Friday, April 23, 2010

YES! Carlos is looking into how to put up a fledging area!

I just read the comment section from the last post, and am told that Carlos' wife, Donna, has been reading the blog! WOW! HI Donna!

And I've been told that Carlos is going to install a perch system for the owlets to fledge to. This would be groundbreaking and might change the way people install owl boxes! I'm thrilled.

I was also given other links to other pictures of the box. It's true there are trees, but they are too low, in my humble opinion.

Here is the link and part of one reader's comments:
ou can see the layout of the new fence, the owlbox, the nearby tree, and the now 2 ladders (one of which the parent owls are using as a perch) in this video news story by cbs8:

"Owl Cam fans frantic because Molly is Missing"
If you go forward to time 1:42 of 3:22 in the video - and pause it - you'll get a better sense of the Fledging area. The owlets may enjoy the new fence and the ladders.

I do agree that they will probably use the new fence and the ladders in their flight training. But they also need something higher up.

So I'm very glad to hear that Carlos is going to build some fledging areas! This is awesome news! I had no idea they were even reading the blog, but I did know that they are out consulting w/ experts because he said he'd been surveying parks and habitats and working on the idea of putting up boxes all over, to provide homes for not only owls, but other birds. So I figured he'd be on a high learning curve with this, which, by the way, is a lot more than most people would ever do after having an owlbox put up in their yard. I admire Carlos' drive to learn and explore and grow.

As a side effect of this, it keeps a person young to always be involved in new adventures.

I do think that he ought to consult with wildlife experts on this one, since he's going to have to do some constructing while the owls are in the nest.

I know that wildlife people are quite eager to help, and that wildlife centers have a lot of experience constructing their own flight areas. I would urge him to bring in someone like that - who actually has built wildlife center flight cages for rehabilitating baby owls.

I'm picturing a structure, maybe in a sort of triangle, for support, that he could build elsewhere then roll up to the site and slip off of the wheels to leave it there. That way he wouldn't have to be constructing right next to the box.

What I've seen is what I described before, with some 2/4s covered w/ astroturf, parallel to and at the same height as the box opening - right across from the door so they can hop out the door onto the perch, about 3 feet away from the door.

They do also need a piece to climb up for when they take test flights and those flights end on the ground. At first they won't be flying, but will be just hopping w/ lots of flapping. But eventually they'll go on longer flights that end on the ground, and will need to climb back up.

I've seen where people have taken a long tree branch and put that at an angle from ground to perch, and secured to the perch.

I think this structure could be portable yet sturdy if he used a triangular base somehow.

I'm not an architect, nor have I ever built a perching system out in the open. What people in wildlife centers do is run the 2x4s across from wall to wall, so it's easier for them to make the setup.

BUT, I also know people who've been doing this for 25 years or more and would be more than happy to advise him, because truly they are more interested in seeing owls thrive in the wild than they are in having to take in yet another clutch of baby barn owls or any other baby animals.

Baby season is a nightmare in wildlife centers. It SOUNDS fun but it's just so crazy and so frantic that there's no time to enjoy the babies themselves. It's a race for survival that leaves everyone feeling like they've just been in a kind of war zone.

So they would love to see the public getting involved in preventing having to take babies to wildlife centers!

I would bet, though I haven't asked her directly, that the director of Skyhunters would be more than eager to help. She has a network of people all over San Diego, in Valley Center and the areas of N. County, who are long time experts, who know who to go to for solving these construction issues and conundrums. And believe me, everyone who works w/ wild creatures has these kinds of issues to worry about.

How do you enclose coyotes, for example? They'll dig right under a fence. Well, I recently visited a wildlife center in the NW that digss 6 feet down all the way around the fence and sinks a chain link fence 6 feet into the ground, going up to 10 or more above the ground, and bending inward at the top cuz coyotes can even climb some fences.

I'd bet you that the first time wildlife centers started working w/ coyotes, they didnt' know this and had all kinds of premature escapes! So we all learn by doing or by consulting w/ someone else who has learned by doing.

Perhaps this will lead to a new design in owl boxes which includes a branch to fledge to and one to climb up, as one commenter pointed out.

