Friday, May 21, 2010

See the owlets use the branches! Branch, owlets, Branch!

THANK GOD Carlos put in all three of those branches - the perch right on the box, the "branch" slightly lower but still parallel to the entrance of the box, and the platform that the owlets are using extensively, and that they must use in order to get to the top of the box (until they learn the in-air flip-turn, much like a swimmer's turn).


And did the owlets use those branches? YOU BET THEY DID! much as it's been frustrating, all the outcry DID have the desired outcome! Carlos DID (albeit reluctantly, and to get the banned worry warts off his back) BUILD THE NEEDED BRANCHING SYSTEM! And the owlets did not fall to their injury or death.

THAT, my friends, was what I've been trying to explain these many weeks. The owlet ventures out, then hop-flies to a branch right in front of the opening of the box (or, if it's a tree, uses his talons and bats his wings, holding onto the bark, to position himself to hop-fly to a nearby branch)

In the case of owlboxes there has to be a branch within 1-2 feet of the entrance (to be conservative. Maybe 3 feet is ok, but let's be conservative), then another one - the platform, some feet from there...

And these owlets used all three, plus the top of the owlbox.

They had a fly-hop system back and forth, so they could get back in to the box, also.

As one of our commenters pointed out, it's not JUST laws that work. In this case, persuasion, pressure, education, outcry did end up working just in time for the owls.

But we still have a lot of work to do. There are a lot of owlboxes sitting out on huge farms and remote properties where there is no large international audience watching every move and putting pressure on the box owner. In fact, I suspect that the box owners themselves do not know for sure the fate of any babies raised in those boxes, because they are there for "rodent control", not intense, all night observation.

But this has been a victory and let's not overlook it! If you drink chanpagne, open a bottle for heaven't sake! If you prefer sparkline apple cider, Open a bottle, for heaven't sake! Hot chocolate? YES! Perfect!

Whatever you do for celebration - DANCE! WHOOP! HOLLER! SING! These owls were provided with a branching system and IT WORKED!

So we know that the branch in front of the box is super-important. Essential. That should be in the code put together for the wildlife people to enforce, insist upon.

A second one, and I do like these platforms, should be another 3-4 feet out, for them to be able to fly a little further. Plus, notice how there were more than one owlet on that platform at a time. Also, notice how the owlets watched each other and gathered courage from each other.

Note the absence of parents luring them out with food?

This has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with luring, or with food.

If there was bad hunting for a few nights, there was just bad hunting. Yes, perhaps the constant flashing put off the parents. I've noticed that they leave when it flashes or turn around.

I, too, have been concerned about the flashes that happen right when a baby is in a precarious position and needs his eyes like never before. OF COURSE it temporariily blinds them, just like it does with us, and messes up their night vision. They generally turn away and let their night vision come back, or if it's a baby in the doorway, they back up, back into the box.

I think this is the reason they didn't come out right away. At first, it seemed that every time a baby started to look out curiously, the flash went off. But maybe that being a little late out of the box ended up being in their favor, not that this is a technique that should be used!

But, being out of the box a little late means their wings are a little more developed and they're a little less awkward than if they had been able to come out the first time they wanted to.

Let me lay to rest this rumor that the parents have to entice the babies out. Not at ALL. These babies are very curious and are starting to explore their world. You probably noticed that within the box, during the day, the babies had become mucm more active and curious about every little thing. They'd focus on a pellet and gyrate their head, and pounce on things that they paid no attention to several weeks ago. Their brains are growing and their curiosity was taking over. They're more like kittens now than ever in their lives. And in the same way that kittens focus on something, pounce, try thing like jumping and racing and using the new strength in their bodies, owls do the same.

And let me lay another rumor to rest: Barn owl fathers never withhold food deliberately. They are the most sincere, concerned creatures on this earth, and with all earnestness, hunt as hard as they can to get as much food to those babies as they possibly can. I don't think they are even capable of withholding food from babies (unlike humans, sorry to say).

As you know, a male barn owl will foster dozens and dozens of baby owls all at once in a rehab situation where hundreds of baby barn owls are brought in due to falling injuries, many of those from owl boxes (surprise, surprise). And if you put all those babies in a great big owlbox, and put a male barn owl in the enclosure, and put a huge pile of mice somewhere in that same enclosure, he will personally feed every baby until each one is satisfied.

