Parent Always on Watch

Vanessa Kauffmann photographing the owlets
Vanessa Kauffmann photographing the owlets

One parent is always on watch. The parent on duty has eyes on the nest and the surrounding area at all times, usually from a distance in neighboring tree tops. Today my friend and photographer, Vanessa, came by to catch the owlets in the morning light.

As luck would have it, the adult owl flew in for a closer look and to supervise the photo shoot. Vanessa got this great shot of Mom. We think it was the female.

Supervising the photo shoot
Supervising the photo shoot

And the other evening, Tuesday, February 25th, she caught the owlets all tucked in, comfortable enough with her presence to take a nap.

Sleepy time
Sleepy time

And I just took this shot of one the owlets investigating the second floor –  getting adventuresome!

Trying out the second floor
Trying out the second floor

Feeding Time

It is pretty awesome when the ‘Rents fly in to feed the kids. We wish we had the equipment (and know how) to photograph or film this incredible sight and just as much, record the sounds! It is a very elaborate dance with each owl and owlet having a distinctive voice. It takes patience and focused listening to discern what is happening before your very eyes in the shadows of nightfall or breaking dawn.

So I will try to describe. But first, another photo from Vanessa. In this shot she focused on the special delivery ‘prey’ leftovers. Don’t look too closely if you are squeamish!

Yummy leftovers!
Yummy leftovers!

This evening as I was writing this blog, sitting at a small table in our living room overlooking the marsh and the owlets squawking for their dinner, both owl parents flew in about 6pm. This is the reason the last blog “rainy day in the lowcountry” was so short!

Seen separately, it’s hard to tell the male from the female. But when they are relatively close together, it is easy to see that one is larger in size – the female. Both had prey in their beaks to deliver to Squawker and MiniMe. (I intend to write another blog post dedicated to their voices.) Dad was first in; Mom was waiting on a branch a few limbs away. Dad had a small bird in its beak. Mom had a big fat rat.

We can see all this in silhouette against the dusk sky. Using binoculars, we can make out some detail but we are relying more on shape. Scott and I try not to move as we are watching and whispering about what we see. Both parents and the munchkins turn to look at us inside the house if we move, even though we have been here in our living room all along. They are much more cautious when they have prey.

The adults take turns coming to the nest which is now in a crotch of a Live Oak Tree. (Please see previous posts on how we all got to this point. It has been quite a journey!) The folks hold the prey in their talons and using their beaks, pull off strips of meat to give the owlets. They are not regurgitating food. They are doing the equivalent of cutting up meat into bite size chunks for their kids just like (most) humans do!

We are not sure about the pecking order. It is too dark. From the sounds and shadowy movements, we think they kind of take turns and they squawk the whole time. Even the ‘waiting’ parent. They talk with their mouths full! Such bad manners! Dad seems to ‘hoot’ more and Mom squawks. And the kids squawk, one stronger than the other.

But now I want to tell you about last night. We met friends for dinner and returned home about 8:45pm. Before I came into the house, I grabbed a flashlight to check on the kidlets. Both were snuggled into the nest. All quiet. No hooting. No squawking. Scott and I decide to change into warmer clothes and have a glass of wine on the back porch just to listen to the night sounds. Well.

The hooting and squawking starts up. Dad is hooting in the distant pines. Mom is screeching down at our dock. (We have a long boardwalk, 440 feet across marsh to a salt water creek.) And the owlets? One has a deeper, louder squawk; the other, a quieter, softer squawk. These are not the peep, peep, peeps of song bird chicks. We attribute the stronger voice to the larger owlet but this is pure supposition on our part.

OK I guess this is turning into my blog about sounds. Scott and I are trying not to laugh but they sound so funny! The owlets started getting their voices just a few days ago and it’s been escalating. With all the drama of them taking nose dives out of the nest(s) and us climbing ladders, finding/making new nests, being wary of attacking birds of prey, etc. it was great to just sit and listen. It was very dark so we could not see much. Mom’s screeching got closer. We laughed as we envisioned her walking up the long boardwalk dragging some kind of prey.

