Otus Kennicotti:

Empty Nest

5/31/2000 - 8:00 AM - The box is empty.  Normally the fledgelings would be very nearby for at least a week or two.  A quick look around this morning didn't turn up any sign of them.  Perhaps we'll be able to find them this evening.

5/30/2000 - 8:00 AM - There are only three chicks in the box.  There was only time for a quick check, but the fledgeling and Marge are not immediately obvious.  I can hear an adult calling from somewhere out past the nest box, they're probably in one of the many oaks on the hillside there.

5/29/2000 - 10:00 PM - Nothing interesting happened the rest of the day.  One chick is out of the box again tonight, though we haven't been watching to see what's happening.  I spent the time uploading some photos from last night instead.

5/29/2000 - 8:30 AM - That didn't take long, Marge is back on the beam, calling occasionally.  The chicks were very active for a few minutes, but have settled down now.

5/29/2000 - 8:00 AM - We started out watching the IR camera inside the box at 9:00 last night.  One chick had it's head out the hole and the other three were engaged in a furious shoving match trying to displace it so that they could stick their heads out.  When we switched to the outside camera the reason was obvious.   One adult or the other would arrive with food every three to five minutes and the chick that was blocking the hole got all of the snacks.  It appeared that when a chick got a particularly big treat it would tuck back inside and let another chick take its place.  Also, sometimes a chick would win the shoving match.  It was pretty amusing to see two chicks with both of their heads out that 3 inch hole - further proof that under all that fluff they actually have skinny necks.

At about 9:15 one chick decided to fly - straight to the camera platform three feet away.  The cameras are on the bottom of the platform, only the IR floodlight is on top.  So we were able to watch the chicks tail as it walked around on the top of the platform.  We could also see the shadows it cast as it walked in front of the IR floodlight.  After a few minutes, it showed up on top of the box, wanting back in.  It went over to the edge, turned so that it would be facing the door as it went by, and stepped backwards off the roof of the box.  And it fell like a brick, straight down.  The chick that was then sticking out the hole craned it's neck way out and looked down.  I got the camcorder, flashlight, my shoes, etc. and went to see what it would do, but when I got there it was already back up on the roof of the box.  About then, Marge showed up and started making a call I'd never heard before.  It sounded a bit like a bark and I have been told that they bark at enemies or that they bark a warning call.  So she was either asking me to leave or telling the chicks to be careful.

So, what were we to expect - a line of chicks on the living room ridge beam this morning?  Nope.  This morning, not only are all four chicks in the box, but Marge is in there too.  She's been roosting on the beam pretty much all day every day since 5/24.  It will be hot again today and that box is very crowded.  The chicks exercise their wings in there a lot - in big clouds of fluff.  They also do this stretching thing.  They seem to be able to change their height by more than 50%.  They stand upright on the bottom of the box and then their head comes straight up toward the camera.  It's really quite a sight to see how tall they can stretch out to be.  We're becoming convinced that there really is a runt in this litter.  It often looks like three big ones and one decidedly smaller one.  But given all of the different positions that they roost in and that they look different sizes in the different positions, the smaller one might not always be the same one.  But, then after weeks of watching you realize that it's always three big/one small and that if it was just about camera angles and bird positions sometimes two or three would look small.  Remember that three of the chicks were born within 12 hours of each other and the last was 2 full days later. We'd worry about the runt, but it seems to be growing, so will likely be fine.  The chicks all fledge every year and then we lose track of them.  They can't all survive to maturity - we'd long ago have been overrun with them.

5/27/2000 - 1:00 PM - Maybe we'll get our wish.  At noon, Marge was sitting on the living room ridge beam, calling and calling.  One chick was sitting in the doorway of the box, looking and looking.  I guess we weren't paying much attention in past years, but it seems that Marge is cheering the chicks on, encouraging them to leave the box.  Thursday night I was awake at 3:00 AM (joys of parenthood) and Marge or Homer was somewhere near our bedroom window just calling up a storm.  We've got so much videotape to review that we've run out of blank tapes.  There are about 20 tapes, times 6 hours each - they take about 1/2 hour each to review.  Maybe we'll never catch up.