Now, in response to the reader who said I shouldn't talk about "negative" or "upsetting" possiblities, i really do not have a perspective that says, "Oh this is upsetting" Or "this is not upsetting" in the sense that for me, learning and understanding what IS, is what I care about most passionately.

When you're in a biology class, you don't learn only happy thoughts. You are learning about how organisms survive. By what mechanism do they handle the problems that come up, so that they survive to carry on their genes through their progeny?

Those solutions can be physiological: The liver and kidneys and intestines must handle toxins that are the result of metabolism, or the system will poison itself, for example. Do we not discuss the poisonous results of metabolism because it's negative to say that the result of our metabolic process is urea and ammonia and other substances that would be toxic if left to build up in our bloodsream? It has never even crossed my mind that it's negative! It is just what IS. And our bodies are set up to handle those toxins and excrete them. I've taken whole units on how different organisms excrete toxins - from fish and their gills and all those systems, to worms, to every imagineable creature and how he/she handles the toxic output of metabolism.

How does the skeleton balance and handle load? We talk about the forces that the skeleton must be prepared to withstand in terms of pounds per square inch, such as when a large cat leaps down off a tree branch. How do the muscles and skeleton absorb the shock? Do we decide that discussing the "shock" is kinda too tough to talk about?

To me, the miracle is that these problems are solved at all!

And to me, there is no difference between discussing the problems organisms face internally and the issues they must solve externally.

Birds must solve the problem of having to learn to use their wings. And it's a learning process for them. They aren't born knowing how those wings work, and it's very awkward for them to learn. It's especially awkward, in my humble opinion, for owls.

But if you haven't spent your life studying owls or watching them fledge, how would you know the exact mechanism by which they fledge? You wouldn't. You would probably think they fledge just like the sparrows in your backyard, who tumble to the ground unhurt, hide in a bush, and take little hoppy flights along the ground. Sparrows are tiny and light and this works for them.

Owls are awkward during adolescence and they just act more like dinosaurs trying to learn to fly. They don't hop lightly on the ground, they gallumph along on the ground when they're on it. They have big heads and big talons and there's just an awful lot to coordinate.

Once they do figure it out, they are poetry in motion. Absolute beauty and wisdom in the sky.

But they have to get from here to there.

So when I discuss the problems they might face, I really see them not so much as problems, but as challenges. And, since I know how they usually handle those challenges, I would love to see us humans offering them the kind of habitat that allows them to overcome those challenges in the manner to which they've adapted over the millions of years.

So to me, that's a very positive thing. If we come out of this having learned a new way to set up owlboxes in a way that does a lot more to ensure the ultimate success of the clutch, then huge progress has been done.

Carlos may end up being the one who sets up a groudbreaking new approach to owlboxes. Because many companies that put up owlboxes do not do anything to consider the actual owls themselves and how they fledge, etc They just put an owlbox on a stick and leave it at that.

The point made that owls are not adapted to living in owlboxes was well put. They are hardwired to search for nice sized hollow spots, because until recently in history, those spots were in hollow trees.

As we've pointed out before, there are many owl species that do not adapt to change and who are decimated by what we might think of as small changes in their habitat - like the spotted owl. The spotted owl must have a very intricate set of factors, all present together, to survive. Take away one of those factors, and the owl cannot breed or nest. That's why they're so endangered.

But with the lovely barn owl, we do have a good chance to provide them with alternative habitats like the owl boxes, and to ensure a good fledge, so that they will not become endangered as long as there are unpoisoned rodents for them to eat! That's GOOD news, not bad news!

Well, that's it for now. I've got to get ready for tomorrow, when I'm going to meet several of you in Julian! I can't wait to meet you. PLEASE introduce yourselves and tell me you read the blog or that you know me from the owl box so I know who I'm meeting! This will be fun.

I talked to people in Julian today and they said there's snow on the ground but that it has melted enough so that the roads are clear and you don't need chains. I'm taking chains just in case it changes, but they say it's just beautiful up there, but dress warmly. I dress in layers in that kind of cold because I often get too hot indoors when it's cold outside.

See some of you tomorrow!



darien said...

Stacey, some day after the fledge, it's possible that the massive attention on the owls of San Marcos will die down. When it does, PLEASE don't stop writing. I am learning a lot from you. Your blog is on my A list now, meaning that I will look at it every day, whether you write or not.

