OWLY WAS A ONE-OFF, my first owl, sui generis. But our next two chicks -- despite surviving only 3 and 5 days -- made an equally indelible impression and are as much a reason for these pages being here as Owly himself.

In spring 2004 the owl parents moved to another crow’s nest a little way off from where Owly was born in 2003 and further back from the path, and there they had Tubby and Tiny Tot. For some reason the mother delayed her brood, so Tubby, the older of the two, was born almost a month later than Owly. In fact this family was begun several days outside the laying period published for Tawny Owls by the British Trust for Ornithology.

Anyway, to our surprise and delight we spotted the mother on the nest in about mid-May. I got some recording equipment that could be left out overnight and over the next ten days or so we were able to get camcorder footage during the day and recordings of the mother and the comings and goings of the father at night. The mother became quite used to our daily visits to the path below her nest and would look down at us for a while before settling back to sleep out the daylight hours.

The 24th of May was a warm sunny day and it was wonderful to get 40 minutes of video of the two lively little chicks preening themselves, their fluffy white heads bobbing above the edge of the nest. After nearly 6 weeks of doing up to 20 hours a day on the nest the mother was away as the chicks could now keep warm on their own.

So it was with dismay that the next morning we found the chicks on the ground. It was cold, and they were hypothermic and crawling with ants. And unlike Owly the year before they bore obvious signs of injury -- broken toes, badly bruised and bloodied wings and blackened blood around the beak. No food had been brought to them and the mother was not around. Things did not look good. I was shocked that they had come down so pat -- how could this family survive?

The four pics down the right, taken two days after they fell, show Tubby and Tiny Tot at ages of about 16 days and 12 days. Tiny Tot is remarkably young to have walked off the nest.

Pic at left is a comparison of Tubby (left) and Owly (right). Owly was about 19 days old. Comparison is not easy, but one obvious difference is the pattern of white fluff round the eyes. On Tubby the ring of fluff is still close round the eyes (compare Tiny Tot), while on Owly the ring is moving out as a first stage in the growth of the eye disks. This tends to confirm that Tubby was younger than Owly, probably by 3-4 days, when these pics were taken.

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