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!
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.