This is me peeling sweet potatoes and parsnips for our human dinner, coat and scarf on, ready to run out and take photos of the owlets’ dinner delivery. My Dad took the photo just to show/prove that I was making an effort to prepare dinner for my visiting human parents.
These photos are from yesterday, March 13th.
It is very hard to spot the parent owl on call in the trees near the owlets. It is much easier to pick out the far away parent resting in the tall pines in the distance (as reported in earlier posts). Below is the exact same photo, one as taken and then zoomed in.
The Spanish Moss just blends in with the crown of the Great Horned Owl’s head. They are such good camouflagers! Sometimes even after considerable time looking, I can’t find them and need the assistance of crows, blue jays or other small birds on the attack (mobbing) to clue me in where it is.
And below is my Dad’s version of camouflage on the back porch.
There is so much going on at dawn, during the day, at dusk and at night that I can’t keep up with the photos and the narrative. I am only able to convey a tiny fraction of the story. The owlets and their parents are endlessly entertaining. Every day I need to do more research on their behavior. I learn something new every day. Actually, several times a day!
Today, March 14th, my human parents and I went to the Center for Birds of Prey. We had a long list of questions. Steve was great! And patient, knowledgeable, funny, smart, and wonderful. As were all of the folks at the Center. Here is just a preview of tomorrow’s post:
And we had a surprise when we returned home. The owlets were looking a little guilty in our absence.
In the photo above, the owlet is looking out over the marsh in the morning after breakfast. From the back, they really do look like owls. Their wing feathers are developing fast. They spend time every day grooming their feathers, stretching out their wings and using their beaks to clean. Very much like a cat (with less licking!). And their wings are getting HUGE. They also now have quite developed tail feathers.
They flap their wings more and more. When the owlets are ‘branching out’ they use them to balance. And some times, for all the world, it looks like they spread one wing out to admire it! Or maybe they are thinking what am I supposed to do with this?
From the front, the owlets are still quite fuzzy and definitely look like chicks. Big chicks. I shot this early this morning after breakfast. (Their breakfast, which I missed because I was still sleeping.)
What do you think the owlet is doing in the photo below? Not singing. Not squawking. Not eating. Notice that its neck is a little fuller and eyes are shut.
It is compacting! From an earlier post (March 5, Owl Pellets):
“Some food particles like fur and bones cannot be digested. Indigestible material left in the gizzard such as teeth, skulls, claws, and feathers are too dangerous to pass through the owl’s digestive tract. To safely excrete this material, the owl’s gizzard compacts it into a tight pellet that the owl regurgitates. The regurgitated pellets are known as owl pellets.”
I collected these owlet pellets from beneath the tree.
Scientists study owl pellets to learn what owls eat. These owlet pellets are about the size of my thumb, two inches long and about 3/4 inch in diameter. Great Horned Owl adult pellets can be 3 to 4 inches long. Researchers compare owl pellets and their contents to determine differences in menu from state to state, region to region. Pellets vary in color depending on the catch of the day.
We know what our owlets eat: mice and rats. If you have been reading this blog regularly, you know we had a leftover rat. (The most photographed decapitated rat in the world.) So to demonstrate how the pellets compare to the prey of the day, I staged this photo using said rat.
If you are wondering… yes, I am completely, certifiably nuts. But wait, it gets worse. Later this afternoon we, my human parents and I, are going to dissect them to see if there are any surprises in addition to the bones and fur. They do not smell at all. It is like laundered or dry cleaned fur and bones. Very cool. Or crazy, depending on your point of view. Maybe I’ll post a photo later.
The owlet talons are very large and they clean them regularly, just like their feathers. And they are really big and fierce looking. Scott and I hope there are no additional ‘put them back in the tree’ moments.
They have grown so much over the last few weeks. The photo below was taken on February 22, when an owlet fell out of the original nest. Go to the first few posts on this blog to read about those adventures!
And here is a parting shot, taken a few mornings ago. A parent is on the roof of our dock, hunting in the early morning. I guess I am going to have buy another type of lens to get better long distance photos. Our dock is over 400 feet long over marsh. Yes, owlets are expensive.
Below is not a great quality photo BUT it is pretty interesting. It was early morning, very low light. I found out where one of the parents was on watch because it was getting mobbed by other birds. There were crows screaming and dive bombing the adult owl. But I do not know what bird this is in the photo flying above the owl. I did not know I caught the shot until processing. If you know, tell us!
The owlets spent most of the morning preening and drying out.