Does he get weary? Yes, but that does not stop him from being compelled to feed every baby. And, after they can tear up and swallow the food themselves, he still delivers it, one mouse at a time, from the big piile you provide, and he's literally their foster parent!

When it's time to fledge he does not stop delivering food.

Now, I'm thinking I should not use this example, lest it lead to more accusations of scientists having never studied wild owls, so let me hasten to add that wild fathers (the owls in rehab ARE Wild owls with a temporary need to be helped, by the way), but in a wild situation, the father behaves the same way. He will hunt like crazy to the point of being ragged and exhuasted and a little addled.

This is why I found myself out in the middle of the night hurling dead mice into the air one July. The father was soo exhuausted and the babies were sooo rowdy and demanding. They were all branching and they mobbed him when he landed, so he just dropped the food onto them (they were standing on the roof of a building about 3 feet from their own nesting place).

I took pity on him and got a big bag of dead mice out of my freezer, defrosted them, and went back to this owl family and tried to get the food to them. If you've read the book, you know the rest of the story - how I was surrounded by scary looking skinhead types, who were not as menacing as I had first thought - or maybe they were more interested in what I was doing than in causing harm. Anyway, they had very strong arms and they hurled the mice up to the family with great accuracy and enthusiasm. I doubt any of us had had quite such an experience before that.

Anyway, the owls were all full and sleepy, including the papa.

So, no, the father and mother do not deliberately withhold the food. Some of the cases we've seen might have been where the parent was a little overwhelmed by the crowd in the box - or the crowding at the doorway, or the parent was hungry, too.

There are species of raptor that do lure their babies out. It's just that each species is completely separate in their behavior. They might hunt or fly similarly, but their social habits might be completely foreign to each other. It's not a case of "if you've seen one bird of prey, you've seen them all". It's not even entirely true withiin a species, since each owl has his own personality. But within barn owls, the parents do not use luring to get the babies to come out.

As you could see in the "pouncing practice" video, the owlets were inspired by their brothers and sisters and by intense curiosity.

All's well that ends well in this case! But if there had been no branches??? We won't even think about that.

I'm SO GLAD this worked out because it shows us that certain criteria are needed, particularly that there must be a branch near to the entrance and parallel to it, so they babies can easily hop-fly to it and grab ahold of it w/ their talons.


By the way, I've been travelling to Colorado, FINALLY. It was a little hairy since just as we were about to take off, there was a tornado warning in Denver! And their WAS A tornado, it apparently just didn't touch down. Also, I had two hamsters come up sick (three actually, but two needed urgent treatment) and missed my original flight, so I missed meeting for lunch on the first day w/ Sy Montgomery. But we all met for dinner the next day and that was fun to finally meet everyone in person.

I've missed a lot while I was travelling!

I'm really surprised that they're only showing the outside of the box because Carlos and family are taking some time off. If they're taking time off right as the babies fledge, were they going to just be "unaware" if something happened to a baby? And if they're gone, taking time off, who is taking all the flash pictures? I'm confused. Maybe someone can explain it to me.

Maybe their son is minding the babies, ready to call the wildlife people if anything happens. I can't imagine not wanting to be there while the babies are branching, fledging, learning to fly, and finally, learning to hunt. Oh well, I missed it as well, having to travel and meet people, etc.

But I caught most of it on video.

All the best to everyone, and THANK YOU to all of you who cajoled, agitated, talked about branching, asked why it wasn't being done pointed it out, got banned because of it - it was all worth it for those babies, who now have a branching system which they have used extensively to...BRANCH!

And, you know, it IS a made up word! It was made up about 170 years ago to describe the way in which owls branch before they fledge.

The word "DNA" is a made up word, as is "spaceship" or "rocket" or "Quantum Mechanics" or "calculus" or "microscope" or any myriad of words used to describe the discoveries of scientists over the past couple hundred years. heh heh.

Congratulations everybody! You've shown that it does work - to modify the box to allow branching, and educating the world about the needs of owlets raised in boxes!




cissycz said...

