Otus Kennicotti:

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2/5/06 – New owls and a new owl box

Yep, after a couple of years of being too busy and too broke to deal with the margecam and its web site, we might be back. We had owls and chicks in the box every year up until the spring 2005 season, we just didn't have the energy to run the web site. In the winter of 2005 a squirrel took to nesting in the the box and I didn't run her off as I have previous squirrels. Marge never had any trouble getting rid of the squirrels when she was ready for the box. Then the squirrel had a baby. Newborn squirrels are not particularly cute, but after a couple or three weeks they get to be very cute and we had a great time watching baby and mother cuddle, nurse, and wrestle.

And then one day - no more squirrel. Grown up and gone? Maybe, but in a day or two we turned the cam on and noticed an owl. It was pretty late in the season judging by past experience, but then this owl started laying eggs. She laid four eggs. But, soon after the last egg was laid and she should have begun to incubate them, she disappeared. I got them out of the box and let the kids take them to school. They're only 3/4" across, much closer to spherical than a chicken egg, and a beautiful alabaster white.

In mid January of 2006 we were awakened one night by the unmistakeable call of a western screech owl outside the bedroom window. It went unanswered, but another call a couple of minutes later was answered from not too far away. They called back and forth to each other for at least half an hour before we fell back asleep.

I believe that Marge is gone. Her behavior was so distinctive and the regularity with which she showed up at the box, raised 4 or 5 chicks and left was wonderful. She did this for maybe 7 years in a row. But when Marge should have been running that squirrel off last year, nothing. The owl that finally did show up was late, never came to sit on Marge's favorite perch, and for some reason failed to hatch her eggs. But then, the very fist year Marge came to the box she laid 4 eggs that never matured (we had no cam, don't know if she tried) and that I ultimately took out of the box.

So, the old box was falling apart. I had repaired the one cam in the top of it several times (the IR LEDs burn out). I've always wanted a side view cam. I've always wanted to know the temp in the box. What to do? Build a new box and get it up quick while that couple we heard in the night is still looking for a good home. The new box went up this afternoon. It has the exact same dimensions as the old and it is in the same place. But it is sturdier and more weathertight for its cameras. It has a new IR top cam - the same model as I've had before. It has a new color side cam. It has a temperature probe that transmits wirelessly to my weather station. Most of the electronics will go in a separate box that will be more weathertight and that will allow certain types of repairs wihtout opening the box and disturbing the owls as we had to do a few times before.

So, what's next, will the margecam return? It is hard to say, I have a bunch of wiring to do to get the video into the house, I just put the box up so that we might attract a new pair of owls. I would have to get all new webcam hardware and software to put the video up live like it was in the old days. I'd want to move it all to our other web host. I'm still really busy. If we get an owl roosting in the box then we'll see if I find the time to fire up the website.

6/21/03 – All four still in the area!

We just happened to catch them raising a ruckus last night in the same oak tree that the box is in. It was just at dusk and still light enough to see them. They were taking little 4 to 6 foot flights between branches. One had some sort of smmall rodent in it's talon and would occasionally take a bite. After a few minutes they flew off down the hill into the open space. Linda Sullivan was kind enough to come over today and try to find their daytime roost but her luck was no better than mine. It's too bad, I'd like to see them in full daylight, but Marge has found a good spot to hide them. At least we know that, so far, they're all doing well.

6/20/03 – Empty nest

They all left the box on 6/13. As in the last few years, I have not been able to find them, though I have very little time to spend looking. They were around for at least several days as Marge's behavior made it clear that she had them nearby. She spent her days on the living room beam, but would head off much earlier (in terms of how light it still was) than she did before she began laying. I tried to follow her one evening and to follow what sounded like answers to her calls. But the open space behind us is large and there are dozens of oaks the chicks could be in and it seemed she was just leading me on a wild owl chase.

I hope that you will come back next year. It seems pretty likely that Marge will be back.

