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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Female takes over box

So in the case of my nesting owls, here is the best I can put together after watching them both on the camera and directly over the past two months.

1)  The owl that was roosting prior to the failure of my camera on 3/26 was the male!  He is a "redder" red-phase than the owl that is in the box now, although she is also more red than gray.  The male was there until at least the afternoon of March 28 when I had good looks at him from the house during the afternoon each day.
2)  From March 29 to April 2 (5 day period), there were no daytime sightings of either owl.
3)  On April 3, I viewed an owl from the yard just before total darkness but no sightings earlier in the day despite keeping a really close look.  This behavior is consistent with the (obviously) female owl that has been there recently.
4)  When I opened the box to look after observing her fly on April 7, there were two eggs in the box.  When the camera was repaired on April 9, there were 3 eggs in the box.  Therefore, I would put egg laying (unfortunately not recorded with the camera) on about 4/4, 4/6, and 4/8.
5)  Since 4/9, the female has been "close sitting" every night with breaking of only a few minutes following each sunset and just before dawn.  The male has been bringing her food each night.

So here is a new video recorded on April 13 for your viewing pleasure:


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Is my owl a male or female??

Frederick R. Gehlbach studied screech owls in Texas from 1967 until 1991.  His focus was on population studies and his extensive observations were published in The Eastern Screech Owl, Life History, Ecology, and Behavior in the Suburbs and Countryside.  (NOTE:  Thanks for Jim Wright for providing me a copy of this seminal work in this field).  While this work contains a substantial amount of data (almost too much to comprehend), it is difficult for most of us to use to interpret our own nest boxes in a couple of important ways:

1)  He routinely netted (including owls roosting in trees) and/or captured the owls from boxes.  This was important for the scientific data he was seeking but most of us don't, or at least shouldn't be, intruding on their lives to that extent.  This allowed him to do determine the sex of each owl and follow individuals (he banded them), not only through a season, but from year to year.
2)  His results provide detailed statistical information on large populations but never really focus down to an individual bird or pair of birds.
3)  Since it was his career, he spent more time (day and night) than even I do!

I have been watching the Screech Owls in my yard for more than 10 years now, the last 5 with a nature cam in the nest box (an advantage that Gehlbach didn't have).  So what can I share with those of you who have contacted me about your nest boxes?

Background;  My box is located about 50 feet from my back door in a suburban yard.  Immediate neighbors have lots of a little over an acre; across a major street is a development of about 1/2 acre lots.  Except for mine, most lack a diversity of wildlife habitat, mostly standard lawns with a few shrubs and isolated trees.  Behind my lot however is a farm field (cows), an "old" field undergoing succession to mostly invasive species, and eventually a major river with mature trees.

Here are a couple of observations:
1)  When a female has been in the box with eggs and/or young, she virtually NEVER looks out of the box from dawn until it is too dark for us humans to see well. The only way I know she is there without the camera is when another bird (chickadee, titmouse, or bluebird most often) looks into the box and announces to the world that it is occupied!
2)  Prior to egg laying, owls are occasionally seen looking out of the box during the day, sometimes for long periods--with their eyes closed (but very much aware of their surrounding).  This may be a function in my yard of the proximity of my bird feeding station with birds (like blue jays that will mob an awake owl.
3)  This was the first year that a roosting owl spent as much time as it did (sometimes several hours a day, and virtually everyday for at least 1/2 hour before sunset) looking out.
4)  This was also the first year that an owl roosted nearly every day from mid-February until mid-March in the box; in past years you could count the days on one hand.

So, if you see an owl in your box, it is likely NOT a nesting female.  But is it a male, or a pre-nesting female??

From Gehlback, "Males inside or close to cavities by late February, replaced by their mates in mid-March, are strong evidence of nesting, so I often find the first egg within a day of laying."

(ponder that and I will provide more tomorrow . . .)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Camera fixed; 3 eggs in nest box

Maintaining a blog consisting of live, wild animals (and complex electronics and computer connections) is really a challenge and I apologize that I seem to disappear at times.

With advice from Richard (www.birdhousespycam.com) my Hawkeye Nature Camera is functional again.  With owls in the box day and night, and not wanting to do anything to affect their natural behavior, I was left with working "outside the box".  The initial technical difficulty was obvious--a broken cable.  After 4 attempts to repair it (it consists of a bundle of three very fine telephone wires) I finally searched the entire length of the cable and located a second very subtle break only a few feet from the initial break--affecting only one of the small wires inside the sheath and  not at all obvious from the surface.  He suggested several causes--only one of which makes any sense--Squirrels!  It was up in the oak tree where the next box is located.

With the technical problem solved, I was able to record the video recorded last night, April 9, and contained in a separate post.  Enjoy as the female owl prepares for her evening break and flies to reveal 3 eggs (NOTE:  I had opened the box after she flew on April 7 and there were only 2 eggs).

Tomorrow I will address questions raised by several viewers who also have nest boxes but no camera inside.  What do you see and what does it mean?

Three Eggs April 9, 2015

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Romance is in the air

It has been a cold snowy month in Central New Jersey.  The cold finally broke about a week ago and it seems like the owls have sensed spring.  Activity at the nest box during the coldest times was very low with one of the adults (I am now pretty convinced it was the male roosting in the box almost everyday but very little activity after dark.  By very little I mean one, or at most two visits on any night back to the box and only rarely was this by both owls.  Atypical visit lasted no more than a minute--not very exciting if you were to stay awake waiting for it.  Thankfully, I can record and scan through the night in just a few minute.  Of course, I have no idea what they are doing away from the box except to say that I occasionally hear distant calling from the yard.

Since March 12, however, there have been nightly visits including last night when I recorded the following movie.  The entire clock time from fly out to the last visit shown was less than 20 minutes and I have compressed it to about 4.5 minutes for your pleasure.



Saturday, March 7, 2015

Status Update March 7, 2015

One of the owls has been roosting in the box during the day every day (except for 3) since February 7.  This is very different from past years.  In the last  year that owlets were successfully fledged (2012), the female was the owl that roosted in the box but only a few times until just 2 days before she laid the first egg (then every day after that).

Another major difference this year is that nocturnal activity at the box has been very minimal compared to 2012 and other previous years.  Below is a video of the best  observation I have been able to make of the owls together in the box since the day they were both in there during the day.  In this video, one owl enters the box calling (a monotonic trill) followed immediately by the second.  Is the male chasing the female or is he leading her into the box to try to entice her to nest?  Or maybe it is something else entirely.

Anyway, enjoy this video and the live feed that I am trying to provide during daylight hours.  During the day, the roosting owl almost always "sleeps", a restless sleep interrupted by squirrels and small birds looking in to the box to see if she/he is there.

video

Thursday, March 5, 2015

One of the big mysteries to me is which owl is which.  In past years, I could tell the difference between the two individuals and identify the sex of each based on their behavior.  This year they appear to both be red-phased owls and I have not been able to identify any significantly different features.  Here is (I hope) the video that I tried to post a couple of days ago of the two together in the box.  This, by the way, is the only time I have ever seen both owls together for long periods of time.  In this case, the top owl as you are looking at it was there when the sun came up, the other owl joined during the daylight--I think in response to a marauding Cooper's Hawk that scattered the feeder birds about the same time.

video