Saturday, June 12, 2010

Owl Boxes and Branching

Here's a new owlbox to watch. I have not been aware of it. I'm sorry I'm not on top of everything...there's so much to do and I'm in Colorado writing w/ Cait and setting up the 501(c)3 for the Barn Owl Alliance, etc. I have not been spending a lot of time on the internet.

Here's the comment from one of the blog readers, and then I'll talk about the Hungry Owl Project:

brdlvr said...
Thanks for referring folks to the Owlivia web cam site, but for some reason it seems you aren't aware of an owl box of one of the BOA members, Lisabegood with Buddy and Fluffy. With the guidance of EagleEye, she has provided a wonderful branching system for the owlets, 5 in all, and there is much action going on there. All 5 come out and use the system, -all of it. Please tune in around 8:30 PT and see for yourself.

Lisa is attempting to get some video of the branching owlerts for the alliance, but has run into some technical difficulties. Besides attempting to get video, this owl family has been totally undisturbed by humans. What a refreshing thing to see. It is a testament to Lisa and an overpowering example of how important branching is for the successful fledging of owlets. As we have learned, many raptor species, if not all, do not just fledge out of the nest, but need a branching system to assist them during this process. Of course, I don't have to tell you this.

Big smile goes here.


Also in the comments was a letter from the Hungry Owl Project. When I said, "What is HOP", I had no idea it meant Hungry Owl Project. I know of it as and didn't remember that the word "Project" was at the end. Plus, there are SO MANY acronyms on the internet that I just didn't know they referred to themselves or were referred to by others as HOP.


Now it seems I have managed to insult the very good people who I met last year in Marin County. I was very enthusiastic about what they were trying to do, and have even included them in my talks about Barn Owls and how they are the "farmers' best friend" and how Hungry Owl was trying to eliminate the use of rodent poisons, and was encouraging people in the SF area to install Barn Owl boxes instead, where there were already rodent infestations, and to not use rodent poisons.

Their goals are similar to ours in that we also want to eliminate the use of rodent poisons!

I'm surprised to find that people from the Alliance have gotten into a fuss with them. One of their members is ALSO A MEMBER OF THE BARN OWL ALLIANCE AND ASKED US FOR IDEAS ABOUT BOX DESIGN!

We need to be very careful before we criticize anyone because that puts them on the defense, when they are possibly quite well meaning and on the same side as we are. If they're not, we'll be much more effective with honey than with vinegar - I'm sure you've heard that expression - you'll attract more bees w/ honey than with vinegar.

The realization that owlets need branching systems was something that dawned on me slowly as I watched the Molly box and started thinking, "Hey wait a sec - what are they going to do when they branch?".

I don't expect everyone who does owlboxes to realize this. In fact, that's why we created the Barn Owl Alliance - to figure out how to educate people who've been doing this a long time about the need for branching. This is not going to be easy, because most of the people doing owlboxes have the very best intentions and really do think that the owls can "work it out themselves".

The problem is that the lack of branching is not normal for them so they did not evolve to live in places without branches or a bark covered place to climb back up if they fall. This is hard news to take if you've been doing owl boxes for years. When owlets disappear from a box, they do so rather quickly because of predation.

Add to that the fact that, occasionally, some barn owls do not branch but fly right out. It's rare, though. Also, some barn owls fall and do survive for a day on the ground, and then find a way back up. That, also, is not the norm.

Since only 1 out of 15 barn owls lives through the first year, and since there are so many forces already killing them - MANMADE forces, NOT NATURAL forces such as cars, electrical wires, pet dogs, gunshot wounds, environmental poisons, rodent poisons... we want to help the ones in owlboxes to survive.

Also of concern is the sheer number of owlboxes out there on farms and in suburbs that are luring barn owl pairs there to nest, then the babies do not survive the fledging because of the lack of branching systems.

There is no denying this. Wildlife rehabbers take in a lot of fallen owlets w/ resulting injuries.

Yes there are ignorant people who pick up fledging birds from the ground and take them to wildlife centers. Don't do that.

In fact, in my book, I explain exactly what to do if you find a supposedly abandoned bird of fledgling age or younger. You do not disturb the bird but hide and watch for more than an hour to see if any parents are about. IF the parents are around, they will feed the baby bird on the ground. If it's a helpless baby bird, look for the nest, if you find the nest, put it back in. Birds don't have a sense of smell so that's a myth that they will smell the human on the baby and reject it! Not so!

If the parents are around and the nest is destroyed and there are baby birds, you can put them in a box or basket and literally install the nest in the tree (nail it or whatever, into the tree, before replacing the babies). The parents will then continue to care for the babies in the box or new nest.

Only when there are no parents about do you call a wildlife rehab center.

Now, this advice applies to other birds besides owls. If you see an owl on the ground who can't get back up into its nest, either guard him against predators until he finds a way back up, or call someone w/ experience who can put him back up. If he's injured, take him to a wildlife center.

But it is NOT NORMAL for Barn Owls to be sitting on the ground, ever. They DO NOT FLEDGE TO THE GROUND like other kinds of birds and they are INCREDIBLY vulnerable there. They don't hide in the underbrush, they don't have the instincts of a fledging bird. They are BRANCHING BIRDS.