The owlets spent the afternoon hanging out on the second floor, preening, napping and watching other birds in the garden. Twinkle Toes and MiniMe spent most of the day within touching distance of each other. This is the second day since TT’s big adventure and they have been staying close.
It is the bewitching hour. The owlets are waking up, stretching. Soon the squawking will start. The owlets are looking out over the marsh wondering what’s for dinner.
My parents, Jeanne and Lou, are visiting from New Jersey. They arrived yesterday, to see the owlets of course! They had no plans to visit until they saw all the owlet photos and stories on this blog. And heard my blow-by-blow descriptions over the phone. So they bought plane tickets to see them in person, er owl?, and are thoroughly enjoying the entertainment. I am trying to get them to write a guest blog post.
So my narrative may be a little shorter but I will try to keep up with photos and developments. Cheers!
The owlets are really branching out now. Only one owlet was in the nook of the Live Oak tree at dawn yesterday. Where was the other one? I looked. I listened. It took me a while. I finally followed the sound in the early morning light. I had to look up really high! I guess this would be the penthouse.
I was amazed at how far the owlet had ventured. And I was a bit worried about how it was going to get back down for afternoon naps and especially dinner. Look closely at the very top of the photo below.
Wow. I thought they would explore in smaller increments of space. Does anyone have a trampoline?
Twinkle Toes stayed up in that spot all day yesterday. It seemed pretty pleased with it self. And even took a nap.
Meanwhile MiniMe was NOT happy back in the nook without its big sib. Really. Seriously. Up until this point they have never been apart more than a few feet. Well, except for all that drama falling from the nest a few times but we’ve already covered that ground. This is how MiniMe spent the entire day yesterday:
MiniMe perked up at dinner time though, behaving as if “Hey, there might be an advantage to this”. And Twinkle Toes started to look worried about how to get down. TT made several attempts to descend back to the nook and particularly to the dinner table.
Scott and I watched as Mom and Dad hunted in the marsh, calling to the kids. They were squawking and squawking. Twinkle Toes tried a few more times to get down, each time getting a little further down the trunk of the tree but then getting stuck and back up it went.
MiniMe got fed. TT squawked. Eventually a parent delivered something to eat to the penthouse. It was too dark to see what was served but we could see that the owlet was eating. Then it was time for me to go to bed. Then I got up at 2 AM: still high up in the tree. I was afraid it would fall and get attacked by a raccoon or feral cat. At 4 AM, it was back in the nook! Yeah! And the two owlets stayed in the nook all day today only venturing to the second floor. Whew!
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?”
Finally! It was a cold, rainy week but the weekend is glorious. The owlets enjoyed basking in the sunlight for most of Saturday morning in a sunny spot about three feet from their nook. Twinkle Toes and MiniMe were very popular and many of their fans, ages from 2 to 80, came to visit them.
After politely posing for photos they decided to move back to the safety and security of the nook. I think that is when adorable toddler human twins came to see the baby birds.
Luckily, Vanessa came earlier and caught this great shot of the owlets basking in the warmth of the sun. See more on her website and blog.
We also explored the area under a parent’s favorite perch and discovered an owl pellet. Vanessa took this shot of me investigating its contents of bones and fur.
The owlets have begun to explore the second floor of their nook tree. NOW we can safely say they are “Branchers”! Please see earlier posts about the original nest collapse. They were definitely not ready for prime time yet, falling seven times from the River Birch tree.
Their wing and tail feathers are developing. From the front, they are still quite little fur balls. Both photos below were taken on March 4th.
I have taken many more photos to share and intend to update the Gallery, and add a Timeline page, and write about how the owlets have redecorated the nest, and write about their very funny antics at feeding time, and learn how to use the video feature on my new camera, and learn how to edit and crop photos in Lr (Lightroom), and, and, and……….
Not only have the owlets been expensive, they have consumed my attention and time. And I love every second of it. Here is a parting photo from early this morning. You have to look closely to see Mom delivering breakfast from across the marsh.
I want to try to give you an idea about the perspective of the location of the nest in our garden. And particularly, where the parents hang out most of the day, keeping watch over their owlets and taking a break from hunting. The photo above shows the tree where the nest, or nook, is (upper right hand corner). In the distance you can see tall pine trees. The pines are on a high marsh island, uninhabited by humans.
Below is a clear view of the pines from our dock, just a short distance from the nook tree. I took these photos yesterday on a cold, rainy and windy day.
The parents take turns watching the owlets. One is usually nearer in the tree tops of the Live Oaks in neighboring gardens. And one is almost always in the tall pines pictured above. Below is a handsome fellow. Or perhaps gorgeous mother. One of the parent owls.