6/10/03 – Thinking about it at least

Tonight there is an chick hanging out in the door of the box. I don't think anybody is ready to fly yet. But, he who hangs out in the door gets what Marge and Homer deliver. We're used to seeing a lot of pushing and shoving between the chicks to be the one who gets to sit in the doorway. There doesn't seem to be any of that tonight. It seems that this year's alpha really is head and shoulders above the rest.

Owls really have the "survival of the fittest" thing going on. From day one, the loudest beggars and those who can crane their necks the highest when Marge arrives with food, get the lion's share. Then, the first to be able to climb to the entrance hole (someday I'll put "talon holds" on the inside of the box) gets the lion's share. It really is all about giving the strongest chick the best chance of survival. I can't remember how long a breeding pair of Western Screech Owls can be expected to live and produce offspring, but it is many years. Given that they produce four offspring every year, there must be a very large infant mortality rate, or we'd be overrun with owls in just a few years. All good reasons why the strong get stronger and the weak get killed by their siblings (yes, I'm still lamenting last year's tragedy...)

6/09/03 – Home schooling?

I'm very, very busy this year and have almost no time to watch the margecam myself. Luckily, there are a few people who take the time to e-mail me pictures whenever they see something really good. This a huge help and I thank all of them for their efforts.

One of Marge's regular watchers, Mike Kobey, e-mailed me some time ago to say that he had seen a live mouse in the box. I admit, I kind of brushed it off since, when we first put up the cameras, I watched her very closely for one season and everything she brought back to the box was very dead.

So, yesterday, Mike sent me proof. He grabbed the following three pictures off the "Margecam". Watch the upper left corner of the box. Apparently the way to teach little owls to kill prey is to put it in the box with them .....

I don't know why but seeing that little mouse in that box with 5 owls reminds me of the joke about being stuck in line at a toll booth with an Audi 5000 behind you and a Pinto in front of you.

6/09/03 – Marge moves out

Usually the kids grow up and move away. But in Marge-land the kids grow up and Mom moves away. We were never sure if it was the crowding or the heat that drove her out. But she moved out today and it's been cool and breezy all day. The chicks are just too big to share with any longer. Marge is unquestionably a creature of habit. She's sitting on the ridge beam of the living room, just as she has for some years now. She started a bit when I bounded out to the living room to look for her, but she's really not scared of us. I've gone outside, set up a ladder under her and climbed up to take pictures in past years, they're here on the web site somewhere.

6/01/03 – War!

Maybe the rotting dead rodents attracted them. Whatever it was, a large group of yellowjackets (the kind that ruin summer picnics here in central CA) decided to invade the box today. Watching it live was pretty scary. It's hard to imagine that they can sting through all of those feathers. But still, Marge and the chicks were clearly distressed. Here, Marge shows she's a good mom as she reaches out to protect a chick and then pulls her "under her wing."

And then here, she tries to cover all four of them:

This shot just happens to be a good shot of two of the chicks, looking up apprehensively...

And then here, you can see one of the yellowjackets in the upper left corner

Well, we say that we don't care to interfere with the owls business. We certainly never put out food for them and we didn't intervene even though we knew that the three bigger chicks would sooner or later kill last year's runt. But yellowjackets bug me and they were really bugging Marge...

So, it was time for my favorite trick, so I got out my little 2 gallon shop vacuum and went up a ladder and hung out just below the box. Each time a yellowjacket flew out the door I would raise the end of the vacuum cleaner hose up near him. They make the most satisfying "thwack" noise when they hit the inside of the hose. I got 14 of 'em.

These chicks were born around the 13th. So, we've got another two weeks before they fledge. That sounds about right. They don't appear to have much in the way of feathers yet. And, they're not exercising their wings often as they will in the days before they fledge. And, they're not so big that the box is too crowded for Marge to stay there during the day.

