Adult females have a reputation for making a "wac-wac" call when alarmed around the nest (a type of double squawk that is also described as "barking.") We only observed it a precious few times last year in the owlets, and honestly, the first time I heard it I was certain it was something other than an owl. I had no idea an owlet could or would make this vocalization.
Ruby made the same call today at about 12:40 PM, so we have good color video of her doing it. Perhaps the owlets make more different types of vocalizations when there aren't adults around to make them instead.
Last night Victor, the wild bachelor male to the east of us, paid a visit. Later Rhett, the mated resident male paid a visit.
The owlets did begging calls, but when Rhett got close enough for them to see him, the owlets switched to bill clacking and Ruby hooted several times!
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.