, Delilah, Scotch, Foxy.
-Avoid names of other education ambassador GHOs like Hooty, Hooter, Bubo, VanGHO, Lois, Samantha, Bumpy, Fonzie, LeRoy, Archimedes, etc.

The deadline to submit names is 7 AM on Thursday, April 17. Names will be announced on chat at 7 PM on Friday, April 18.

New pen for the owlets

The owlets are growing FAST!!  They are nearly able to get out of the swimming pool that has contained them the past week, so we need to move them into a "mini-mews" while they branch but before they fledge and are ready for the flight pen (which we need to remodel next.)

Affixing plastic mesh

There area  lot of windows in the porch, so we put plastic mesh over them so the owlets would see a visual barrier and not try to get through them.

mini mews

Hein also built a "wall" of the plastic mesh with a door on it.

We'll add outdoor carpeting on the floor, and then I think we're good to go.

In the long term, once the owlets move out into the flight pen (in a few more weeks), then we may be able to use this as a mews for a small owl, screech-owl size or smaller.

Thankfully we never use our whole porch, so just having a half a porch for us humans should be just fine and dandy.


Moving the Owlets Inside

Today it was time to band the owlets with closed bands to show they were raised in captivity.  It was also the time to move them inside so they will be well socialized with humans so they will be comfortable in their future lives as educational ambassadors for their species.

Removing the owlets from the aviaries went well...Iris didn't try to attack.  I do have to say they are WAY bigger than they look on cam!  Little chunks for sure.  I put each of them into their own cloth bag and brought them inside. First we weighed them. The younger one was 1.0 lbs and the older 1.3 lbs.  Whoa!!



The next step was to put the bands on their legs.  Um, yeah.  The band seemed too small to go onto the foot of the older owl.  DRAT!  But with a little finesse it went onto the foot of the younger owl.  (Later we tried the oldest owlet again.  Hein gently but firmly tucked the front three toes through the band and eased it over the ankle, then gingerly tucked the hallux (hind toe) back through the band.  Hallelujah!)

The owlets were nervous at first and shivering due to their nervousness.  Hearing Rusty and Iris hoot on the monitoring equipment seemed to calm them down and they went to sleep flat out on their stomachs.

A few hours later Rusty woke the owlets up with his hooting and they sat up.  Seemed like a good time to try to feed them, so I cut up the back half of a rat.  I used a long forceps to rub a piece of food up against their bills.  The younger owlet happily accepted, but the older owlet just hissed a bit and gave me a dirty look.  So I played a recording of Iris clucking and feeding the owlets, and that did the trick.  Both ate, and they chittered back to the recording of Iris each time.  Cool that I can test their reactions to recordings now!



Later when Rusty was hooting one of the owlets did a couple of "peep hoots" in response.  I should be able to get some good recordings.  This works well to have them hear their parents normally for natural acoustic stimulation!

They had a bit of active time, preening and looking around, and it seems they are already used to their situation.  Iris and Rusty seemed to adjust within 1-2 hours also, thank goodness.


Now we will learn to work with the technology and expose the owlets to all kinds of people and places so they are comfortable, well-adjusted education birds in the future.

The Plan for 2014

I updated the website a while back and intended to do a live chat session specifically about the topic of the 2014 owlets, but time slipped away from me as I was working on the International Festival of Owls plans and I just plain needed some down time.

The 2014 owlets will be raised different from how Pandora, Patrick, and Patience were reared last year.  This year's owlets will be hand-reared to compare their vocal development with wild parent-reared owlets (the 3 P's) to see if it is the same or different.  It will also allow me to test theories about the meaning of vocalizations by testing the owlets' repsonse to recorded vocalizations.

I will remove the owlets from the aviaries when they are 2-3 weeks old.  They will be reared together in the house, coming to work with me at the Houston Nature Center during the daytime.  I will be working on another more portable cam setup so they can be streamed live from home and work (although we may not include audio at work, and will likely only stream them at home after we have gone to bed for privacy reasons.)  

Once the owlets are starting to fly they will be moved back into the flight pen so they can be watched on the cams out there again.  We will modify the flight pen to lower the ceiling and make their space smaller so that I am able to get them off perches to continue to bring them to work so they can begin their training for their eventual placement as education birds.

