Visit no. 7, May 2nd - 14th

Two chicks have left the nestbox. One, the middle one, fledged unexpectedly early and disappeared for about three days. I searched high and low, but never found where she was hiding in her first days out of the box. The second of the two older chicks didn't want to leave the nestbox at all, and the mother resorted to starving him — and eventually to dive-bombing him on the ledge — to make him leave! The two chicks were eventually reunited by the mother in the big oak wood across the path from the nestbox, and after a few days lounging in the very tops of the trees in hot sun the mother took them to the hunting grounds in the fields out to the west.

I've come back with a ton of material – far more than I can process in a few days — plus we have to do some work to keep the wolf at bay, so writing up the fledging stage is going to be a bit piecemeal. All that matters is that everyone's ok, and to my relief the low-profile nestbox worked fine once again — no problems with chicks falling out!

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Fledging wasn't without its dramas. One of the older chicks, Pretty, a female, left the box unexpectedly early, on about her 27th day. She disappeared between our evening visit and my arrival at 11 pm to monitor the box overnight. I searched high and low in the trees for 50 yards around but couldn't turn her up. All I found (to my great surprise!) was an adult sitting half-way down a larch by the path. It was Mrs Owl. She kindly waited while I went to the tent to get the camcorder to film her by a mix of infrared and torch light! She only left when she heard male calls some way to the east.

In complete contrast Ugly, the other older chick and a boy, didn't want to leave the box at all. This was strange as he'd seemed to be the most outgoing and confident — Pretty had been quiet in the box and tended to sit with her face to the back wall. But for three days after Pretty left he refused even to come out onto the ledge. Food deliveries by both parents fell dramatically and it became clear that Mrs Owl, now spending most of her time with the disappeared fledgling, was deliberately starving Ugly into leaving. Finally, one night when he at last emerged on the ledge, she twice flew in without food, there was a frantic scuffle on the ledge, and I realised that she must be trying to force him into the air. She failed, but he fledged the next evening and made his way in a leisurely fashion over to the oak wood on the other side of the path. Unlike Pretty, he moved off so gradually that I was able to follow his progress. How Pretty managed to fly so far at such an early age will never be known. I might have missed her in the larches, but my best guess is that in the four hours I was away she made her way over to another location favoured by her mother some 70-80 yards off. Amazing.

To my great relief Pretty reappeared a couple of days later in the oak wood, and after a while spent in separate but nearby tree tops the two older chicks found each other. They even settled on the same branch — as in the photo at the top of the page.

And as to what happened to the third chick, ZoŽ, see the September update below.

Ugly just didn't want to fledge and stayed in the box until his 31st day. His mum eventually resorted to dive-bombing him on the ledge after starvation failed to get him to move!

Mrs Owl has proved a bit reluctant to be photographed this year. Here's one of the better shots I've managed to get of her while she stood guard over her chicks in the oak wood.

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Postscript, mid-June: the house owls spring a surprise

To my great surprise, and pleasure, when I threw open my window late one evening in mid-June I instantly heard the wheezy squeaks of two young tawnies. There's only one pair of birds who could be responsible — the tawny couple who roost near the house. This is the "pine nest pair" of the 2006 Nesting Diary. That year the female laid eggs, but for some reason they didn't hatch, and the pair abandoned their breeding attempt.

But what a sneaky pair! For some time there's been a nestbox near where they roost, and early this year I put up a second nestbox for them. This was one of the new "dutch" letterboxes I'm trying. They ignored both boxes and must instead have used an open nest, as they did in 2006. But I never heard the female callng from this nest in March-April, as I would have expected if it had been near the house, so this pair's breeding efforts went completely undetected!

 

December update on nestbox chick no. 3

The third chick, since named ZoŽ, never made it into those oak tops with Ugly and Pretty. But she's alive and well and is now a companion to another sister, Sophie, in a territory about a mile away. Puzzled? Read on . . .

With Tawny Owls, and in our quite temperate climate, third eggs seem to be more of a backup than anyhing else. It was a surprise to find that Mrs Owl had produced three this year as she's always had two before. A third chick may hatch some days later than the first two, which tend to hatch within a day of each other. Third chicks' smaller size and late development can expose them to problems when it comes to fledging time, especially if the mother stops bringing food to encourage the older birds to leave the nest.

As I watched events in and around the box in the last days and nights it became clear that our third little chick was facing these problems big time. After the older sister left, food deliveries to the box dropped abruptly to one a night. For a couple of nights I watched as ZoŽ stood eagerly in the queue when mother arrived with a catch, and how her head dropped in seeming despair when big brother won out and she knew she'd missed her only chance.

After that the food deliveries stopped altogether. Three days later Ugly, her brother, finally left the box, and, with three or so days to go before she could fledge, ZoŽ's prospects looked altogether dire.

I decided I'd have to intervene. There was no time for permits as I didn't want to risk the chance of this chick somehow making it out of the box and disappearing. Another reason for removing her from the scene was that there were already five owls in the territory and — if she survived — she'd be a sixth. That would put a heavy load on the food resources in the area. You could say that an average territory is designed to support just three owls over a typical year.

And then I reasoned that she'd make a useful companion for Sophie when she was released later in the summer. Two females together would have more chance of holding a territory and, well, it would just be nicer for both of them than going out alone. If I fed her well over the next three months, ZoŽ would stand a much better chance of surviving. Sophie, by the way, is a rescuee from 2005, having fallen from an open nest. A daughter of the same parents, her release had been delayed by various unforeseen circumstances, but everything was now clear for her to be set free later in the year.

And so it was. Sophie and ZoŽ were released into a carefully monitored area on August 11th. So far they're doing well. To read about the release and their subsequent progress, go to the Tawny Owl Release pages.

Some time I'll do a write-up on how, while in my care, ZoŽ grew from a pathetically underweight and frightened chick into really quite a feisty— and wild! — little charmer. She and Sophie became good friends, and after some months in the wild they are still keeping each other company.

Zoe (left) and Sophie enjoying an hors d'oeuvre in early August, about five days before their release. Sophie's not a large bird, and Zoe's grown to be only about 2/3 her size.

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The two older chicks high up in the canopy of the oak wood a few days after they fledged. "Ugly" on the right, who we think is a boy, had to be forcibly fledged by his mum; "Pretty", the girl on the left, vanished for a few days before reappearing and joining her brother in the oaks.

Nesting Diary 2008

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