After a few more minutes, she flew into the nest. All we saw were wings and a blur. And little shadowy movements in the nest area. We heard excited squawking. Large and small. Mom eventually flew away. Scott went to bed. I went out to do bed check. Your eyes play tricks on you when trying to focus on tree branches and fluffy creatures in the dark and I just HAD to check to be sure the owlets were safe and sound and had not tumbled to the ground (again).

I used a low light flashlight to check for the wee ones. They were not nestled in as usual (since they moved house). They were standing straight up like little fluffy penguins, side by side, about a foot from the center of the nest. They were looking at me and then at each other then at me again, looking suspiciously guilty. “We weren’t doing anything”. “It wasn’t me”. “We’re good”. I laughed and laughed out loud.

Rainy Day in the Lowcountry

The owlets have stayed at home in their new abode. No escapes. No sky diving. No drama. Mom and Dad have been feeding them. And they have been very accommodating about posing for visitors. They do not want to appear ungrateful but they sure look like they are trying to tell us something. I think they are hoping that if they have to move again, could they please have a roof 😉

Here is a comparison of wet owlets in the original nest on February 21st and today (February 26th) in the their third location just five days apart.

Hangin in the rain in our first nest
Hanging in the rain in our first nest as it is collasping
Next time could we please get a roof?
Next time could we please get a roof?



Chillin’ Out in the ‘hood

The outlaw owlets seemed quite happy yesterday (Monday, February 24) to just hang out in their new environment.

Chillin' in the new 'hood
Chillin’ in the new ‘hood

We have no idea what it means to be happy if you are an owlet but it sure looks to us humans that they appear pretty darn comfortable. (Anthropomorphism aside.) They did not venture out from the crook of the tree. They seemed quite content to snuggle together in their new digs. They are very alert if we go out to check on them but do not seem at all stressed, no clacking or hissing. As a matter of fact, when they are snoozing, they don’t even look up.

We like it here
We like it here

The parents are SO not worried about them anymore. Have they abdicated to us? We did not catch sight of them delivering dinner last night but there was a lot going on at our house and we were distracted (by humans). We did hear the adults hooting  at dusk and the twins were squawking, letting Mom and Dad know they were hungry. We, on the other hand, are starting to get worried that Ma and Pa are going to go on vacation since they now have full time babysitters. I guess then Scott and I will have to catch the rats!

We like it here
Catching some rays

Everyday we see significant changes. They grow bigger over night! Their grownup feathers are developing. They have been preening themselves and spreading their wings out once in a while. Testing? Balancing? Checking out their new feathers?

Now here is a real treat. My friend Vanessa just stopped in to take some photographs. She is a professional photographer, an owl lover and lives in my neighborhood! How lucky is that? She just emailed me this fantastic photo. Visit her website.

Ready for our close up!
Ready for our close up!

Since we can see them clearly from our living room, porch and kitchen we are pretty much keeping an eye on them all the time. It’s hard to get anything else done! When I am working at the computer, my husband Scott, gives me blow by blow commentary on their actions:“The little one is pecking at a mouse”. “The big one is trying to swallow the rat whole”. “They’re standing up.” “The big one is cleaning its feathers”. “Mom just delivered a fresh rat”. You get the idea.

Life is good!
Life is good!

I wish I could get a photo of them preening. But every time I go out to get the shot, they stop and look at me. We were surprised that all day yesterday, they stayed nestled in their new pad. Maybe all the excitement of falling out of prior nests (2) and getting knocked off branches tuckered them out. All in all, one or the other or both fell seven times! Who needs a parachute?

Since my husband is working today and I am not getting constant commentary, I moved to the back porch with computer, camera and binoculars to write and observe. It is about noon. They are much more active today. Very busy preening. I can see remnants of breakfast on the edge of the nest, evidence that Mom and Dad are feeding them and neither perturbed nor perplexed by Jack and Jill’s relocation. Guess they are saving it for an afternoon snack.

Breakfast Yummy
Breakfast Yummy

There has not been a code red “OUTLET DOWN” since Sunday morning. They have been safe and secure in their new environment for over 48 hours. What a relief! I wonder when they will start investigating the branches? Maybe we should leave the ladders out just in case!

Ahhhh. Sigh. Tranquility.

