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Plans for 2015

Two nights ago I formally announced the plans for 2015. It is a big change with a lot of thought that went into the decision, so this chat dialogue explains it all. For many reasons listed below we will not be raising owlets in 2015, but will still collect data. The goal is to focus efforts on opening the International Owl Center to the public and starting to publish some research findings. 

 

Karlaowl : I'm pretty sure I heard a Saw-whet Owl tooting when I was feeding the kids tonight.

So of course I can't just barf up the news straight...I have to work into it.

Let's go backwards a bit. This whole project started because of Alice the Great Horned Owl, my co-worker with whom I do educational programs. She was injured when she fell out of her nest at 3 weeks of age and will always be unable to fly.She works with me doing educational programs, but because she was injured so young, she imprinted on humans.

She thinks she's one of us, although she still has all the normal owl instincts and she expects me to act like a male Great Horned Owl.No one has written a book on how to be a male GHO, so I was kind of clueless. Alice obviously got frustrated with me sometimes when I didn't respond properly to her behaviors and vocalizations. I figured I'd go to the scientific literature and look up GHO vocalizations. I was extremely surprised to find out that no one had ever studied GHO vocalizations. David Johnson, Director of the Global Owl Project, encouraged me to begin that study. I was in a unique position with Alice, and of course the wild owls came around the yard too because they could hear Alice.That study started in the fall of 2004. I recorded Alice's vocalizations and noted the behavioral context of each. I also recorded the wild owls.  I couldn't see what on earth the wild owls were doing, and I rarely knew the behavioral context.

I only could record the sounds they made, and they made some weird sounds! I realized I could identify each owl by their territorial hoot, because each was slightly different.  When you've heard literally millions of hoots from one bird, it's really easy to hear what's different about another owl's hoot.

greatful2: did you stay at home all during this time for the study, or just nites?

karlaowl: I slept with a recorder on my nightstand, and just recorded when the owls woke me up.

I was working days at the Nature Center. I knew I needed to do recordings at nests, but out here in the country the owls wouldn't let me get anywhere near a nest before they'd fly away. There was a nest in Rochester, MN on a golf course where the owls were totally habituated to people,so I spent a few nights in a sleeping bag on a posh golf course, recording owls when they woke me up.It was COLD.I got what I could, but realized I wouldn't be able to record the quiet sounds of the babies without a mike in the nest.  I simply couldn't record the courtship stuff since that didn't necessarily happen at the nest and GHOs often only use a nest one or two years because they fall apart after that time.You never know where they will nest. It's not like I could put up a nest box with a cam and mike in it and go from there.We knew that owlets do not have adult sounding hoots when they leave the nest.So for all of these reasons, I realized I would have to breed GHOs in captivity to find out these things.It took much discussion with the MN DNR and US Fish & Wildlife Service, but they granted those permits to me in 2007. For multiple reasons, my aviaries didn't get built until 2010, which is when Rusty and Iris moved in.Scarlett Owl Hara showed up that first winter and harassed them like crazy, apparently wanting Rusty for her mate (and wanting to kill Alice)   No breeding in 2011, but 2012 we got eggs that didn't hatch.

JudyRameior  Sad time, March 2012

Karlaowl: 2013 gave us the 3 P's, Pandora, Patrick, and Patience. They were reared as wild birds by their parents with minimal human contact. They were trained on live rats and released to the wild from the flight pen in November 2013.They were each wearing a transmitter on their tail so we could track them (thanks to Bob Anderson and Amy Ries for getting them put on!) We lost Pandora's signal after 5 days. Patrick's stopped moving on the bluff behind our house after a month and we found his transmitter, still attached to his tail feathers which weren't attached to him, on the ground. He either bit his tail feathers to lose the transmitter or the attachment created a weak point that caused the feathers to break. Patience we tracked until she naturally molted her tail feathers in May 2014. The 3 P's taught us that owlets can do "proper" hoots, albeit in their tiny little voices, at just over 2 weeks of age. Then they went through the teenage "voice changing" phase and sounded like a rubber duck trying to imitate and owl at 5 months of age. Around 7 months of age they sounded like adults. But would owlets reared by humans have the same vocal development? Enter Ruby and Rupert in March 2014. We took them away from Rusty and Iris when they were 2 weeks old. We felt yucky for doing it, but Ruby and Rupert were happy little owlets and readily adapted to being with people. Being raised by humans would mean that they would not be able to be released to the wild. I was rearing them to be education birds, which meant they should get lots of human attention. So they came to live in the house with us. I very quickly realized that raising owlets for a vocal study and raising owlets as educational birds have two different sets of needs. For the vocal study I needed them on live cams, with audio, 24/7 so people could help with observations and every part of their development could be recorded. But having owlets in the house with lots of human contact and having live streaming video/audio at the same time, well, that didn't work so well. We simply couldn't stream the audio for privacy reasons and without getting a new expensive cam with night vision, you couldn't even see them at night. Not good for the vocal study, but it's what we had to do since we were committed to rearing them as education birds this year. I could, however, do playback of owl vocalizations with them to see how they responded, that was helpful but I think we missed a lot, and they didn't have the same natural stimulations that parent-reared owlets do. Owls don't call just to hear themselves call. They are communicating, either sending a message or responding to a message.