Hi Stacey,
Wonderful to watch the owlets on all those perches, isn't it?
Carlos was there until the wee hours this morning. I'm not sure how long they'll be gone, maybe just today.
I hope so, I miss the inside camera - very spoiled owl watcher here ;)

DevilsAdvocate said...

Going out on limb here (pun intended)..last night after Austin returned back to box..there was a food delivery. Can't say what transpired inside box, but the sounds from within sounded like animal in pain, and this went on for at least 5 minutes. Might have been a live delivery, but who's to say. Personally I believe it was Wesley. Chat said the sounds were normal owl chatter, but several of us in social stream disagreed. Now, being that Carlos was up late last night, and no mention of him going out of town UNTIL this morning, (does someone stay up late if they are going out of town in morning?) and given that the video for that time period was cropped to 9 seconds & unavailable, and given that no day cam, I am speculating something happened. Just my thoughts. See video link attached. Again, just my thoughts, I so hope I'm wrong. =(

DJ Sommers said...

I believe the chat said that Carlos and Donna will be gone for a couple of days so hopefully there will be no flashes tonight - and maybe tomorrow night. We will see how the owlets do tonight without the constant flashes in their eyes.

Regarding the unusual noises in the owl box, apparently it happened just after a delivery. It was unusual to my ears as far as owlets go. Some said they thought it was a bird some said mouse. It did wound a bit like chirping.

Stacey, do the parents bring in live prey purposely when the owlets begin to fledge? Do the babies know how to kill it? Seems to me that would be learned from the parents.

Anyway, let's look forward to tonight when, hopefully, there will be no flashes.


Teresa said...

Today I visited the Carolina Raptor Center near Charlotte, N.C. They have many different birds of prey there, many of them that have been injured and rehabbed, but cannot be returned to the wild due to their injuries. I was there with another Molly watcher and barn owl lover. One of the things we quickly noticed in all of the enclosures was the perching/branching systems in place, especially in the owl and the eagle enclosures. As we looked at them I suddenly noticed, also, that each perch was covered in either astroturf or carpeting. I would have never paid attention to any of this before watching Molly and reading Stacey's blog. It was a wonderful trip and was so great to finally see these owls and their relatives. Tomorrow, our state park is doing an Owl presentation with nothing other than a Barn Owl! Can't wait!!

Stacey O'Brien said...

Teresa, That's AWESOME! The rehabbers are required to set it up like that - it's the right way to do it. Now all we have to do is make it required for box owners to do the same and we're on our way!

i'm so glad you're getting out and seeing these things for yourself!


Stacey O'Brien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
renard said...

Hi, Stacey... The info at the Owl Box now says that the Royals will be gone 5/21 and 5/22 with only the outside cam available.

I'm so happy you have seen the owlets playing and jumping on all of the contraptions that are now installed outside the owlbox. A big THANK YOU to you and all of the other chatters who pressed for additions to be made for the safety of the little ones.

I got to see the first owlet playing and jumping on the roof just as you said they would. I smiled and giggled the whole time! Luckily I've gotten to see most of their branching and fledging live and it is delightful! I know that it would have been disastrous without the add-ons.

And I was fascinated by how the owlets watched each other so intently on their escapades -- seeing a sib do something, then almost thinking 'Heck, I can do that!" and trying it himself and succeeding!

I don't know if you saw when on his first time out, Max (that's what they were calling him, I don't know for sure) tried to go from the landing pad to the fledge ledge and missed. He fell about 14 feet. I was worry warting at such a high fall, but I knew he was at least flapping as he went down. Carlos was checking on him with night vision goggles and he said that Max was climbing up the ladder legs, just as you said he would. But they weren't covered in astroturf, so he only went half way. But after a while exploring at lower levels, he flew up to the roof, apparently fine!

The really interesting thing to me in this was that Pattison, who was also out and more experienced, kept looking at Max and at one point, went down to him. Then Patti went back to the roof and watched (He seemed concerned to me because he didn't play, just watched Max.) until Max made it back up to him. And they greeted each other with those little beak kisses almost rubbing faces. Once Max was safe, Patti went back to jumping on the roof. And he didn't go back in the box till Max was safe inside first.

Am I putting too much human emotion into what happened? Probably. But that is how I saw it. They're safe and that's what matters! And I got to have a small glimpse into their world.

