Saturday, May 8, 2010

One small correction from way back when - but please read the post AFTER this, which is my REAL post for today ;-)

I've been wanting to explain a small thing that isn't all that important, but I do NOT want it to detract from the post I wrote today, that's below this one! So please, don't think that the post below this is old! It's new! I wish I knew how to insert this one after the one I just wrote earlier. Sigh.

But here's the smallish thing I wanted to explain. A long time ago, someone on the chat asked me, "Do you think Molly will stay w/ the babies until they fledge, or do you think she'll start hunting and leaving the nest?"

I answered according to what I thought, and it has been used over and over again, since then, to say, "See? Biologists don't know about these things and they are wrong! We discovered that they're wrong!"

Now, I'm fine w/ being wrong. You have to be wrong in order to go through the learning process - you have to be wrong before you can be right, you know?

But in this case, there were subtleties...I said something to the effect of, "In most of the successful nests I've observed, the mother stays with the babies until they start to fledge/branch, and the father hunts to feed both the mother and the clutch of babies, if there is good hunting and the mother isn't forced to look for additional food."

At that time, McGee was providing plenty of food.

But the subtlety is that I have ONLY studied WILD NESTS that were NATURAL, ironically! haha! I had not studied artificial homes like this box. And the word "successful" in describing the nests is a crucial one that has been eliminated from discussions of what I said.

And it's still true - in most successful nests (to me that means all the babies survived to fledge successfully), the mother did stay for a long time.

By doing that, she prevented the weakening and possible death of the youngest owlet, who has to compete w/ his bigger, stronger, more aggressive clutch-mates for every morself of food. The baby is less mobile, less coordinated, and weaker. As you saw, w/ the mother in the nest she can still feed the youngest, ensuring that he gets a good meal, rather than allowing the older ones to just eat and eat until they're totally stuffed while the youngest goes hungry.

But as we saw, after I said that, the porch went up and Molly left for a day, and she never went back to hanging out w/ the babies in a serious way, so youngest baby Wesley was now in a position where he had to compete for food. From then on, you could hear him scream in outrage occasionally during the scuffle that resulted from a food drop. I've seen, in many cases where the baby screams in outrage, where even if he somehow gets ahold of the food first, an older baby will snatch it right out of his beak and he can't do much about it. Yet he is actually more hungry than the older baby who snatched it from him!

While this nest may end up being successful, as we saw, Wesley had a hard time and was weakened, probably by lack of food. And food also means fluids, as you can see. ALL their fluids come from prey, not from water itself.

I hope he has rallied now and is going to make it! I'm actually praying he will! Hey, why not?

And w/ the Owlivia box, she lost her two youngest babies, apparently from starvation related reasons. The reason I concluded that is that Owlivia wasn't poisoned, so it is logical to conclude that the babies were not poisoned also, since they shared food, and she "took care of" the dead babies in a way that ensures that she wouldn't have two rotting corpses in the box to cause maggots, ants, or draw scavengers, or make the box more nasty than needed for the other owls. A dried skin or strip of stray meat is one thing. Two decaying corpses would have been too much. So, since that happened and she didn't die, I have to conclude it was not a poisoning.

As you may know, Owlivia was leaving the box to hunt, also. This may have been driven by the lack of food, however, and may have been a no-win situation. If she had stayed in the box, it looked to me like Owlbert wasn't finding enough food on his own and they may have all been inadequately fed.

Some people asked if the father "with-holds" food to try to lure the mother out to hunt. NEVER!

An owl does not see prey and say, "No, even with hungry babies at home, I am going to let that one pass so that my mate will be compelled to come out and help me! Nope, it's her problem. If she wants food, let her get her lazy butt out here and hunt. It's not fair for me to do all the hunting, after all!"

NO! He hunts with all his heart, urgently, in great earnestness and sincerity, and races the food back to the nest as fast as he can, occasionally stopping to eat the heads off the prey, for as you know, the head is by far the most delicious part of the prey and is very nutritious for him. Hence the delivery of headless rodents to the mother.

But they don't manipulate like people do.

All this to clarify that what I had said was that in successful nests, the father ISI able to bring in enough prey ( a good example is the nest I was watchinig in La Costa at the La Costa Coffee Roasters. Even w/ the babies all branched and learning to fly, the mom stayed w/ them full time. The babies were wildly successful and all made it to adulthood. The father nearly drove himself into the ground hunting, yet the female did not go out to hunt. His obvious exhaustion is what caused me to decide to help him one night, and I found myself flinging dead mice from my own stash into the air at 3am....the rest of that story is in the book.

So it's not as if I've never seen a mother going out to hunt. But when I have seen that, often the nest is not 100% successful in providing for ALL the babies to survive.

I wanted to clarify this because it has been dragged up so many times as an example of how scientists "don't know anything", and that is all based upon a misunderstanding of what I said.

on that fast moving chat, I was reading one question while trying to answer another in a short, to the point way. I never said it was impossible for Molly or Owlivia to decide to go out of the nest and hunt. That box is also too small and hot and was getting ncomfortable for the adult owls.

I love the idea of putting owl boxes inside an outbuilding that has a hole for the owls to go into, mimicking a barn. If the outbuilding had the perches up like the rafters of a barn, it would provide shade and shelter from the elements. There is an example of this in the Barn Owl Trust in England, although there are also examples of bad boxes and the resulting broken and dead babies below the box. So even inside an outbuilding, the babies need a place to hop from and to.

And that's what we're going to change.

The post below this one is the mosr important post by far! This one is about behavior and about this little misunderstanding, but the one below is about us organizing into a group to ensure the best chances of survival for the baby ban owls of the future!

Love and peace to you all and to all the wild ones!


Cybee said...

Agreed, Stacey, seems natural that there would be definite distinctions/effects between owls in natural nests vs. owl boxes...and it is too bad that posters do not appreciate that when something different happens than expected by even the best experts, that does not mean the scientists are wrong...but means there is an opportunity to study why there was a change in behavior. A good scientist is always learning and gleaning new data and ready to revise conclusions based upon new data/analysis. I always appreciate your wonderful input and expertise. I love that nature is something so vast that there is always room to learn more.

CZ said...

It is posted on the Owlivia site that the death of the two smallest owlets was due to poison.

Stacey O'Brien said...

That's odd. I wonder if they managed to save any of the owlets' carcasses? I was told that the mother had eaten both owlets entirely. If that is so, why didn't she also die?

There is a missing part here, so it doesn't add up.

Also, the prey haul was pretty paltry and they had one more baby than Molly and McGee. I wonder how they came up w/ poison? If Owlivia ATE both owlets, wouldn't she be poisoned too?

It's very interesting. Who knows. I'd like to know if they had a necropsy done on those owls.

Very interesting indeed.

Ter-o-fla said...

perhaps it was easiest to say it was poison.
It would be very interesting to know if there was a necropsy done, and what the outcome was.