Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Eagle Owl Diaries

So, it is time to begin the story of the new Eagle Owl.  I have now spent 1 week watching every poop, casting, and most recently, jump.  Did I mention poop.  I will tell you about the things that come to mind as I look at the owl.  Hopefully, they will be fun to read about as well as educational at times.

Eurasian Eagle Owl (Bubo bubo  from the Latin for "horned owl")-  The largest of the world's owls according to most authorities. It depends on the criteria you choose which you would identify as the winner.  Wing chord? Height?  Body mass?  The "Eagle Owl" wins most if not all in some cases. Big owl.

The Center purchased a pair (two of them and one male one female) a few years ago from an educator in Ohio.  She was not having luck with the pair breeding as the male only seemed to vocalize at humans and the pair "fought" too much in their enclosure. Both were "social" imprints or "creche" reared birds that grew up fed by a human along side other owls.  The behavior was not surprising.  I thought that they were young enough and we gave them a shot hoping that they would mate with one another instead of spending their entire lives looking for unrequited human love.

Quick aside for an interesting "lost bird" video.  I hope it adds to your understanding of these really cool owls.

From the beginning, he vocalized at humans. I tried to train him for a season with a lot of stress and without much progress, so we decided to put the two together and watch carefully.  No fights. Excellent!  He called at Audrey and Jen McT. especially, but really would call to anyone passing by.  Not so excellent!  She stood in the corner for weeks on end.  One day, she was squatting.  Could it be?  In fact it was! An egg!   For ten days, I convinced myself that it was infertile, but a good start for the pair.  It was incredibly difficult to wait for ten days without checking for fertility.  Like knowing your Christmas presents were unwrapped in the closet but not being able to peek.

At our 10 day candling, there was positive development! There were lots of "high fives" and other celebratory gestures.  Back under mom.  Still nearly a month of incubation to go.  Mom sat as tight as any bird I have ever worked with.  I had to literally pry her off of the ledge to check the egg weekly.
Finally, after 34 days, the check revealed no egg.  In its place, a fluffy hatchling!  Shortly after hatching, I took the next image in which you can see a yellow "day old chick" as we refer to the feeder chickens we use for a portion of most birds diet as well as the fluffy white owl chick.  The "day old chicks" weigh about 30 grams on average. The owl chick looks tiny in comparison!

When we want to train an owl for educational work, we typically hand rear them from 2 weeks of age on.  If the eggs hatch in our incubator, they are often hand reared from an even earlier age of 1 day!  At one day, the Eurasian eagle owl chick weighed less than 50 grams.  As you might imagine, young birds are fragile and need constant care.  It is best to let the parents do some of the work whenever possible!

This is what it looked like the day I took it from its parents to begin its training.  "Taking" the bird from its parents sounds awful and in this case, I had trouble looking at the parents for a couple of days. I got over it as I know they will.  Knowing that a life as an educator has been pre-arranged for this individual makes it easier to understand the course of action we took.

Today is the chick's "3-week birthday" or however you want to look at it.  Current weight: 818 grams.  Hopefully, we are on the way to a full adult weight of 2000 grams or more! Thats a lot of "day old chicks!"