I love your blog!

jugglingpaynes said...

Stacey, thank you for all you did to keep Molly's owlets safe! I've been watching with my kids since Molly was nesting and I've often gotten annoyed at things said that I knew were wrong because I had read your book. ;o)

A few nights ago my oldest and I were discussing all the flashes and how they must be bothering the owlets since they would all stop and look whenever it flashed. I often take my kids to raptor demonstrations done by a friend who is a falconer and wildlife rehabilitator. They know a lot about birds of prey, so the opportunity to watch these owls grow was a real treat. I'm glad Carlos put in those additions so my kids didn't have to witness an owlet falling helplessly.

We've wanted to put up an owl box for years but I've put it off because I wanted to do it right. Thank you for all the advice you've written that will help us when we are ready!

carmel67 said...

Carlos & Donna at Ustream get together in San Francisco. Convenient, eh?

Anonymous said...

Another great blog. Thanks for your insight, it's appreciated and always a nice read.

As far as the flashing goes, I've spoken to a few ethical wildlife photographers that are shocked at the frequency the photographs are being taken (sometimes as little as 15 seconds between each flash and this goes on for hours). I'm disturbed by it. It is obviously disturbing to the owlets and parents as well.

I'm not alone in this sentiment, many viewers keep expressing concern and it is ignored.
So I have written the US Fish and Wildlife Service and asked them to direct me to someone who will start the process of enforcing the regulations for this wild protected nest and stop this constant harassment with the flash photography. I am dismayed at the viewers that say "Well, they're his owls, he can do what he wants". No, he can not. This is a WILD nest. It does not belong to him. The owls are not his pets. He may have bought the box, but once those owls moved in, that nest became federally protected because they are on the protected species list. Humans can't just come along and harass them as part of their hobby. Some people simply don't understand what that means. I wish you would do a blog about that Stacey and explain to the masses what exactly the differences are regarding endangered, protected and non-endangered/protected.

How would viewers like to learn that becoming accustomed to the flashing right out of the box could cause them to not be fearful of car headlights? Or a plethora of other things we simply don't know about. That's why you don't mess with wild animals.

Observe - don't disturb!

DevilsAdvocate: I know the event you are talking about, I was watching at that time. Lots of flapping and screeching with Austin & Wesley in the box? Yeah, they were just having a tussle over food. It's not shown in the clip you posted but I believe this is what you were referring to.

carmel67 said...

Off to bed, finally, but just read in chat that Ustream had a special "Owl Box" room set up for Carlos, autographs, etc. Makes me a bit ill - like a rock star or something!

He was just lucky that M&M chose his box, nothing more, except finally being persuaded to add the refinements to the box, thank goodness.

Also, heard that Ustream announced they may start charging by the hour to watch. Not sure if true. You would think the ads would be enough. Well, we'll see.

Stacey O'Brien said...


I do NOT think you are ascribing too much emotion to the owls. Sentient beings - animals - are proving again and again to have loads of empathy and compassion for others - even others outside their own species! Animals have been seen helping other animals, helping people, helping competing species...they DO have emotion, empathy, and compassion.

I recommend reading Marc Bekoff's "Animal Manifesto:Six Reasons for Expanding our Compassion Footprint".

In "Reason number 2: Animals think and reason", he tells story after story (all documented) of animals reaching out in compassion to help a stranger ('pit bull saves woman and child - pit bull has never even seen this woman and child before yet he saves them). Whales staying with and comforting a dying member of the pod. A rat teaching another rat how to work the lever to get food, and not taking any when the food finally comes through for the "new rat"...and he talks about how we don't need to be so worried about admitting we see emotion and empathy in animals anymore, because the evidence is overwhelming.
One thing I love about Barn Owls is how their emotions are written all over their face and body language. They are so open! It's like they wear their heart on their, uh. sleeve? Feathers? You know what I mean!

Good observations!


Cybee said...