No Drama. The delinquents stayed in their new crib all night!

Snuggled in our new home
Snuggled in our new home

The parents delivered fresh rodents for dinner last evening right on time. No one got knocked out of the nest. When Mom/Dad flew in to deliver fresh rats, they  behaved as if all was normal. Except that the parents had nice sturdy, secure branches on which to land.

Photo Op!
Photo Op!

Pipsqueak and Rat Tail Breath provided endless entertainment for us all afternoon yesterday settling into their new home. They did not do much exploring but seemed quite content to snuggle in and finish their breakfast.

It is quite windy in our back garden this morning. We think they will be much more secure in their new location and they truly look pretty comfortable.

Waking Up
Waking Up

We are relieved, proud foster parents. For now. We expect as they branch out and get accustomed to their new surroundings we may have to give one or the other a boost back up. The ladder is still handy 😉  We can see them clearly from our living room, back porch and kitchen. We will keep an eye on them and report their shenanigans.

Not our usual Sunday morning

Scott wakes up early, I am sound asleep. Scott walks down the driveway to get the newspaper and hears an adult owl clacking away in one of the tall pines. It was also getting mobbed by crows making a racket. When he returns from retrieving the paper he sees a chick down on our brick chip garden path. Uh oh.

Owlet down 7th time Feb 23 002
Oops! Caught escaping the nest again

Then he checks out the nest from the front porch and sees that the other owlet is still in the nest eating something. Mom is clacking and making a fuss. Scott is not sure if she is yelling at him or the crows or her wayward kid. He comes in and wakes me up. I am dead asleep but know instantly that whatever has happened involves the owls. There is no other reason Scott would risk waking me up early on a Sunday!

I put a sweat shirt over my pajamas, Scott changed out of his robe into clothes. We grab our gloves, the bucket and a towel. (The ladder is already out there.)

The good news is that despite all the commotion of last night, the owlets have been fed. Mom and Dad know where they are and are taking care of them. The bad news? The new(ish) nest is now in shambles. We surmise that the act of the parents bringing dinner/breakfast caused the collapse.

The larger owlet is on the ground with its breakfast. Scott puts the ladder up and we investigate. The smaller owlet is in what is left of the nest and also has breakfast. There is no room to put the owlet on the ground back up there. We don’t know if Humpty Dumpty fell out first and then the folks served breakfast on the ground or if it jumped out with its breakfast. If you look closely, you can see part of breakfast still in Humpty’s mouth.

Owlet down 7th time Feb 23 003
Good breakfast

I go get the box (again!) for the grounded owlet. It seems to quiet them down when in the cardboard box with the flaps closed.  This is also the protocol for injured birds to keep them safe.

Owlets Down Feb 22 OMG 011
The Box

We discuss what to do. It is 7 am. We haven’t even had coffee yet (!) but we know we should work as efficiently and calmly as possible. We decide that we need to find/build a better nest. At the Center for Birds of Prey we learned that Great Horned Owls are notoriously bad nest builders. In fact, they most often take over an existing, abandoned nest and basically do nothing to it in the form of home improvement. This we know to be an understatement! We were also told that they have been known to lay eggs on flat surfaces or small hollows on the large branches of Live Oak trees. Bingo!

Our back garden Live Oaks
Our back garden Live Oaks

We have eight huge Live Oak trees in our backyard. We scout out the back garden for a good location. Scott recommends a large oak near the center of the garden with a heavy cover of ivy beneath. “For safe landings”, he says. It has a wide bowl in the main crotch of the tree. Up another ladder goes for a closer survey. Perfect. We decide to line it with Spanish moss. We have no clue if this is a good or bad idea. We figure the new tenants or their parents can remove it if not to their liking.

Owlet down 7th time Feb 23 005
Preparing the new address

So now we have a prepared nest, one owlet in a box (with its breakfast) and one owlet in a disintegrated nest also with its breakfast. We discuss. We agree that we need to place BOTH owlets in the new digs together.


Counter to everything I have been taught since a little girl, I climbed the ladder and removed the little owlet from the ‘nest’ and placed it, and its breakfast, into the bucket. My husband and I had decided early on that only one of us should handle the birds. And I won. Ha.