For the sake of the Hungry Owl Project, I'll explain.

Barn Owls leave the nest about 2 weeks before they're fully functional at flying. In fact, they cannot fly at all. They can hop-flap from one branch to another. They can't get back into the box, sometimes, unless there's a branch or perch directly in front of the entrance to the box. They need branches about 2 feet away from each other, in front of the entrance, to fly-hop to and from as they learn to use their wings. They also hold on to the perch and flap their wings hard to build up the wings and the chest muscles. Then they start a pouncing behavior that also helps them learn to coordinate their body and wings.

As they fly-hop, they learn what works and what doesn't for their wings. They even watch the way their siblings use their wings to see what works and what doesn't. They LEARN to use the wings in different ways to stop, to gain altitude, to go forward, to hover and land, to do a landing pounce vs. a hovering land.

Sometimes they slip off the branches and fall to the ground. Even though they are flapping their wings like mad, they haven't learned HOW to flap them so that they catch the air and give them altitude, so they fall to the ground.

Once there, they cannot fly back up. So there must be a nearby piece of wood covered in something nonslippery like astroturf (that doesn't slip) for them to climb back up to the branching system.

All a branching system is is an imitation of what an owlet encounters when he/she comes out of a hollow tree. There is rough bark to hook their talons into, and they can climb that tree trunk by hooking their talons in and flapping their wings and literallyl climbing up. This must be imitated in the case of owl boxes.

They also have sturdy branches available to them in a hollow tree, and they hop-flap from branch to branch for about 2 weeks, slowly learning to fly.

They are so unlike other kinds of birds in this way. Eagles, for example, are pushed out of the nest and voila' they can fly. Not so w/ owls.

I apologize if anyone from the Barn Owl Alliance was insulting to Hungry Owl. I really enjoyed meeting you folks when I was up there, and am appalled if you feel attacked by anyone in our group.

Our only aim is to educate barn owl box builders about the need for branching systems. If you already have branching systems installed, then GREAT!

Also, I think we're really better off just working with Wildlilfe officials to incorporate this well documented barn owl behavior into regulations that must be incorporated into ALL barn owl boxes in the United States. After all, these requirements are already in place and regulated in captive situations for barn owls (branching systems and a climb up log, etc.).

If we just incorporate the knowledge and understanding gained by Barn Owl Biologists into the existing regulatory code, then everyone will be notified about it and will know about it and will know what to build and how, because that will be in the regulatory code.

I'm starting to think that hassling everyone who builds boxes is NOT the way to do this! It just puts them on the defensive and makes them think that the entire alliance is against them. Also, if your'e a member, it's ok to educate, but please don't harrass people in the name of the barn owl alliance.

People WILL add branching systems once they are convinced for themselves that this is a real behavioral need for barn owls. It takes time. It is pointless to accuse people, because most people don't know about branching behavior in barn owls!

This is a slow lesson for just about everyone. And it's hard to take if you've been doing this for years!

I think we ought to continue to try to obtain more video, and possibly find a contact in England who would be willing to help us, to share with us their process as they made their laws requiring branching systems for barn owl boxes. England has already been through this entire battle, so we should learn from them and not try to reinvent the wheel!

So, if you want to help, please try to find someone in England who's part of the Barn Owl Trust in England or who knows how to go about this and can sort of mentor us. THAT would be a huge help!

Sorry this is so long!
And I do apologize to the Hungry Owl Project on behalf of the Barn Owl Alliance if anyone was disrespectful of your intent and your integrity. I know you to be wonderful, sincere, great people who are trying to help the owls AND to stop the use of rodent poisons. In that, we are on the same page!

Let's not divide, let's try to unite! (yes, I know this is very hard to do. I've been through this also, as you all have seen. This is a difficult path, but a worthy path).

Love and peace to all,
Stacey O'Brien


loretta said...

Stacey, We loved your book!!! I know you are busy, but my book club has 1 question to ask about "Wesley the Owl". "Why did your mother not tell you that your grandmother had raised an owl????" We felt you were close to your mother and Wesley had spent time with her, as well. It just seems your mother would have mentioned it. Love to know. Loretta

D said...

Your book was just what I needed. I have the tendency of reading spiritual books, and somehow while I was at Amazon's site your book was placed in my recommended reading list. I got it last Friday and finished it last night. Sure am glad I had a box of pillow got wet tho too. I manage an animal hospital, so I understand the bond of "domestic" furbabies...but not of "undomestic" (except for the feral kitties). Your book warmed my heart so. I have the ashes of 1 of my furbabies in a small necklace that I wear each day, and that was 2 years ago, so I understand your pain. I was in a car accident 2 years ago, and while at home trying to recover, my boy "Tunafish" wouldnt let anyone near me...after keeping guard for 2 months, I had to let him go because his health was so poor. I think of him often, refuse to change my cell phone due to the videos and photos, and will still show him off to anyone that will handsome orange boy.
I send you my prayers and healing light, and look forward to your new book :o)