Peggyrausch: did they respond to recordings?

Karlaowl: Without certain stimuli, they wouldn't vocalize. They did, Peggy, respond to some of the recordings. Playing Iris' feeding calls REALLY got them excited to eat when they were little. But with Ruby and Rupert as education birds, we'll be able to look at their vocalizations for their whole lifetimes. One question is if their territorial hoots will sound the same their whole lives. We have them recorded starting around 2 weeks. Initially I thought I would keep Rupert and place Ruby elsewhere once they got their adult hoots. Now however, I think it's best to keep them both, so I can look at one male and one female over their lifetimes.

JudyRameior: YAY!!!

Karlaowl: Plus they love/hate each other just like siblings. So right now I'm in the process of moving them onto my education permits. They'll take over the GHO education part of the program when Alice goes on maternity leave, which starts in January.  Alice, Ruby, and Rupert can share the workload throughout the year.

Sammyloufalany: so they will soon be off cam?

Peggyrausch: it will really be interesting to hear how their voices change

Karlaowl: Ruby and Rupert will move into the new aviaries when they are complete. I will get new security cameras for the new aviaries, but I'm not sure how the new cams will mesh with our existing cams and streaming. I hope to still be able to stream them, at least sometimes. So this fall I have had to start planning for the 2015 season.

maxi23: What about streaming Timber sometimes?

Karlaowl: I was working on a new research proposal, reviewing the literature, etc. Timber's cam is a "cab cam", so not really streamable without some major work. Plus the audio is terrible and the video gets lots of interference since it's wireless. As I was working on the plans, figuring out what I needed to do next, I realized that I was REALLY feeling time pressure right now. It's time to dive into Owl Festival planning, and I'm working really, really hard to get the Owl Center open before the Owl Festival.

greatful2: Karla do you have to come up a new study each year? so that you can continue to keep I&R?

karlaowl: I'm fundraising, handling money, working on interpretive displays (or should be), getting the building ready to go, trying to figure out how to hire staff because I REALLY need to. I do have to do a new research proposal each year, yes and I realized that I seriously have to start watching my time commitments better.

Peggyrausch: sounds like you're stretched pretty thin.

Karlaowl: I also realized in the literature searches that there are several things that I could publish now and part of my permits is that I need to publish in peer-reviewed journals. In the world of science, if it isn't published, it didn't happen. I kind of sat with all of these thoughts a few days until I finally came to a conclusion that felt right for me for this year. I decided that I need to take 2015 to get the Owl Center up and running as well as analyze data and submit some things for publication. I need to take this year off from raising owlets. I know many of you will be disappointed, but I realized that I have to watch out for my own health and well-being, and I was really, really pushing it as it is.

Tampabayrabbit: couldn't rusty and iris raise them on their own?

Karlaowl: Tampa, there still has to be research proposals, data has to be gathered and reviewed, etc. I can't just let them breed without the research part.

JudyRameior: Burnout not recommended!

Karlaowl: Yes Judy, and I'm too close to burnout. Thankfully I realized it before it was too late and I made a mess of things.

iamsoon2b: so, where does this leave R&I?

karlaowl: I will let Rusty and Iris do their thing as usual. I will let them lay eggs, but once the clutch is complete I'll remove the eggs and replace them with fake eggs.