We carried it around to the back and brought the box with us. I first placed the little one (with its breakfast) into the new location. Then the second one came out of the box, into the bucket and up to their new address. (Yes, also with ITS breakfast.)

Moving in to new home
Moving in to new home

They were pretty laid back. And we did not hear any ruckus from the parents during this whole transfer (which is taking me longer to write than it did to execute.)

Immediately after we concluded this latest adventure, we got a call from the Birds of Prey Center. Extremely helpful, lots of information and tips for going forward. If we had gotten the call earlier, we would have used a large wicker basket secured in the new location to provide some ‘walls’. Photos were requested and sent. She read the blog and called back. They ARE at the beginner brancher stage. In just a few more days, they should be good to go! Even to be able to climb back up the tree if necessary with coaxing from the parents. (Their real parents, not us!) If they are in danger or can’t quite make it, we should give them a boost. It will be a few more weeks before they fledge.

Since then our wayward owlets (they are teenagers after all) have settled in, eaten their breakfast and squawked a bit to let mom know they had moved. We hear Mom and Dad hooting soothingly but not seen them yet.

Settling into our new digs
Settling into our new digs

The big tell will be if the folks feed them tonight. We can hardly wait for the Rat Cocktail Hour!

PS In case you are wondering: My house is a mess, we have no groceries, I have been wearing the same clothes since Thursday, we have not had dinner in three nights and I am hosting my Book Club tomorrow night which involves a presentation of the book selection and dinner for 10. Yikes! What book?


OK. Forget everything I said last post. I do not even know where to begin. So much has happened in the three hours immediately following my last post. I wrote this last night and am posting it this morning. To sum it up: the owlets are SO not ready for prime time as Branchers that it is both sad and comical, as the photo above says it all without any more explanation. But I can’t help myself; I am going to try to ‘splain.

But first we have to review what happened between that photo story and the one that happened in between the last post. I know, between and between. Hard to figure.

Our neighbor, Don Juan (more about that later), is in this whole ‘what are the owlets doing now’ thing all the way with us. Earlier, we had filled him in on our adventures last night and this morning. We observed the (premature in hindsight) Branchers together and we were all watching and monitoring.

So about the time I was posting our success at getting the little rascals all situated back in the tree safe and sound, Don calls: “there is one missing”. Out we go and once again, owlet is in the garden.

In the garden again
In the garden again

Don said the mom was feeding it and it fell. So we grab our gloves, pail and towel and Scott puts the ladder back up.

Passing inspection
Passing inspection

We inspect, owlet seems fine. We decide to put back on same branch as other owlet (still in tree, Mom squawking). We do not even bother with head gear. This is getting routine. Don observed that they seemed like they were trying to be together and that may have contributed to the fall. So we put it back on same branch. Mom is squawking but not as aggressive as other times. Is she fed up? Used to us? Wanting to get on with the hunt? Wondering why/how she got pregnant?

One owlet is markedly larger than the other. We think Happy Feet is the larger and the one we nicknamed Klingon is the smaller and sometimes referred to as Twinkle Toes. I know, I know. They are not pets. Do not name them. But we cannot help ourselves. We have other names that are not approved for this family friendly blog.

"They are NOT pets!"
“They are NOT pets!”

We decide to put TT back on the same branch as Big Brother/Sister. Up we go with bucket. Place on branch. All good. We check numerous times out the window. Two owlets on the branch. Mom and Dad hooting. Kids squawking for dinner. All good. Have a beer. Until about 30 minutes later.

Don calls again. Can’t be good. We just checked! Mom came in to feed chicks and then he couldn’t see either one! Out we go again. It looked bad at first. One was spread eagled (owled?) face planted into the hedge and could not maneuver out or get upright. I pick it up and place in a box. Where is owlet number two? The smaller one? We look all around. We find it under the hedge. It is not moving. Its head is wedged in a fork of the branches, wings tangled. I reach in, telling Don and Scott I think we lost one. I gently wedge it out and it starts clacking at me! I went from near tears to joy, so happy to hear and see that remarkable spirit and survival for life. I snuggle it to my chest. I know. I know. NOT a pet.