Oh, I would have loved to see that time wherein Patti evidenced concern for Max after Max fell (yikes!). I did not know he had ever fallen so far (I had only seen minor slips) (I am also somewhat unfamiliar with what these ladders are/have not seen). Regardless, I am likewise so grateful that there were all these "branches" /platforms/perches added to faciliate the fledging process..which it is...a learning process for the owlets. Thank you for spreading the word. So many of us are now educated as to a proper owlbox. We seem to be having a success story with these particular owlets thanks to these added "branches" (which yes, I wish had astroturf in addition as well).

Anonymous said...

So glad something is being done about those annoying and possibly dangerous flashes on those sweet baby owls. I've wondered about that myself when watching them as they try out their new "skill" each night.

Stacy - I am almost finished with your wonderful and fascinating book about Wesley. I have learned so much, and I'm giving my sister a copy as well. She is an owl lover who is fortunate enough to have one in a tree in her backyard. She also believes in owls as messengers since she's seen them at important, life-altering times in her life. I believe, too, but haven't had the good fortune of getting up close and personal. We are also hummingbird lovers like our mother (she was mad about hummingbirds), and my sister saw one outside her kitchen window right after our mother's death. For that reason, we think they may be messengers as well. Thanks for your terrific, educational, warm, and funny book. You are a special person and a great advocate for these special creatures.

Anonymous said...

It's wonderful the owlets are having success on all the platforms & branching systems, so far. You can almost tell what they're thinking as they study how to hop from one spot to another.

I'm still concerned that there's some bad information being taught over there. In chat one evening I asked Carlos about the flash of the camera & he told me that the owlets were "used to it" since it's always been in their environment. And that not all the flashes are from his camera but from cars turning into driveways. It doesn't seem like headlights to me but that's just my opinion. At least, that's his rationale for the flashes.

Chatters are clammoring for a National Geographic article with his photos but I seriously doubt NG would consider publishing photos taken in such a way that disturbs an animal's habitat like this. Would they?

And, lastly, there was another online news article Thursday (I believe) where Carlos announced that the 1st owlet left the box. I think it was a San Diego article.

In it Carlos sums it up by mentioning that their observations have even proven the "experts" wrong on a couple of matters.

One, that owlets refuse to eat entrails (spaghetti) where these owlets eat that part lustily. (Didn't you say that they generally don't prefer that part but WILL eat them?)

And two, that owls WILL fly in the rain. (Didn't you say that they could fly in rain just not be totally saturated?)

Those things really ticked me off & I felt it was wrong for the writer to even print that since Carlos is not an expert.

Keep up the good work Stacy. You are appreciated by many.

Ter-o-fla said...

Oh, yes! Isn't it wonderful watching the young owls as they explore more of their surroundings?

It is great that they have these various places to jump and flap to, even in a more urban environment.

I also love seeing their personalities emerge.
Thank you for the book-tip, Stacey. I have put that on my ever-lengthening wish-list.

As to what was written in the newspaper:
It appears to me to again show that not much of what is printed is in fact true.
Many newspapers went away from "news" and towards "gossip" ages ago.
Gossip need not be true.
Sadly, many people still believe it.

Perhaps our education system should pay a bit more attention to teaching people how to figure out which bits of information they gather are more likely to be true, and which probably not. ;)

Charlotte said...

How difficult a process is it to have new meanings added to established "official" words in the dictionary? Does anyone know exactly how that is done? If some people need to see the definition we know in relation to raptor development in a dictionary in order to believe that it is real, let's help put it there!!

Magicsmom said...

Well, if being branded a "worry wart" (complete with a plagiarized icon) and eventually banned for my opinions, I think it was all worth it to keep the pressure on, because as it was originally constructed, that box had no branching system at all. We have now seen that the tree we were all concerned about is indeed inadequate for owlet branching. If the tree worked, they'd be using it. Case closed on that one.

renard, I was watching the night that Pattison went down to encourage Max after he fell. It is obvious these owlets want to help one another. Although the reports over at The Owl Box were that Max was the first out of the box, that is just one more of the many inaccurate things reported there. It was Pattison. It was very clear because Pattison still had the mohawk of down on the head and I could see it flapping around in the breeze. But of course, we know Carlos is always right *rolleyes*.

Magicsmom said...

Oh, and one more thing - thank you Stacey for CORRECTLY pointing out that what the owlets are doing right now is BRANCHING, not FLEDGING. It is amazing how willing people are to show their ignorance of a topic in a public way.