5/26/03 – They grow fast

They go from little 1.5 inch long chicks that can barely hold up their heads to 6 inches tall and flying in about 30 days. They're big enough now that Marge doesn't have to brood at all, so she's hunting all night, every night. There is clearly one runt this year, but he isn't nearly as small as poor old Runty from last year and he doesn't appear to be injured as Runty was. Let's all hope we don't have to watch any more fratricide in the owl box. Here's a photo of Marge with a food delivery.

5/14/03 – And then there were four

This morning there are four chicks and a lot of broken egg shell. Marge does still go out for short (5 to 6 minutes) breaks a couple of times a night. So the best times to see the chicks are shortly after dusk or shortly before dawn.

We also caught a frame of Homer delivering a snack this morning...

5/13/03 – Three now...

Three chicks and one egg...

5/13/03 – Now we've got a chick!

See what Karl and Diane Konen e-mailed me this morning...

5/10/03 – Shows how much I know...

The time on this photo is wrong, it was about 20:35, but what it shows is unmistakeable. I have to admit that after thinking there were chicks I was looking at the dates the eggs were laid and trying to figure out how Marge managed to hatch her chicks in so far less than the normal 30 days...

Perhaps this helps understand the "tented wings" behavior, it's obviously not about protecting the chicks! It could be about protecting the food (from what?, there inside the box).

5/09/03 – We've got baby owls!

Still. I'm really busy with other things and so not watching Marge very closely. I was using the PC that hosts the margecam today to look at weather data for this April vs. last April (if you live in Silicon Valley, you know the comparison isn't pretty, what a sad excuse for spring!). Well, something caught my eye on the margecam:

If you look closely in the upper left corner, that's a dead rodent. Marge does not cache food in the box until either right before the chicks are born or maybe right after they are born. She's happy to eat only at night and to eat everything that Homer brings the moment that he brings it. But the chicks have to be fed 24/7 and, since Homer only delivers at night, she has to keep food in the box all day. In fact, she keeps extra food stored up. I suppose this is in case Homer has a bad night hunting. If you look at the logs and pictures from 2 or three years ago, there are pictures with 5 or 6 rodents stacked like firewood in the corner of the box.

Then, almost as soon as I started trying to improve the picture so it would be easier to see the rodent, she moved it and did this:

This is Marge's feeding stance, up high on her feet with her wings out in the shape of a big tent. I'm not sure if the wide wings thing helps her maintain her balance as she pulls bits of meat from the carcass to feed the chicks or is it's what it looks like - a big tent to keep outsiders from seeing her chicks and their food (or is it to help keep them warm while she's not pressing them close to her warm breast?) whatever it is, it's very characteristic behavior and I can with absolute certainty say that this is a picture of Marge feeding a chick. Sorry, I have no idea when it was born.

4/20/03 – Four!

I haven't watched closely at all. I did notice a day or two ago that Marge has started incubating her eggs. When she's not incubating the margecam shows the top of her head. When she is incubating, the margecam shows her back as she leans forward to press her breast down on the eggs. Tonight I happened to look while Marge was out and, as you see, we have four eggs. The fourth should have been laid around the 15th or 16th, so it really looks like there will not be a fifth this year. If she lays one this late we'll have another severely disadvantaged runt on our hands.

4/14/03 – Three...

A couple of other visitors were the first to report the third egg. I wonder when it was laid, it could have been the 13th or it could have been just today.

4/12/03 – Two...

I keep forgetting to check the box for new eggs, but a nice visitor (Thanks Phil!) sent me this photo.

You can send pictures too. Use the VCR like controls on the MargeCam to get to the image you like (turn off AutoPlay). Then right click on the image and do a "save picture as..." then just attach it to an e-mail

4/9/03 – One egg!

After observing that there were still no eggs at 11 PM last night, I left the margecam capturing a frame every 5 minutes and went to bed. Marge returned to the box just after midnight and stayed until 2:30 AM. Sometime in there she laid this:

So, at 2 days, sometimes 3 days, per egg and 4 or 5 eggs to a full clutch, she should have a full clutch by the 15th of April to maybe the 18th or so. That is very close to the 2002 schedule. In 2002 the first chick was born on May 9th - roughly one month after all eggs were laid. And, the first chick fledged on June 10th, about one month after that.

