Thursday, October 21, 2010

Barn Owl Adventures

With all the bear excitement around here, I've neglected to talk about the owls. Barn owls nest in our goat barn loft every year. Sometimes they raise two clutches as they're doing this year. The first nest, begun in March, only produced two fledglings, probably because of our cold, wet spring that kept owl food (small rodents mostly) underground.

Either the same mama owl or another one started laying eggs in August, when the weather was finally warm and dry. On August 22, Mother Owl left the nest long enough for Johnny and visiting grandson Ian to see that she had six eggs and one was beginning to hatch. On September 12, there were three or four downy baby owls (it's hard to count when they all try to hide behind each other), one naked and brand new baby, and one unhatched egg.

Barn owls lay an egg every other day, on average, and begin incubating with the first egg laid. So if five eggs hatch, the fifth baby is considerably younger than the first and may not survive if there isn't enough food to keep the older babies stuffed. Four of this second clutch survived to become yellow fluffballs and are gradually exchanging their down for lovely feathers. Why those feathers stay so pretty is amazing, considering the mess they live in.

Owls don't really build "nests". They regurgitate pellets into their favored nesting spot, some dark hole, until the whole area is littered with disgusting gunk. Then they lay their eggs and continue to mess it up. When the babies hatch, they mess it up even more. We provide a cardboard box on a ledge high in the loft with a hole cut in one end. Usually, the box lasts two years before we replace it. By then, it is not only deep in composting pellets, it is beat up and torn up.

The current box is on year number two. Since the owls nested twice this year, that means the poor box has had three clutches worth of filth in it. You can see from the photo what a mess this "nest" is. I discovered tonight just how beat up it is when I climbed the ladder to the box to check on The Adventurer, as I've dubbed the first born owlet.

Last night, The Adventurer (T.A.) managed to fly or glide from the box to a horizontal board half way to the front of the loft where he (she?) was trying to perch... unsuccessfully. T.A. fell to the floor and flopped around, managing to get wedged under the hay elevators, then flopped some more to a black plastic tarp in the back corner of the barn. The baby was not ready, apparently, to fly but he must have had high hopes. I picked the frightened owlet up (his eyes were tightly shut in hopes he was invisible, I guess) and carried him up the ladder to his nest box. T.A. seemed very happy to be home.

Tonight I climbed the ladder to make sure T.A. was in the box and okay. Well, he was, sort of. I didn't realize that the top of the box had a big hole in it, probably from last year's fledglings standing on top and making a mess as they worked up the courage to leap from their nest ledge and attempt flight. When I reached the top of the ladder, The Adventurer made a hasty, ungraceful descent from the top of the box through the hole into safety with his siblings.

The bird on the far right of the photo is The Adventurer, just returned from his escapade on top of the box tonight. He is the biggest, most feathered, and undoubtedly the oldest. Soon these birds will learn to fly and leave us. But hopefully they'll stick around a few days to test their wings. It's always fun to watch them fly from the top of the barn to a nearby tree, landing ungracefully on a branch for the first several tries. When they're good and truly gone, we'll replace their filthy box. And put another box in the loft of the new goat barn in hopes they'll move over there before the old barn is torn down.

No comments:

Post a Comment