Feeding time is pretty amazing. It is an entire routine of behavior on both the owlets and parents parts. Dusk starts with the owlets waking up from their afternoon nap. First they stretch their wings and legs. They are still a bit clumsy when standing and walking. Exactly like human toddlers. Scott and I watch from our back porch and you can hear us going “uh oh” quietly to each other or “oops”. When they expand their wings, they almost knock the other one off the branch.
The second thing that happens is the squawking. The owlets start squawking first. It is a low toned screech that to my ear can best be described as a squawk. The owlets have distinctive voices. The larger one has a stronger, deeper squawk than the quieter, high pitched smaller owlet. We have observed this by closely watching through binoculars to see which owlet is talking.
We think they are talking about dinner in the above photo, letting their parents know that they are really hungry. The parents answer them. Dad (we think) hoots and Mom screeches. It is higher pitched than the owlet voices.
It takes patience, keen observation and focused listening to understand the preparations for dinner, including the hunt. And of course it is getting dark. and I am having difficulty getting good photographs in the low light.
When the prey of the day is caught, the parents get closer and the owlets squawk more excitedly. But the parent delivering the meal is cautious. They come separately, appearing to take turns. They arrive in the back garden on a branch of neighboring trees and carefully survey the area. With binoculars, we can see what’s for dinner.
Sometimes it is simply a silhouette of a mouse, rat or small bird. Sometimes the light allows us to see quite clearly but if I go outside to try to capture the scene in a photo, the parent takes off and the kids go hungry. No, not really, but it does take more waiting time for the parent to be sure the coast is clear to come back. So we try to be very still and quiet and just observe these remarkable creatures at feeding time.
Once in a while, I get lucky.
I did not really understand exactly what was going on in the top feature photo ‘feeding frenzy’ nor in the photo directly above, both taken the other evening. But I do now.
Last night as Scott and I watched from the porch, no lights on in house, we saw one the parents fly in. It had a big fat juicy rat. The smaller owlet was the first to be fed this time. It varies. If you are squeamish, you should skip this part! The adult owl, we think it was Mom, had already eaten the head off so the rat was decapitated when delivered. The skulls are too big for the owlets to manage.
Skip this part too. Mom held the rat in her talon and the owlet went between her legs facing the same way. Mom then proceeded to strip off pieces of meat with her beak and feed it to the little one. The other owlet was squawking “me, me, me” and trying to wedge in to get some rat. With Mom standing over MiniMe, she could control the feeding process so it wasn’t a total free-for-all. This went on for about ten minutes then she hopped up to the second floor and the bigger owlet finished off the rest. And then they squawked for more.
OK, the squeamish can start reading again. The owlets stand together, looking out over the marsh listening and responding to their parents communications about how successful they are hunting. The whole process I described above takes about two hours – from the first hungry squawking to asking for seconds. That is why we often do not have dinner. We sacrifice our meal for the awesomeness of watching theirs.
The owlets are easily twice a big as they were 15 days ago when they moved to the nook of the Live Oak Tree. I can not keep up with sharing with you all that happens with them in just one day.
They are starting to branch out from the nook. I had quite a surprise this morning at dawn to find one of owlets far up in the tree! Now I am watching how it is trying to come down the steep branch it climbed up. I surely believe the look on its face is one of confusion and determination. “I got up here but I do not know how to get down. I hear dinner is soon to be served. What am I going to do?”
I can’t wait to find out!