Placing the owlets in long-term captive situations as education birds will allow me to track their territorial hoots over their lifetime to see if they stay the same or change.  The value is that if their territorial hoots remain constant, and we can show that individual hoots work like fingerprints to identify individual owls, birds may not need to be captured and marked in future research projects, reducing stress on birds and eliminating the problem of failed batteries in transmitters.

I have chosen this rearing method because I believe it will produce the best possible education birds, meaning they will be very comfortable with their role in life, and they will be easy for handlers to work with.  They should imprint on each other rather than humans, so they should be less likely to be aggressive with their handlers than human imprinted birds.  They will be well socialized with humans so they are not stressed being in front of crowds.

Rusty and Iris will certainly not be happy about their owlets being removed, just as they were upset when I removed their unhatched eggs two years ago.  There is a small chance they may lay another clutch of eggs, but it is likely a little too late in the season for that.

What we find out from these owlets this year will help determine the best course of action for future data collection in this breeding project and determine how future owlets are reared.

First Hatch of 2014!

Rusty and Iris' first egg of 2014 was laid on Superb Owl Sunday, and conveniently hatched during the International Festival of Owls.  The pip was first noticed on Friday, March 7.  The next morning the pip was larger, but there were no more good views until almost 10 PM when Iris got off the nest and we got the first views of this special owlet, dry and fluffy already. 

First Egg Peeping and Ready to Hatch!

The first egg, laid on Superb Owl Sunday, is getting ready to hatch. It's now peeping and chittering inside the egg. In this video clip Victor, a resident wild bachelor owl, is hooting in the distance, getting Rusty and Iris a little riled and hooting back. Alice, our education owl, is also joining into the hootenanny. Iris has been giving the eggs funny looks lately, probably because she knows something is up. Watch for hatching to happen today and tomorrow, during the start of our International Festival of Owls.

Whoooooo Is It?

Earlier this week an unidentified wild owl paid a visit.  She did quite a bit of squawking one night, along with some hooting, and more hooting the next night.  She really got Rusty and Iris riled, and both Victor and Rhett (the resident wild males) came in to hoot also.  I reviewed spectrograms to see if it might be Pandora, the owlet we lost track of a few days after releasing her.  The voice was similar to one of our owlets, but not exact, so I'm thinking it wasn't her.  She didn't seem to be with either Victor or Rhett.  I'm curious if Victor will take a liking to her, since he's still single as far as I know.

Rusty Inspects His Superb Owl Egg

Rusty brought food to Iris in the nest this morning, and Iris decided to go and eat it over on the hatch perch.  This left Rusty the perfect chance to get a good look at the first egg of the yeat that he fathered.  It must be a magnificent egg since it was laid on Superb Owl Sunday!

Superb Owl Sunday: Iris Lays Egg #1 for 2014

It turns out Stephen Colbert was right: today is Superb Owl Sunday!

We knew Iris was acting "eggy" and spending lots of time in the nest.  We now know what egg laying behavior looks like, but didn't see it last night or early this morning.  But this afternoon we were sitting in the living room watching Owl TV as usual.  Hein mentioned Iris' back feathers were starting to lift up, which they do during egg laying.  Then the phone rang and critterwatcher, one of the chat room moderators, said she thought Iris was laying an egg.  Sure enough, she was very obviously laying an egg!

It came out pretty only seemed to take 5 minutes tops.  She didn't look as nauseous as last year while laying either.

So tune in on February 5 to watch egg #2 be laid.  If Iris is like last year, the eggs were laid EXACTLY 72 hours apart.  So that would be about 3:15 PM Central time.

The really egg-citing thing about this laying date is that this egg should hatch the first day of the International Festival of Owls!  Wow.

Still no egg from Alice, but maybe she's happy with the replica egg I gave her to encourage her to lay her own.

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The International Owl Center advances the survival of wild owl populations through education and research. We plan to accomplish our mission through biological and cultural programs and displays, green building design, citizen-science and other research, international exchange of information, the World Owl Hall of Fame, the International Festival of Owls, and other means.

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