5/25/2000 - 7:30 AM - Seems it's getting too crowded in the box for Marge.  She spent all day yesterday roosting on the beam outside the living room windows.  We've had a few days of brutally hot weather followed by one cool day and now normal late spring.  During the hottest weather (100 in the shade, the box gets some late afternoon sun too) the chicks sat very still, they were hard to distinguish from each other and the floor shavings except for their very deep breathing.  They all seem to have come out of it fine.  Marge is in the box this morning, but it looks like another warm day, so she'll probably move soon.  The chicks have big wings now with distinct flight feathers. Their bodies are still pretty fluffy, but in past years they've fledged while still covered in fluff.  One chick spends a lot of the day sitting in the hole looking out, so they'll probably leave the box soon.  Last year they all spent their days sitting in a line on an oak branch near the back deck.  The oak is pretty well leafed out by now and they were difficult to see.  Maybe we'll get really lucky and they'll accept Marge's decision to perch on the living room ridge beam - that would be quite a sight.

5/20/2000 - 9:45 PM - Things happen so fast.  The owlets are getting big.  We had some birders over tuesday night and I claimed that the chicks were all about the same size.  Looking at them live tonight, one seems distinctly smaller - we'll see how he/she does.  They really look like owls now and are starting to exercise their wings more.  We've also seen chicks helping Marge tear apart rodents for food and have twice seen a chick swallow a small rodent whole.  The box has gotten crowded as they've grown and the weather has gotten hot.  That's what has changed Marge's behavior.  The night of the big get together, she came out pretty much on schedule and it was really almost too dark to see her.  She hung out of the hole for a long time, and then flew off.   She visited several times in the next hour, but it was quite dark and she was difficult to see.  The very next night she was gone at 7:15 - our 7:30 owl party would have missed her completely.  She didn't visit while it was light.  I suspect that she escaped the heat and crowding in the box by roosting nearby.  Last night was really it though.  When I came home at 6:15, she was sitting on the end of the beam that supports the living room roof - hiding from the sun in the space under the eaves.  A neighbor and I took pictures.  We were able to carry the picnic table over under the beam, climb up on it, and take pictures from 8 or so feet away.  She sat still the whole time.  She even sat still when we got out the big worklights to give better light for the pictures.  Around 7:30 she flew to a nearby pine tree, then to a juniper - between our house and Anna's house for those of you that have seen the yard.  I was able to walk to within 6 feet of her on the juniper.  I made plenty of noise and she watched me closely, but she was not scared enough to leave.  Needless to say, I took a lot of pictures.

5/13/2000 - 8:00 PM - Sorry, I was on a business trip and not here to update the web site.  The chicks are doing fine.  Marge seems to have stopped brooding them sometime before Wednesday night.  She's gone all night now hunting with Homer while the chicks wait patiently for their food.  The chicks are big, twice their size at birth, maybe more.  Most of them were 2 weeks old yesterday.  They're starting to show feathers under all that fuzz.  Their wings look more like wings and you can start to see the stripes on them.  Their heads are starting to show feathers and the eye disks are obvious now.  We'll have some updated photos real soon now.

5/5/2000 - 9:00 AM - It's been pretty interesting.  We got a lot of good video including tape of Dad bringing home "big game" finally.

Last night there was a big altercation in the back yard just before dusk - sounded a bit like a cat fight only one voice wasn't quite cat like.  The noise of my approach distracted them from each other - a neighbor's cat and a red fox about twice the cat's size.  So, there's competition for the local rodent population.  For those of you that are looking in from far away, this is all pretty amazing, we do not by any means live out in the country.  We live in a very built up suburban area.  We have good fortune to back up to a large open space, but that open space is surrounded by homes on all sides and the suburban sprawl goes on for some distance in all directions.  But we have the occasional fox, plenty of skunks, and, of course, the owls.

See the pictures from 5/3 and 5/4/2000.

5/3/2000 - 7:30 AM - Still no big news.  I can't find the video of her bringing in that gopher - that's very frustrating.  We usually tape on two VCRs at a time, two different cameras and tape at least 6 hours a day, often 8, 12, or more.  I came up with a better system for reviewing the tapes and copying the best parts to digital, but it appears to still need work.

