by Treloar Bower, Curator of Education
I am currently standing in front of my office mates: “I am an Owl-oholic. I have been for 100 hours and counting. I have no intention of curing my addiction until the last owlet fledges.”
How many of you have discovered The Owl Box on www.ustream.tv? I cannot stop watching! Every ½ hour or so, I have to bring it up on my computer screen and check on everything happening in the barn owl nest box. I love owls, always have, so I was destined to love Molly and McGee from the first moment I saw them. Apparently, so were 17,000+ others. Granted, there are a handful of people posting inappropriate comments on the live chat (as one poster said, it’s “a fascinating look at owl behavior and a hilarious look at human group dynamics”). But, on the whole, most people seem as charmed as I am.
I am amused by some of the questions people post. Some people demand that she be released from that box! (Um…she’s a wild owl that chose this nest box, which just happens to have webcams in it; this is completely normal behavior by a mama owl.) Others worry that her nest box must smell really bad and she must be miserable. (I’m sure it does, but only to us. Owls have poor senses of smell; they have highly attuned adaptations for hunting by sight and sound, not smell.) Some people worry she is smushing and/or eating her babies. (yeah…No.)
Aside from some good laughs, it does my heart good to think so many people are so invested in the success of this clutch of owl eggs. Many people on the chat confess to leaving the stream up on their PCs continuously. Others confessed to skipping favorite TV shows or putting off bathroom breaks just to watch Molly! I think there may be several reasons for this. First, who can resist a fuzzy baby? Next, owls are hard to spot, and then, even if you do, it’s just a glimpse of one in flight or the silhouette of one roosting in a tree. You certainly don’t get a view into a nest box like this! It’s like the best of reality TV: The Secret Lives of Owls, Exposed! And wow, was it exciting to see the male of the pair, McGee, enter the nest box with a rabbit last night! The chat stream goes berserk with people congratulating McGee on his hunting prowess, while others mourn the rabbit and still others complain, “ew, gross!” (Guess those people never eat fried chicken off the bone – ripping it off with their teeth, no less – do they?)
Right now, I keeping checking on Molly because I think she may be working up a cough pellet (the undigested bones, hair, teeth and claws of her most recently eaten meal). So far, I’ve seen her eat rabbits, rats and a pocket gopher. She breaks up the pellets to use the fur as bedding in the nest box. The box is full of fluff from eaten rodents!
It’s a bummer, but I have missed the pipping (the “chipping” of the first hole into the egg by the owlet) and hatching of both owlets. Thank goodness there are still three more chances over the next 5 or so days. After that, of course, will come the drama of whether all of the owlets survive and successfully fledge. The odds are against the entire clutch making it. In fact, the first egg laid, which would have hatched first, failed. Owls lay their eggs one at a time over several days. The first egg laid hatches first, after a 32-34 day incubation period, and then the others follow in order of their laying. That means first-hatched owlets have a size and strength advantage over their later-hatched siblings if food becomes scare and they must compete for it. Often times, the youngest owlets do not make it.
So far, people commenting on the chat stream have reported good hunting by daddy McGee. Maybe this entire group of owlets will make; I for one will definitely be watching!