I'm learning, and I love that you put your opinions and your expertise out there. I was inspired by your story, especially since I read it on chemo day. Please keep writing. And thank you, ever so much.


Victoria said...

This is excellent news if Carlos is indeed going to add a fledging area. I was concerned as to what would happen when they hit the ground. I thought that maybe they would survive, if not injured on the way down, because the Royal's yard is fenced. Why leave things to happenstance. If you go to all the trouble of erecting a box to begin with, follow up with a sturdy place for the owlets to land when learning to fly.

I took a summer course years ago when I thought I had time and money to get into raptor rehabilitation. I know how difficult it is to bring a clutch from egg to first flight. So many things can and do go wrong.

I was annoyed by the attitude of those who said,"everything will be fine." Clearly they didn't know what they were talking about.

Early on, when I asked a moderator if Carlos had contacted the zoo or a raptor rehabilitator about the "rabbit squabble", I was told that wasn't necessary. "Molly knew something was wrong with the rabbit and removed it from the box."

I started hoping that someone with experience and knowledge about barn owls would start watching the box.

Thank the universe that you did just that, Stacey. I can feel less helpless here in Glen Rock, PA.

melinda said...


I'd like to Ditto Darien's comments - this has been, and will continue to be, very interesting and informative. Thank you.

Lynn said...

Stacey, I woke up to this great news on your blog! I tried to talk about this on chat last night, but only one or two others seemed concerned. I got the feeling I was spoiling their fun. This makes my day. By the way, I'm also an Oxy grad. I read about you and your book in the Occidental Magazine and read it last year. I shared parts with my class since I teach fourth grade and we study owls every year. Will be with you in spirit today as you sign books. I love reading your blog and hope you'll keep writing.


Lynn said...

Just wanted to clarify since I know Donna is reading ..there is more than one Lynn reading this and participating in the main chatroom. I did NOT try to talk to people about this subject in the chatroom last night as I have already heard Donna mention Carlos was considering some changes & I know it gets people upset by mentionin it. They LOVE Carlos and Donna and these owls & they don't want anyone to hurt them because they, like me, are thankful we are allowed to enjoy this webcam with them! I have confidence that Carlos is doing the rightthings.. I went thru a small time ( when I wasnt feeling well..and got a bit confused about what I was reading..) but since I understand Carlos is doing his very best. He has obviously spared no expense to make this a great experience for he's not going to spare expense and do or not do anything that would hurt these little ones!) I am very impressed with how hard he is working to better this project all the time..and it was already super good!)
Just wanted to clarify since I saw there were 2 Lynns..I will from now on sign with my chatroom name.. take care!

Gaffney said...

Hello Stacey! I hope your day went well in Julian.

While I am gratefulto the Royal’s, for the opportunity to learn about and witness this owl family’s life, I am also very concerned about Carlos’ continuing reluctance/refusal to install a perch system for the fledging owlets. I believe, if you have enticed any wild bird to live in a home you’ve provided on your property, you have also accepted responsibility for their safety.

After being relieved to read in your blog that he was considering some changes, which everybody assumed would be a perch system, he stated the exact opposite. This afternoon, Saturday, April 24th, Carlos came on and spoke to us, an update, which may be in the archived video.

Carlos said he would not be putting up any perches, that perches were “toys for owls” which only owls who were involved with humans used. His owls are “wild”, Molly and McGee flew around and chose his owl box and wouldn’t have chosen it if they thought it was unsafe to raise their babies in. He said his tree was sufficient and owls in the wild don’t even have that much. He also stated he has driven all around the area and no one has perches for their owl boxes and professional installers never put up perches with the owl boxes so he doesn’t need one. Of course, we were all called “worry warts”.

Stacey, I love reading your blog, don’t change a thing. Reality is the owlet’s best friend! I am relieved that you are keeping a close eye on this box, sharing your experiential and educated opinion, trying to make a difference in the continuing life of these owls. This is one occasion I am grateful for the Feds who can step in and remove the owls to safety, if that became necessary.

Being thankful for the webcam and loving Donna and Carlos is no excuse to ignore, and thereby contribute, to a possible disaster. Not being allowed to express concern is endangering the owls.