In the 4:30 update, I talked about sitting out on the hill listening to Mom hunt.  I reviewed the tape and she was gone for 19 minutes!  So much for the theory that the Mom can't leave the chicks because they need her for warmth.  It was a nice warm evening, but still.  When she's gone, they all huddle together and wiggle and squirm.  It looks like one big ball of white fuzz with an occasional head sticking out.  We've got one very good sequence where Dad shows up with yet another cricket and they all try to scramble away from him while he tries to get these tiny chicks to take this huge cricket whole.  It's too long and contains too much detail to be put on the web.  We are planning an owl viewing night 5/16/2000, and can show parts of the video then.  email me for directions please, we need to know how many to expect.  Also, remember that Western Screech Owls are very nocturnal and it's quite likely that all you'll get to see is their silhouettes gliding from tree to tree after dark.

Quite often, when we're watching the live video we see things in the box - inchworms, earwigs, a big house fly.  We're always amazed that mom just ignores them.  Once she feinted toward a house fly on one of her rodent carcasses - but it was obviously to drive him away and not an attempt to catch him.  Well, on the evening of 4/30 there was a big fat inchworm that wandered the inside of the box for several minutes.  Mom stared intently at it several times.  Finally, she stood up, had to work to grab it out of a corner, then promptly fed it to the chicks.
 
 

5/2/2000 - 7:30 AM - Mom and chicks are doing fine.  There's a healthy supply of food in the box with them and the chicks are getting bigger and stronger quickly.  We have the proof now - Mom is the breadwinner in this family.  On the night of 4/30 (actually 5/1 around 2:00 AM) she went hunting for about 4 minutes and returned with a big gopher.  She carried it home in her talons and once again had to work to get herself and her prey in through the box's three inch entrance hole.  We got decent pictures of her bringing it in and will try to get them up late tonight.  Dad showed up many times that night always carrying something so small that we couldn't identify it.
 
 

4/30/2000 - 10:00 PM - It's been interesting.  On the morning of 4/29 (Saturday) there was no food in the box.  Not much happened during the day, once or twice it looked like Mom was feeding the chicks, so maybe there were a few morsels too small for us to see.  But, it wasn't the regular feeding we saw last year.  Luckily, nobody starved.  Saturday night we got to watch a funny show.  Mom went out to hunt and then Dad showed up with another tasty bug.  He hopped into the box and looked the chicks over, but left with his bug.  He came back in 2 minutes and tried to feed it whole to a chick which ignored him, so he dropped in on the floor and left.  The bug wasn't dead, and it crawled in under the chick.  In a few minutes, Mom showed up carrying either nothing or something small.  She set to feeding them right away and the bug has disappeared, presumably she tore it up and fed it to them.  Up until 12:30 AM, Dad only came a few times and then only with bugs.  At 12:30, Mom went out for a few minutes and returned with a bird, a reasonably large bird.  She carried it in her talons, rather than her beak and had to work pretty hard to get herself and her prey in through the door.  The video isn't real sharp, so probably we won't put it on the web site.  Mom fed the chicks from the bird for a while, then took it to the opposite corner of the box and tore off all of it's flight feathers, making a big mess in the box.  Sometime after the tape ran out at 2:00 AM somebody brought in a big gopher.  It's body is 4 inches long and 2 inches in diameter.  I wouldn't be surprised if it significantly outweighed either owl.  Somebody also brought home what looks like a baby rodent, it's white, has no fur, and is only about 1.5 inches long.  Tonight, the bird and small rodent are gone.  The gopher appears mostly intact, though we saw Mom tear some bits off earlier.

Today, we played with the various tape setups for a while.  We got some decent direct to digital video of the Mom with her chicks, and a really interesting sequence of her calls.  Tonight at dusk I sat out on the hill.  Mom hunted for a good 10 or 15 minutes.  She hunts the hillside just behind the tree as seen in the photos of the yard.  She probably didn't ever get more than 100 yards from the box and spent most of her time within 100 feet of the box.  I couldn't watch her all of the time, but she was calling a lot and I saw her many times swooping from one tree to another or swooping down to the ground.  Understand, it was after dusk and all that was visible was her silhouette, pretty just the same.  While she was out hunting, Dad showed again, this time with a fat cricket.  Again he tried to feed a chick, which tried to take this huge cricket and failed.  Now, I can't recall if he left it for Mom or took it with him when he left...