And a close up of one of the parents. We think this is Dad.
Most of the photographs I have posted have been from the point of view as you look at the front of the nook of the tree, the view from our house. I take many shots from the back porch so I do not disturb the owlets. But there is a back door to the nest. The parents have a clear owl-eyed view into the back of the nook from the tall pines.
Below is the site line into our garden from the point of view in the pines. No, I did not climb the pine tree to see the exact point of view! Owls have acute vision and hearing. They can hear every squawk and see every move their owlets make.
The parents ALWAYS have eyes on the kids. So as indiscriminate as they are at building or renovating nests, they make up for it with tending their young to make certain they thrive.
Nature. No other explanation is needed.
Please see earlier posts for the stories and photos of the owlet adventures and how they came to be nestled in the nook of a Live Oak tree in our garden.
Actually the owlets are doing fine snug in the nook of the Live Oak tree. They huddle together to keep warm. Note that they even have a leftover mouse! Click on the photo below to enlarge and see the mouse just above the .com watermark. (If you dare! ) It appears to be headless as described in an earlier post about what owlets eat.
The leftovers have been there for two days. We wonder if they only eat ‘fresh’ prey? The owlets occasionally stand up to stretch their wings and dry out their feathers. Most the day, they are nestled into the safety and security of the nook. Until feeding time!
We see the parents fly in to feed them at dawn and at dusk. We hear them – all four – communicating about what’s for dinner/breakfast and when it will be served. Dad hoots. Mom screeches and the kids squawk. Kind of just like people do!
I must say again that we really do not know one parent from the other. The female is larger but since we rarely see them both together, it is difficult to discern with our untrained eyes.
I caught this shot early this morning of a parent on the watch and hunting for prey on what we call ‘the perch’. It is a very tall dead branch that rises above the canopy of the Live Oak trees.
“Most birds cannot chew their food and owls are no exception. Owls usually swallow their prey whole. However, owls differ from other species of birds because they do not have a crop. In owls, food passes directly from the mouth to the gizzard.
The types of tissue that can be dissolved by an owl’s digestive system include muscle, fat, skin, and internal organs. These tissues are broken down into a variety of nutritional substances by the owl’s gizzard and intestines. Some of these food particles like fur and bones cannot be digested.
Indigestible material left in the gizzard such as teeth, skulls, claws, and feathers are too dangerous to pass through the rest of the owl’s digestive tract. To safely excrete this material, the owl’s gizzard compacts it into a tight pellet that the owl regurgitates. The regurgitated pellets are known as owl pellets.”
Expelling pellet. Now what do I do with this thing?
“An owl pellet generally reaches its final form a few hours after the owl has eaten. Since the stored pellet partially blocks the entrance to the digestive system, it must be ejected before the owl can eat again. Young owls do not produce pellets until they have begun to eat their prey whole.”
I am compacting, not singing.
“The actual process of regurgitating a pellet lasts from a few seconds to several minutes. The pellet is forced out by spasms of the owl’s esophagus. These spasms make the owl look like it is coughing painfully. However, it is not hurt by the process because the pellet remains soft and moist until it leaves the owl’s body.”
“The adult Great Horned Owl can produce pellets that are 3-4 inches long! These pellets are usually cylindrical and tightly compacted. The exterior of the pellet can vary greatly due to the vast array of prey that Great Horned Owls consume.”
There is also a quite entertaining (and educational) video on youtube, especially for kids. Or the kid in all of us!
Marsh rats, mice and small birds according to our owlets. One of the parents lands on a branch close to the nest or nook and feeds both owlets. (Please see prior posts on how we/they got from the original nest, to a temporary nest, to the Live Oak nook). The adult owl holds the prey down with a talon, strips off small bits of ‘meat’ with its beak and feeds it to the little ones. Owls do not regurgitate to feed their young. More about that next post.
In the top photo, Mom delivered a headless rat to the area to the left of the nook. This seems to be the dining area of the owlets’ new abode. The one with the rat, the larger of the two owlets, appears to be saying “Thanks, Mom!” and also looks like he is not too sure about the WHOLE rat thing. And the little one on the right? “Where’s mine?” looks a bit envious and kind of pouting and well, fuming. “Really? He gets to eat the WHOLE thing?”
Mom came back later with another rat and fed MiniMe. In the meantime, Big Sib ate his first whole rat WHOLE. This apparently is the owl version of graduating from one Gerber stage to the next! Regarding the ‘headless’ rat: we speculate that either 1) mom really likes the head best or 2) the skull is too difficult for the owlets to process.