Tag Archives: chicks

Look Familiar?

No, not ‘our owl’. Since last year, Scott and I became volunteers at The Center for Birds of Prey.  We are officially members of the Renesting Program.  We are on call to renest birds of prey chicks that have fallen out of the nest.

Great Horned Owls are the first of the nesting season for birds of prey. The Center got a call on Tuesday, March 17th, that there was a baby owl on the ground. And we got the call. Our first ‘mission’!

Humans!
Humans!

I am embarrassed to tell you that I went to the reported area and could not find a chick anywhere! I look and look. No chick. I call Joe, the guy that reported it while walking his dog, to get an exact location. I am in the right place. No chick. An adult parent is clacking whenever I get close to a particular tree.

Kind of like that old game of Hide the Button – getting warmer, no getting cool, colder. Adult clacking means I am close. No warning sounds mean I am really cold. The area around the tree that elicits the most warning alerts from an adult owl is full of all kinds of interesting evidence: a headless baby squirrel, three adult squirrel tails, owl pellets and lots of white poop.

Mar 17 Evidence
Evidence

 

But no chick. I listen. I am quiet. My first assignment and I cannot find the chick! I knock on doors. Explain. Leave notes on doors of ‘not at home’ nearby residents with my contact information. I go home defeated.

Four hours later, Joe calls back. The chick is sitting out in the open, pretty much exactly where he told me he saw it that morning. By now, Scott is home and we gather our gear and head out. Joe has recruited a neighbor kid to stand watch until we get there.

Sure enough. A Great Horned Owlet is just sitting there next to a pine tree, out in the open, in total and complete site!

Scott and I confer. There is no visible nest. And this chick is developed beyond the nestling stage. It is a Brancher but not able to fly yet. I examine it as best as I know how. I hold its talons and unfold its wings, one at a time. All looks good. The chick is amazingly compliant. An adult owl is clacking its beak but from a safe distance.

I am warning you to not hurt my chick
I am warning you: do not hurt my chick!

Scott and I decide to place it in a large Live Oak Tree. We get permission from the homeowner. We put the chick in a bucket, Scott sets up the ladder to reach a crotch (or nook) in the tree, about 20 feet high. We discovered last year that a bucket was the most expedient and safest way to carry a chick up a ladder – for all involved. I explain to neighbors that have gathered to watch what and why we are doing this and also what to expect. And give everyone our contact information.

Mar 17 Chick placed in tree
Out of the bucket onto a big branch

 

What we expect: this will not be the one and only time we are in this location. We know from our experience from last year (with ‘our owls’) that this will most likely be the first time, not the last.

In my new location, high up in a tree
In my new location, high up in a tree

Not too secure looking. As, ahem, now that we are ‘professional renesters’, we are not supposed to attribute human feelings or characteristics (anthropomorphism) to our feathered creatures. BUT clearly, this chick does not look too happy. We pack up our gear and watch from a distance with binoculars. Parent owl communicating with chick by hooting softly. Chick is silent.

Mar 17 Chick in tree 2
Peek a boo

Looking a little more relaxed now. And safe. This is all we can do. As Joe texted when I gave him an update, “I would say that young owl had the luck of the Irish on its side today.” Indeed.

But that is not the end of the story of our first mission. Followers of this blog from last year’s adventures will recognize that there is almost always another chapter. Stay tuned!

Special thanks to Joe for his diligence in reporting this fallen chick and following up on its status to make sure it was safe and secure. And to the neighbors Rachel, Emily, Elizabeth and others for whom  I do not have all their names. Thank you! 

Preview of next blog: Same location, different chick!

Hmmmm
Hmmmm

 

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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.