4/8/03 – No news

It's after 11PM and while Marge (and Homer)'s behavior is interesting, there are still no eggs. We've been watching Marge for a few years now and kind of feel like we know what's going to happen. Once Marge starts laying, she will lay a new egg every 2 days or so. She does not start incubating when the first egg is laid but does seem to start when the next to last egg is laid. In the past we could come to the montior anytime after dark and count eggs. But tonight, she was still in at 11:00 PM and, while I watched and wondered, Homer brought her food twice. True to form, he's bringing her bite sized morsels which she can bolt down before we get a chance to see what they are. He never seems to bring in the big game (gophers, rats, etc) until there are chicks. He seems to prefer the little stuff, especially the Jerusalem crickets that are so plentiful here, while Marge is incubating.

After a bit, Marge started doing the motions that we associate with her regular turning of her eggs when she's incubating. I timed a whole series of these once and I swear your could set your clock buy the precision with which she times her egg turning. So, it's confusing, as of a couple of days ago - no eggs. There couldn't possibly be more than one egg now and she should be out hunting. But here's Homer bringing food and Marge acting like she's turning eggs.

But, then Marge decided to go out after all and, in fact, there are no eggs in the box.

3/30/03 – The return of the ring...

There's this plastic ring... It's a very short (maybe 1/4") section of 1" diameter plastic pipe that long ago protected a camera lens from getting owl dander rubbed on it. It got knocked off a year or two ago and drifts around in the box confusing people who are looking for eggs. If it had been visible when I was working on cameras recently, I would have removed it. But it was buried. If you've been watching Marge much lately, you know that she's spending a lot of time rearranging the junk on the floor of the box. This is a sure sign that the first egg is just days away. But, so far, all she's managed to do is unearth the ring. Keep watching.

3/17/03 – Marge is back

Guess I didn't scare her too badly, she returned to the box at about 5:30 this morning

If you want to watch for the first egg, there are two ways to do this. First, you can check the webcam after she leaves in the evening. She goes out right at dusk, must be about 7:30 PM these days. Second, if you don't have internet access in the evening, leave the margecam running overnight, but change the rate to one new image every 5 minutes. That way 400 images will get you over 20 hours and you'll be sure to get a picture of the empty box while she's out hunting. If you have a problem with images disappearing, try emptying your cache (in MSIE do tools-> internet options -> delete files) or making your cache bigger (in MSIE do tools -> internet options -> settings).

3/16/03 – Can you guess when?

We've now got three years of historical data. Marge laid her first egg on April 7, 2002, on March 26, 2001, and on March 31, 2000. When will she lay the first egg in 2003?

3/16/03 – Up and Running?

The margecam seems to be back in action. Click the link above for an image of Marge's box, updated as often as every 15 seconds if you like.

It took a long time to get the camera going this year, I had bigger plans but in the end settled for a top view only camera. I used an older PC-6 camera which had most of it's IR LEDs burned out, so had to do some work to install new LEDs. Once the new LEDs were in, I set it up to work with the coax transmission system that we used for the construction cams last year - so there will be no annoying 60 Hz noise bars in the video stream this year. Still, the camera is old and the contrast isn't great. Also, it's not well secured. And... the hole in the box roof lost it's cover so rain can get in. Hopefully this baling wire and bubble gum mess will hold together through the nesting season.

When I went to reinstall the camera, I knew Marge would be there, so I had the camcorder in my pocket. I pointed it at her for a long time, zoomed in on her face and her talons, etc, etc. But, I never pushed the record button! Doh! I figured this out after she hopped up to hang out in the hole. So I got a bit of a decent profile shot which I will put on the web site later. At least now I'm sure that it's Marge again this year. When she decided I wasn't leaving, she flew away, straight to Marge's favorite roost on our living room ridge beam. Unfortunately, she did not return to the box this morning. It's not like this is the first time I've scared her away by opening the box when she was in it. Hopefully she will be back in a day or two.