A little prevention would certainly go a long way to avoid a needless tragedy.

Lynn said...

This is Lynn from Oxy again. I wanted to thank Gaffney for the excellent comment. I couldn't agree more. I was so encouraged this morning until I heard Carlos' statement this afternoon. We can only hope that he changes his mind. Hope your book signing went well.


Anonymous said...

Gaffney, he won't do anything for "his" owls because they are wild. I think I'm going to be sick. Anyone else notice the irony in that?

How disturbing to read this information. I'm sorry but it seems like ego is taking over sound judgement on what's best for the owlets when they begin to fledge.

There's a lot of ego in the main chat with the moderators as well and it's why I get out of there.

Stop the donations, stop buying the merchandise which is being crammed down your throat at every available moment. I won't put a cent toward a backyard hobbyist who's now trying to make a buck of "his" wild animals.

Sorry. This whole situation is getting out of control.

Belinda Rachman, Esq. said...

I just went to the outside camera and notice there IS some kind of new platform. Carlos and Donna love these owls just like we do and ARE making decisions that are protecting them. I too am very put off by all the happy talk in the chat and have felt like John the Baptist calling out and being considered a nut but so far so good. I worry every morning about whether the parents brought enough food the night before and whether the little ones got enough of it, but each day they are all still alive. That first morning I learned Molly had not come home the night before I had a total meltdown but I jumped into action, did some research and found the Royal's home address and called Sky Hunters to let them know what was happening. I was told that if mom did NOT return by that night to call back and they would call the Federal agent in San Diego who WOULD step in. So I feel a lot better now because there IS a knowledgeable person who will rescue them if needed. While Carlos has always said he will let nature take it's course, I asked Donna what SHE would do when we had that lunch in San Marcos and she said she WOULD do something if anyone fell out of the nest. This is very good news and hope that she would consult with experts about the best way to do that. In an ideal world she has already had this conversation so that she is prepared.

Charlotte said...

Stacey, in an earlier post you said, "owls literally belong to the federal government as surely as a national park belongs to the government, so it does not matter whose land the owls are nestled on."

You also said, "if a lay person tries to mess with the babies, they will be in violation of the law and may face jail time and a $25,000 dollar fine. There is a limit to how far a private citizen can go in not reporting a sick or injured protected species, or in meddling w/same species."

Couldn't any private citizen who places a stand alone nest box without a perch system be considered as meddling with the owlets' fledging safety? I would love to see an interpretation of this law as it concerns this critical owlet SAFETY issue. Wildlife federal agents would likely agree with you 100%.

Shortly before a friend sent me the link to the Molly nest box I built and placed two nest boxes with my family. Both are stand alone boxes mounted high on 4"x4" posts. Though I'd done some information gathering, (even consulted with a university professor involved with a barn owl project) I was not aware of the need for fledgling perches until you wrote about it. Now that I am aware, there is no QUESTION that perch systems will be constructed for our boxes.

It is beyond my imagination how Carlos can not see his responsibility in this nor how he can choose to flagrantly disregard your considerable scientific barn owl expertise. I lost ALL respect for the man with his "no perch system" update. If the law covering protected species does NOT protect these owlets' fledging needs, it needs to be amended to protect them against further human ignorance.

Monica K. said...

Last night, Carlos showed photos of the new fledging platform he installed, and he mentioned that the branch we saw in the original photos of the owl box was no more than 3 feet away from the door of the owl box AND was one inch in diameter--not the flimsy little twig that it appears to be in the photo. I realize that perspective can be affected by camera angles etc. If the setup is indeed how Carlos has described, it seems like a pretty good fledging environment for the owlets, especially with the new platform. And it might also explain why Carlos has seemed so confident all along. Of course, he doesn't see that we were going by the first photo, which didn't look very promising, and we lacked the firsthand knowledge of the setting that he sees every day--so no wonder we come across as worrywarts.

I am confident, though, that Carlos and Donna have the best motives, and I continue to be extremely grateful to them for going to all this effort to enable so many people to share in this wonderful glimpse of nature.

owl said...

I completely agree with what Poster & Gaffney and others similar to their posts are saying.