Now what to do? This is now the 5th and 6th time. They are clearly not ready to be branchers. I call The Center for Birds of Prey but it is after hours. I leave emergency message. I call friend that is good friends with exotic vet that volunteers at Center. In the meantime, we discuss. It is almost completely dark now.

I want to bring the box with birds into garage for the night and figure it out in the morning. Scott is checking out a neighboring abandoned squirrel nest. He is afraid the birds will starve overnight. They had not been fed yet. We can’t feed them. We learned at the Birds of Prey Center that they will imprint on us and not be able to survive in the wild. (Just for one night?) Scott reports that the close by nest is sturdy and lobbies to put the twins in the nest. The parents are following everything we are doing. Squawking but not flapping, not frantic. Hard not to imagine that they are  thinking “I don’t know what to do with them, you take over”.

With all the research we have done and learned at the center and combined with our recent experience in the last week, we decide to go with Scott’s option. It makes sense to us. (Even though I could easily have taken them to bed with me!) Reason prevails.

It is hours later and I go out for bed check. There is no place to see them from a height advantage in the new location. I can’t see into the nest. I walk all around, listening and looking with not one, but two flashlights. Nothing. I know we made the right decision with the knowledge and experience we have. I hope they are safe in the nest, that Mom fed them and that we will be able to verify in the morning. We could put a ladder to the roof to see in but we would need daylight. We should be able to discern what is going on by listening. This is me trying to convince myself that everything is fine.

We hear back from our friend with the vet friend. She relays that best option is to fortify the nest. So OK, we were close by putting them in a new(ish) nest.

Scott is out for another bed check. He put them in the nest. He inspected it beforehand. Hopefully he can tell better than me that they are OK for the night. There is nothing else we can do. I am going to have another glass of wine and try not to worry.

He just came back in to hang out the upstairs window to see if he can get a visual in the nest. He can’t get the angle. We have to hope for the best. I bet we will be up on the roof tomorrow!

Owlets graduate from nestlings to branchers

I defy you to figure out where the nest was just two days ago! After they each fell, one last night and the other one this morning they became Branchers. Can’t wait until feeding time. Should be interesting! Earlier in the week, the adults were simply dropping food into the nest. Now there is no nest. The smaller owlet fell this morning while being fed.

I am not a photographer but lucky for me and you, my friend Vanessa is! She took these photos this morning.

Sleepy after all the commotion
Sleepy after all the commotion
Are we done yet?
Are we done yet?
Back together again. Well close enough.
Back together again. Well close enough.
What took those humans so long to get me back up here?
What took those humans so long to get me back up here?

Second Owlet Down

Owlet number one made it through the night on the branch where it was placed. I could not sleep so I watched for a while, wrote the blog post and then decided to sleep upstairs in the guest bedroom so I could keep checking.

I finally fell asleep listening  to the parents hooting and making their hunting calls. I was awakened by a commotion outside the window at 6:45 am. Mom (or Dad?) was feeding the chick on the higher branch. And then it fell! OMG!!!

It tumbled a few feet then hung on to a small branch with one talon. It was dangling upside down, flapping its wings just above the head of its sibling. It could not get upright. I could not believe it right before my sleepy eyes. Its one wing was batting the owlet that we put back last night. I thought they both were going to come cascading down. Meanwhile, Mom had flown to a nearby tree squawking.

Twinkle Toes then let go or got loose and fell to the ground into a mulched garden (without taking its twin thank goodness). I jumped into my clothes (actually I had slept in the same shirt from yesterday) grabbed the gloves, towel and bucket and ran around to the side of house. The above photo is the adorable, clacking, hissing, fuzzy creature that greeted me.

Being inspected for injury
Being inspected for injury

I inspected it as carefully as I could. I was concerned that it injured itself in the fall or hurt its leg when caught up in the tree. It seemed fine and its talons were getting a good grip on my gloved fingers. So into the bucket it went.

Owlets Feb 22 Outlets down 009
What the heck happened?

I carried the bucket around back to the knock on the window to wake up Scott. I held up the bucket and he jumped out of bed. It was too early to call the Birds of Prey Center for advice. We were hesitant about putting the bucket owlet on the same branch as the other one. We were afraid that in the commotion either we, or the owlets, would knock each other off. Accidentily of course!