1/30/03 – Here we go again

I went out the other day to remove the camera board from the box so I could do some work on it. Normally, there wouldn’t be an owl there so early in the year. Big surprise, there was a little western screech owl, cowering in the corner of the box when I took the side off. I was so surprised that I just grabbed the camera board and put the side back on the box. Thinking about it later – I don’t think that this owl was Marge. I know that all western screech owls are small, but this one was smaller than I remember Marge being. Still, it is hard to tell what with her being all hunched down in the corner and me being WAY closer to her than I usually am.

The reason for the low quality of last year’s pictures is confirmed – the PC-6 camera which normally has 6 IR LEDs for nighttime illumination is down to only 2 that still work. I have new LEDs and plan to replace the dead ones. Also, have another older PC-6 that might be used for another attempt at a side view camera this year. Finally, the coax based transmission system that was used for the construction cams last year is far superior to the twisted pair system that is currently on the owl box. Now that the construction cams are not needed, that hardware is up for grabs. Hopefully, I’ll find the time to string a couple of runs of RG-6 out to the box soon.

6/12/2002 - Empty Nest

The third and final chick left the box at 5:00 AM on 6/11. None of them has returned to the box. On the morning of 6/11 they were nearby, Marge and perhaps the chicks could be heard calling, but somehow I couldn't track the sound well enough to find them. On the morning of 6/12 I was going to try again, but the first call I heard came from way down the hill in a big stand of oak trees that would have taken hours to search. One year two chicks sat on the living room ridge beam for a couple of weeks after fledging. The next year Marge and all four chicks lined up on a branch of th ebig oak right outside the kitchen window for about a week. But this year makes three years in a row that they've all disappeared the day they fledged. At least this year we can assume that some are still alive based on the calls that we hear. Maybe I'll search for them one more time tomorrow morning.

I had left the webcam capturing an image every 2 minutes all night and well into the morning. That's how I know exactly what time the third chick fledged. When the images are played back at several images per second, it looks like a time lapse. You'd think that a time lapse of an empty box would be pretty boring. But, at that speed the feathers and sticks and stuff in the bottom of the box moves around like a mass of snakes. It turns out that there are a lot of bugs in the box (mostly pillbugs) living on the trash left there by the owls. They push the stuff around as they move about scavenging for food. It's really pretty disgusting.

6/10/2002 - Flying Lessons

Two of the chicks left the box shortly after 9:00 PM. Standing under the tree I could see and hear Marge and at least one chick calling back and forth and flying from branch to branch. All that was visible was a silhouette of an owl against the not-so-dark evening sky. The third chick seems to be going to stay in the box for tonight.

6/10/2002 - No more Runty

We got home about 6:00 PM yesterday. Marge was back on the living room beam. The three big chicks were eating something. The were a lot of feathers strewn about the box. Runty was gone. Having not seen it, we don't know if he simply died or was killed. And, if killed, whether by Marge or by his siblings. Either way, the big question of when this little runt would lose the battle is answered.

The other three chicks seem fine and quite close to fledging. Marge doesn't even spend the mornings in the box anymore - she's either hunting or roosting on the living room ridge beam. She's been calling a lot today for some reason.

6/8/2002 - 27 days since hatching

They usually fledge at about 30 days. Today, it was hot again and Marge elected to hang out on the living room beam again:

One of the chicks was perched in the hole. We played a bit of cat and mouse as I walked around below the box trying to get photos of him, but he eventually came to trust me enough to allow these photos. If you need a size reference, the hole in the box is exactly 3 inches across.

6/5/2002 - That's my Marge!

I had expressed a feeling earlier in the year that this owl might not be Marge. But today when the heat and the crowd in the box drove her out by early afternoon, she went straight to Marge's traditional perch - the ridge beam of our living room. It's shady there and with the roof above there's zero threat from the hawks. Marge allows us to walk around near her, take pictures, etc - she's totally unafraid of us. She let me take this:

The bigger chicks continue to climb up and look out the hole when they can. If they stick to the plan, they'll fledge about June 11th - one month after they were born.