It bugs me every time someone comments that they are wild and will let nature take its course. We are all a part of nature so we have the choice to help ensure the owlets safety. I hope Carlos takes a better safe than sorry approach and installs some perches, not just for the safety of the owlets but I am worried about the mental states of some of those Mods and Chatters in the Owl Box chat room.

Charlotte said...

Oh MY I just got a look at the new platform. I am sure this is expected to "fix" the fledgling issue. I believe now, more than EVER that the appropriate federal wildlife agents should be called in to give a valid assessment of the situation. After this new platform and yesterday’s blatant DISregard of Stacey’s expert advice by Carlos, I no longer have faith that Donna and Carlos will be making that call.

Stacey has taken every effort to educate without judging, to assist without intervening. She has all but posted the blueprint for the ideal MULTI perched system that these babies will need. Perches, not platforms is what I have come to understand they need. (some at the level of the doorway). They need to grip those perches and beat their wings so their wings become strong enough one day to sustain them in flight. For Carlos to call perches “toys for owls” is alarming and deeply disturbing. I can’t for the life of me understand what the resistance and denial is about.

Monica K. said...

Charlotte, I don't think the situation is as bleak as you suggest. There is a sturdy perch right outside the door to the owl box. There is the entire fledging platform connected to the owl box that can be used as a perch. There is also a perch running all along the new fledging platform that Carlos just installed. He explained during one of his chats that the perch is set several inches back, away from the edge of the platform, so we don't have to worry about the owlets falling off. Again, the perspectives in the photos we're seeing can be misleading. I'm thinking the new situation is actually pretty good, though I'd love to hear Stacey's assessment of it.

msg said...

Charlotte stated, "I can’t for the life of me understand what the resistance and denial is about."

My suspicion: money.

The ridiculously priced merchandise being flogged on the page and in the video feeds. The Draconian efforts of mods to suppress whatever apparently is deemed overly inquisitive or dissenting dialogue in the chat room by banning users. The unvetted connection and unverifiable purpose of “some” profits allegedly going to the San Marcos Community Foundation, supposedly a 501(c)3 but no mods were certain when asked three days ago. And finally, Carlos himself -- a seemingly uninformed backyard hobbyist with a history of litigation and get-rich-quick remedies. Why would he make the inexplicably stupefying effort to undermine Stacey's nearly two decades worth of empirical knowledge and internationally recognized authority on the subject of Barn Owls, when simply her presence on his Owl Box feed bolsters his own new-found celebrity and not detract from it?

Again, the only answer I can come up with is money. And ego.

It so reeks of multi-level marketing at this point it’s almost tragic.

Monica K. said...

I'm baffled that anybody who has listened to Carlos talk and heard his enthusiasm for the owls and the schoolchildren that he goes out of his way to educate could think that he and Donna are in this for the money. Good grief.

Here's a link to a photo Carlos just posted on his blog that shows the various platforms, ladders, etc.

Stacey, what's your thought on this new arrangement?

gcopelandrn said...

Such an interesting discussion here. This is a breath of fresh air after coming out of that Mollywood chat room. I now do not even read that chat--just watch the video. I have been looking at Owlivia's brood of three also, and the differences in behavior are quite interesting. There is some mild offense taken by a few chatters when someone mentions Molly's family on Owlivia's chat (mystifying, I know), but it's quickly resolved without intervention from the combination huckster squad/police force known as the "mods" that makes Molly's box chat so stifling.

The sad loss of two of Owlivia's owlets is also handled with sensitivity in that chat room. I noticed one post and wanted to share it here--such a beautiful perspective on life in all its stages. I have copied the post from the Owlivia site below:

"Hakusan: Please allow this old monk to express and share his gratitude for the moments the innocence of those two babies was in the world. It seems brief, but it will always have been there."

CZ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charlotte said...

CZ .. You likely haven't read either Stacey's book or any of the information regarding barn owls which she has written and has given freely here in this blog. If you had you would surely understand that Stacey is an expert in this field. UNlike the mods who censor any dissenting opinions on the ustream molly chat, your alternate opinion is welcome here. Your rudeness is NOT.

Charlotte said...

Also, CZ, Weren't humans responsible for intervening in the natural process by placing the nest box to begin with? If humans choose to intervene in this way (and I have personally placed two boxes myself)I believe we have the responsibility to educate ourselves about the correct way to design and complete the project. To me that means supporting the owls' needs from start to fledging FINISH.