JudyRameior: Oh, kinda Alice-ish?

Karlaowl: So we'll be able to see how long Iris will sit before she abandons (which isn't fun, but it's important data). Yes, Judy, except Alice gets to sit on her own (infertile) eggs. So in the literature searches I found there are some research priorities that are REALLY simple to get data on here online.Believe it or not, some of the research priorities, from 16 years ago as well as the updated Birds of North America account this year are: The length of time the female is off the eggs; The time of day of egg laying; If eggshells are removed, eaten, or trampled; Hatching intervals between owlets. All of you can easily help gather that data, and it won't take my time to review your notes. Also, rose and jonnetje are taking fantastic notes every night, throughout the whole night, on behaviors and vocalizations. After they finish up doing this for a year (which I think will be this spring?), then we can analyze their data to look at hooting behavior throughout the year. This was another research priority, and has big implications for all the citizen science owl surveys that use passive listening.They need to know when to have their volunteers do surveys to get the best results. What time of year do they hoot most? What weather conditions are best? Etc. Since rose and jonnetje have put so much time into this (essentially a full-time job), I will list them as co-authors on that paper.

Greatful: just a ?? Karla, can they be incubated without Iris' help? just curious

Peggyrausch: so what happens to the real eggs

Tampabayrabbt: could you have a volunteer person that needs the credits to do the research and information on the owlets instead of yourself?

Karlaowl: So back to some questions. I can't really have a volunteer come in and do my part of the research since it requires really, really extensive experience in this project, and it has to be done in our house (the video/audio analysis). I have reviewed my decision for 2015 with the permit authorities, and as a result do not have permission to raise owlets in 2015. So we can't incubate the eggs. Plus what would we do with them? I mean what would we do with incubator-hatched owlets? I don't want to be in the business of raising lots of owlets only as education birds

Maxi23: Could some sanctuary or other place foster the eggs? I mean an owl at another sanctuary, etc.

Karlaow: If the eggs are raised by anyone else, the result would be the same: they would be education birds. I would suspect no one is interested in doing that.They wouldn't have authorization to release them to the wild.

Birder23: so they couldn't be trained with minimal human contact & let free (more expense & would have to get another)

Karlaowl: No, birder, the release to the wild is a very special permission that is almost never granted. There are a LOT of laws that pertain to birds, what kinds of permits there are, and what you can and can't do.

JudyRameior: So the 3 Ps were more special than we realized!

Peggyrausch: It sounds like rusty and iris might need to be placed somewhere

Karlaowl: Rusty and Iris are allowed to stay here this year. They are actually being put on my education permit. Normally education permits are only for birds used on the fist in programs or in display aviaries where people can see them. Rusty & Iris would NOT be OK with either, but the DNR determined there is educational value on our website that relates to streaming them online.

Paula2473: sad that its so complicated to take the eggs and just let another owl have them to raise×

Karlaowl: Paula, the permit stuff is really complicated for me because I'm doing something that's really "not normal" and requires a LOT of discussion of all the permit folks and supervisors. I would like to allow R & I to lay eggs, since that what their hormones are telling them to do. Plus we can still get data on time of day of egg laying, time off the nest, etc.

JudyRameior: They will just think eggs weren't viable. Happens in nature.

Tampabayrabbit: what about the outside owls, couldn't they take care of the eggs that are laid??

Karlaowl: Tampa, I would again need special permission to mess around in a wild owl nest.

Paula2473: so where are the kidz going? does it remain the same?

Karlaowl: Ruby and Rupert will stay put until we finish the new aviaries, then they'll move in there (on the back side of our garage). I'll try to stream Ruby and Rupert still, but we'll see what magic I can work with integrating new technology of a different type.

Tampabayrabbit: so in 2016 then will rusty and iris raise their eggs again?

Karlaowl: Tampa, I will have to do a new research proposal for 2016 and get permission. Actually what I want to do next is to have R & I rear some foster kids, unrelated to them, to see if they sound less like R & I than their own kids, looking for inheritance of hoot characteristics. Having foster owlets is not as easy as I would like it to be. To just get owlets from a rehabber I would technically need to be a master class rehabber, which takes 8 years of working with other species. That was part of my decision too: this is going to be complicated to figure out how to get unrelated owlets for them.