The volume on the website is way up. I assume you're all watching to see what "runty's" fate will be. For those who think we're too cruel, I did call Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley and they basically agreed that it was best to let nature take it's course. They're willing to euthanize him if I'll get him out of the box and take him to them. Perhaps if Marge abandons him that will be a better choice than watching him starve, but my inclination is to not interfere. this was all so much easier when all of the chicks were healthy.

6/3/2002 - Only about a week left

The three big chicks are spending a lot of time exercising their wings. Marge leaves the box earlier and earlier every evening. She flies to a nearby perch while it is still fairly light out, then she waits until dark to begin to hunt. I assume that it's just too crowded in the box for her. In past years she has taken to perching on the ridge beam of our living room for the last week or so before the chicks fledge. As soon as Marge leaves, the bigger chicks will begin to try to hop up to the hole and look out. There are no "steps" inside this box (though there likely will be next year) so they tend to fall back a lot. They're still too small and too downy to be trying to fly. I suspect that their purpose is to be in the hole when Marge returns with food - an even better survival of the fittest technique than simply craning higher and quicker when she sticks her head in the hole

I do think that Homer is gone. I haven't been able to watch closely enough to really be sure he isn't coming around and, to be honest, can't remember if maybe he always bails as soon as Marge isn't brooding and can hunt all night herself. It seems like there was a large food cache in the box during the day much later in the cycle last year, but we really don't keep the sort of scientific records we'd need to be sure. Three of the chicks are obviously thriving whether the food shortage is real or imagined.

The runt is still there and is getting fairly adept at moving around the box despite his bad leg. Still, it's hard to imagine how he will get up to the hole when it is time to learn to fly, hard to imagine how he will get back up the tree after that inevitable first fall, hard to imagine how he will perch in trees by day once he leaves the box for good, and hard to imagine how he will hunt effectively. The kids have developed a real fondness for "runty", hopefully his demise will be unseen and unremarked - they can assume that he made it.

5/28/2002 - Growing chicks

They grow quickly. the bigger ones have begun to exercise their wings a bit, filing the box with clouds of down. It's amazing how fast they grow. Just three or four days ago I was estimating their wingspan by the fact that it was almost, but not yet, as wide as the box (8 inches). Today, they can't exercise well as their wings are far too large to spread out in that small box.

The runt falls further and further behind. He can't control his left leg and thus can't reach up for food as effectively as the others. I've sat watching them live a couple of evenings and am surprised to see that occasionally rather than just poking her head in the hole and feeding the most aggessive chick she drops in and pointedly feeds the runt. I've been hoping to watch later at night to see if Homer comes with food after Marge returns to the nest. The current theory is that Homer is gone. The rodent population seems at or above normal, so the best explanation for the apparent food shortage would be having lost half of the hunting team. I haven't seen Homer in days, not because he isn't there but because I can't stay awake late enough to see. Might have to hook up a VCR...

May 24, 2002

May 21, 2002

May 17, 2002

May 10, 2002 - First baby pictures

May 9, 2002

May 8, 2002

May 6, 2002

April 19, 2002

April 15, 2002

April 13, 2002

April 12, 2002

April 11, 2002

April 7, 2002

If you'd like to see the web site from last year's (2001) owls, click here.

If you'd like to see the web site from last year's (2000) owls, click here. We worked hard in 2000 and there are a lot of video and audio clips, photos from inside and outside the box, plus some info on how the cameras work.


 

Links:

Learn about all types of Owls at Owlpages.com they've even got a list of owl cams.

There are a zillion nest cams out there. View Nesting Birds has the most complete list.

There's another really good list at Bird Webcams.

An Owl Nest Box cam, this one is Northern Barred Owls (Strix varia varia) and has been running since 1997. 

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

The Birder.Com has some excellent photos