Gloria LeBlanc came over and helped me search, to no avail, for the male owl's roost. While Gloria and I were searching, a pair of Red Shouldered Hawks circled overhead with the sun shining through their wings - gorgeous!

See photos, video, and audio from 4/28, 4/29, and 4/30 here.
 
 

4/29/2000 - 8:00 AM - Mom actually went out for a few minutes at about 8:30 last night.  We were able to see that there are three little fluffy white chicks in the box and one egg.  At that rate, by now there's likely 4 chicks.  We've got lots of video tape of yesterday morning, evening, and most of the night.  It takes some time to scan the tapes for good stuff and then convert it to digital and get it up on the web site.  We'll get some up ASAP, likely late tonight.  The chicks peep constantly when they're hungry.  Mom fed them bits of that big rodent all day yesterday, it was about half gone by evening.  This morning there is no visible cache in the box.  Maybe there's something under Mom where we can't see it, maybe it's going to be a hungry day for the chicks.  If I recall correctly Mom will be brooding for two weeks.  Then two more before the chicks fledge (one site lists 35 days to fledge).  So we should have branchlet pictures in a month.

To tide you over, here is a photo of the chicks, and a short video clip (1.7 Mb) of them.
 
 

4/28/2000 - 7:00 AM - There is a large dead rodent in the box.  There is also an empty egg shell. Mom is brooding the chick real closely, so we haven't gotten a photo of it yet, but the VCR is running.  She hunted briefly last night and there were still 4 eggs, so this one was born in the night.  We weren't taping, so don't know exactly what time it was born.  More later.
 
 

4/27/2000 - 9:00 PM  -  Eggs: 4  Chicks: 0

4/26/2000 - 7:00 AM - still nothing, another source lists incubation as 26 days, so maybe this weekend.

4/24/2000 - 10:00 PM - still no owlets

4/23/2000 - 8:00 AM - there's no food cache in the box this morning - no babies today?

4/22/2000 - Update

4/16/2000 - Photos, Video, and Audio

4/3/2000 - Photos and Video

We've got a nesting pair of Western Screech Owls in our yard in Los Gatos, California.  This is the third or fourth year for nesting owls in this nest box.  In earlier years, we couldn't see inside the box and were left to speculate on how many owls were there or what was going on.  Last year we had one black and white video camera in the top of the box and we got to see the baby owls just minutes after they were born, we got to see Mom feed them, got to see them exercise their tiny wings, and were there when they fledged.  Someday, maybe we'll put up some stills and video clips from last year's highlights tape.  This year, the box has 5 cameras in and around it.  The big addition is night vision - we can see what goes on at night inside and outside the box.  This allowed us to keep close track of when the eggs were laid.  Well, theoretically, we didn't watch as closely as we might have.  There are four eggs now.  They were laid 3/26/2000, 3/29, 4/1, and 4/3.  Mom continued to hunt all night every night until the last egg was laid.  She went out briefly the evening of 4/3, but came back and started to incubate soon after.  I had a little adventure that night as described in "changing the IR camera".

4/3/2000 - changing the IR camera

Photos of the yard and nest box

Overview of the cameras

Landing sequence

Photos of the 1999 owls

We've moved the map to the secure part of the site.  You can't see the owl box from the street,  by day it's just a box, by night it's just plain too dark to see anything.  But we love to show off this little project, so if you want to come by and see, please email me.  Last year we picked a night when we thought Mom might stick her head out and invited everybody to come over at once.  Mom put on a great show, flying for the first time in over a month.  We'll pick a likely date this year and pass the word real soon.

We'd love to hear from you - please sign the guestbook.
 

Links:

Some good data about Otus Kennicotti

An Owl Nest Box cam, this one is Northern Barred Owls (Strix varia varia) and has been running for four years.  Lots of very high quality stills

Another Owl Nest box cam, this one an Eastern Screech Owl

The Birder.Com has some excellent photos

The Connecticut River Bald Eagles (and you thought it took me a long time to update this site...)