Maxi23: Would Marge Gibson have time to help?

Karlaowl: Marge would help, but we're in different states with different laws. If she were in MN it would be much more doable. She could designate me as an out shelter and no problem.Just to go to WI with my owls (which were hatch in WI, by the way), we have to get health certificates from a vet, a temporary wildlife exhibition permit from the WI DNR, and a circus, rodeo and menagerie permit from the WI Dept of Ag. Not kidding! The laws are there for good reason. And it's impossible to predict every situation that will arise.

Tampabayrabbit: but patience went there on her own with no permits lol!!!

Karlaowl: I know tampa, I thought it was awesome that Patience went to WI with no permits! Ha!

Donnadolittle: It's likely Ruby and Rupert will mate and lay eggs. What's your plan then?

Karlaowl: If Ruby and Rupert lay eggs I will replace them with fake eggs. I don't want inbreeding, but I do want Ruby and Rupert to be comfortable, and I think their companionship is good for them.

Tampabayrabbit: Karla when rusty and alice hoot at each other do you think its territorial or are they talking with each other???

Karlaowl: I think Alice is mostly hooting for attention from me, but Rusty hears it and has to hoot back to advertise his territory. At least that's my take on it.There are some rehabbers that swear by "companion birds", that each bird should be house with another of the same species or another compatible one. Sometimes a bird does dramatically better in captivity if housed with a "pal"

Tampabayrabbit: Karla will you be getting any more owls down the road?

Karlaowl: Yes, tampa, I will get more education birds for the Owl Center.

Maxi23: I assume at some point you'll get a barn owl?

Karlaowl: Yes, Barnies will be on the docket at some point in time. Probably from a breeder, since my understanding is that unless they come into captivity very young they usually don't adapt to captivity well. Great Grays would be tough, since they usually don't adapt to captivity as an ed bird unless they come in very young.If you cam watchers read the Birds of North America account on Great Horned Owls, you will realize that you know more than what is in the published literature about the intricacies of breeding and vocalizations.Thank you all for being understanding about 2015. I know this isn't what you wanted to hear, but I needed to explain what went into the decision so it would be easier to accept.OK, so to summarize, this is the information you all can help to gather from this site AND FROM OTHER GHO SITES:

Time of day of egg laying (watch our youtube video of egg laying to see what it looks like)

Time between eggs being laid (to the hour)

Time between owlets hatching (to the hour)

What happens to the eggshells after hatching

How often and how long the female is off the nest during incubation (like a daily log of leave the nest, return to the nest times)

And at OKC (or any other site where the mike is very close and good enough) VERY ESPECIALLY any hoots by owlets

So the more cams we can get data from, the better.It's best to ask permission, so I'll talk to Jeff Click.Let me know who else I should get in touch with to use data from their cams.

JudyRameior: How to report, Karla? Obs form here? e-mail?

Karlaowl: The observation form would be good, but I'll need to modify it.

Ruby Makes Alarm Calls at 9 Weeks

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.

 

Ruby Hoots at Rhett

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!

 


Owlets move to flight pen and begin training


Hein and volunteer Ron constructed a wall in the flight pen and Hein and I installed new lower perches. Once ready we immediately moved the owlets in, as they were already starting to fly in their little 5' x 7' transition mews.

We had a small audience made up of a neighbor's family and volunteer owlet socializer Patty. The owlets pretty much just stayed put after moving into the pen, although they are able to fly around in the 35' long enclosure.

I am working with them to get them to step forward onto the glove and backward onto the glove and perches. They also are progressing enough to start making short hops to the glove.

They also need to get used to wearing equipment on their legs, although their legs may not be strong enough yet to be restrained by jesses. We simply put anklets on them to see how well they will tolerate them, and once they are strong enough we will start using jess straps, but it may be with a different jess setup. The anklets they are currently wearing are removable.

The owlets have been much less vocal than last year's owlets who grew up with their parents. It will be interesting to see if Ruby and Rupert vocalize more now that they can hear Rusty and Iris better, although they cannot see them.

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!!

OwletGettingWeighed

 

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!

FeedingOwlets

 

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.

SittingUP

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.

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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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