Gaffney said...

The person who ‘intervened’ and interfered FIRST was Carlos! We really have no choice now but to attempt to remedy a potentially bad situation.

Large trees or barns are the places for owls. A box on a pole, out in the sun, with large bolts sticking out on the inside, ripe for a nasty injury to an unsuspecting owlet isn’t the safest place for an owl to roost. People who are not ‘owl experts’, as Carlos is fond of saying about himself repeatedly, shouldn’t be installing owl boxes until they have a thorough working knowledge of the animal they are trying to lure and a commitment to
ensure the safety of the owlets, from egg to flight. It must be the number one priority of a responsible owl box owner.

Once he chose to intervene/interfer he shouldn’t refuse to do what it takes to replace everything the tree or barn would have given the owls including shade, perches, etc. Carlos says the ‘porch’ mimics a tree branch. I’d really like to see the tree he saw which had branches like that. The ‘porch’ is a diving board. Is the new platform lined with something the owlets can grip onto, or is it nice and smooth and slippery?

If Carlos had kept this owl box to himself, and not broadcast it to millions, none of us would have had the opportunity to view, love and learn about this owl family. You cannot expect all viewers, authorities and owl experts included, to not speak up. Or should we all just ignore unsafe situations and the well being of the owls? Should we only be allowed to speak if we have a recipe or two, or want to say how cute the owls are, or how wonderful Carlos is? Not allowing constructive advice or comment is not in the best interest of the owls. It’s in the best interest of the utopian Happy-Land Chat room.

“Owls have also survived for thousands of years without man made perches”? The reality is owls have also survived thousands of years without man made owl boxes.

Stacey was wrong? She was trying to predict a WILD owl’s behavior. I don’t think that negates the entirety of her knowledge base, or her advice.

Are you predicting what Carlos, Tom and Stacey are going to think when this is all over?

Are you prepared to be wrong?

CZ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Agreed, Gaffney:
(“Owls have also survived for thousands of years without man made perches”? The reality is owls have also survived thousands of years without man made owl boxes.")

I've no problem with people providing places for protected animals to breed, especially where human activity has wiped out their habitat. These owls had a pretty good thing going on with humans for a long time...using barns to nest in. It worked out well for farmers too, who got the benefit of free natural pest control.

I don't know how many hollow trees are left standing in San Marcos today, but I'm guessing there aren't very many barns left there. So I've no problem with the box being there. I'm sure Carlos never intended for this to be such a huge phenomenon, but now that it is, I agree with Stacey that it's a huge opportunity to be the first to do this right. I'd go further than that, and say BECAUSE so many people are watching, it's his responsibility to set the right example by making every effort to ensure the safety of these birds.

When so many treat you like a god every day I'm sure it's easy to lose perspective. It's sad to see him squander this opportunity by dismissing experts and those who agree with them as worry warts. There's so much we can all learn from each other when we're humble and open enough to listen.

It will be sadder for the people in the Rainbow Brite chatroom if and when reality comes crashing down in the form of a hapless owlet. Then people who say things in the chat like,"I think they know what to do if they fall" or, "if they fall out molly will get them" might wake up.

Or not. Maybe they'll just think it's what God wanted to happen. Or that it's proof of this mod's brilliant theory: "Baby barn owls have stood at the edges of nests for hundreds of thousands of years. Those that fell off and died did not pass on the fall off gene."

I honestly believe this began with the best of intentions, but somewhere along the line, the welfare of the owls became secondary to the game. "We're not going to interfere with these owls, we're going to let nature take its course" became, we're just going to get up here and screw this dowely thing (there's your perch!) on to the (inhabited) box. So she sat and stared at it all day confused. Molly only stayed away a day or so. What's the big deal? HEY! Did you check out the pics from last nite? (no not the infrared ones, they're useless now that these babies are so big... wait... can you turn around, please? Yes! Right there! Hold it! {FLASH! FLASH! } (It only lasts a fraction of a second, and they don't even react to it by blinking, so it's not bothering them at all.)


msg said...

I hear what you're saying, Monica K. Thing is I have friends who are passionate about online porn, for instance. Doesn't mean I want them teaching sex education to my kids.