After surveying the branches and as seasoned owlet foster parents (ha!), we decided to put the fallen owlet on the branch above the other owlet. We had left the ladder from last night outside but we were going to need a taller ladder. Luckily Scott is a (fantastic) house painter and he has lots of ladders. We had a plan and Scott got the bigger ladder in place.

We also donned our ski helmets. Last week when we placed the first fallen nestling back in the nest we did not wear head gear. We were told that the adults would “probably” not attack us! When we visited the Birds of Prey Center on Thursday, they advised us to wear helmets!

The parent owls were hooting, squawking, screeching and flapping nearby. The owlet in the tree was looking worried, watching everything and clacking at the whole procedure. You would think it would know that we were just going through the process of getting its sibling back in the tree since had experienced the same thing last night! Up the ladder I went with bucket in hand.

Carrying 'bucket' owlet up past other owlet
Carrying ‘bucket’ owlet up past other owlet
Owlets Feb 22 Outlets down 016
Tucking owlet into crotch of tree.

I am in the process of getting the bucket owlet onto the branch above the other chick. You can see Klingon is watching nervously. I took the owlet out of the bucket and was holding it on the branch, steadying it. Scott was holding the ladder and watching for incoming in addition to taking pictures. Wait a minute…..

Falle  owlet placed on branch above Klingon
Fallen owlet placed on branch above Klingon

Two owlets now back in place on branches. There is no more nest; it has completely fallen to bits. In 24 hours they graduated from nestlings to branchers.

Two owlets restored to River Birch tree branches.
Two owlets restored to River Birch tree branches.

We put away our rescue gear but left the ladder out just in case! This photo was taken right after the event from our upstairs guest bedroom. It is on eye level about eight feet away. A perfect observation post.

I took this photo a little while ago. We were worried that the owlet was very stressed out and maybe slightly injured from the dangling and then fall. But as you can see, it has ventured along the branch away from the trunk and is looking pretty good! Yea!

feb 22 safe on branches 002
We are not too sure about this no nest situation

Owlet Down

As previously reported, the nest has deteriorated in the last 24 hours. In fact, it is falling to bits. So at bed check tonight it was not totally unexpected that one (of two) owlets would have fallen.

Our two owlets have not quite graduated from the nestling stage to the ‘brancher’ stage. More about that later.

Scott and I had just finished watching the Olympics for the night when I did my usual bed check. And then. OMG! Owlet down!

We live on the marsh and have raccoons and feral cats in our neighborhood which can be predators to chicks. The adults are very protective of their young owlets but we learned from the folks at the Birds of Prey Center – the best way to protect a fallen chick is to put it back in the nest or on a branch.

So we did. This was the second time. But the first time was exactly a week ago and there WAS a nest. And it was daylight.

The other owlet was still in the tree and had somehow managed to climb from the nesting crotch of the River Birch tree to one branch up! So we decided to put the fallen chick on a branch just lower than the nesting crotch for two reasons. We did not want to use the really big ladder causing more of a raucous for the owlet in the tree or getting attacked by the adult owls. So.

owlet down feb 21 001

We followed the procedure suggested by the Birds of Prey Center. We gently put a towel over the chick and scooped it up with wings tucked in and placed it in a bucket. We set up the ladder, donned head-gear and placed the owlet on a branch about 20 feet up. All the while the adults were screeching, clacking and flapping but not attacking.

owlet down feb 21 003

It was a bit tricky to get the chick out of the bucket and onto the branch. I had to hang on and get the clacking, hissing owlet out of the pail and then get it to hang onto the branch. I held it in place for a few minutes while my husband held the ladder and was watching for incoming adult owls. Mama and papa were making a fuss but not coming at us.

owlet down feb 21 004
Back up to the nest

It has been about 30 minutes and both owlets are on branches. One about two feet up from the nest and the rescued one about five feet below. We hear the adults hooting not screeching. Our owlets had to become ‘branchers’ perhaps before they were ready. But maybe this is exactly how they learn this new trick. I don’t think I am going to be able to sleep tonight! Up every hour or so to check on them.