Our little Screech Owl couple had a banner week this week, launching their babies into the world as fledglings.
About a week ago in the afternoon, I was walking by the “owl window” that faces their box and saw a brief but distinct flurry of motion inside the box. Something like a wing poked out briefly and then withdrew, and my first impression was that there was some kind of a rumpus inside the box and a few feathers here and there passed the entrance hole where I happened to see them moving. I hoped it was baby owls, finally getting big enough to make their presence known.
I readied the camera, and by the time I got back, there was a fuzzy gray lump sticking out of the hole. It was our first glimpse of the babies that we had been hoping were there inside the box. Over the next few minutes I got nothing but terrible pictures (shared here for your pleasure), but saw enough to know there were at least two babies in there. It’s hard to mistake four eyes , two beaks, and fuzzy tufts of gray baby feathers as anything else. What I couldn’t do was tell if there were more than two.
The wobbly owlets were so clumsy they had trouble maneuvering themselves into the entrance for a lookabout. I strongly suspect each of trying to pull the other down when one had a measure of success in looking out. One of the little fuzz buckets would climb laboriously into the entrance, using beaks and feet much less easily and gracefully than their papa, and while it perched there all would seem well until it would suddenly fall backwards into the box, reaching out desperately to cling to the entrance hole with its beak and lever itself clumsily back up. I can’t see through the box, but from my vantage point it seemed like tangle of human children playing a game where one tries to climb and look out the playhouse porthole while the others conspire to pull him back in.
The owlets are not used to the sight of me like their father is, so I could not get close for decent photos at all.
Later that day, towards dusk, I heard the mixed chorus of songbirds screaming their alarms again. I crept out to see what was happening and both parent owls were out of the box, sitting in the tree. There in the entrance was one of the babies, a little bolder now, and more stable in his stance on the edge of the entrance hole.
The parents were making soft whinnying calls, one to either side of the nest box, and the babies took turns standing in their entranceway. It was like they wanted the babies to watch what they did so they could learn to hunt, and both parents stayed within sight of the entrance hole and the exploring babies most of the time. The parents were busy gathering food for their fast growing brood, and would fly away, come back, and deliver something to the nest very quickly before taking off again for their usual perches on each side. They made several trips while I watched.
Mama Owl always stayed on the side where the sun was behind her, and I could never see what color she was. We still don’t know. Until this week, we had not seen her at all, but had assumed she existed based on the behavior of the male.
I went in to change camera gear since it was getting dark and I thought a different lens would give me better advantage.
I knew that this might be a critical time for them, with the owlets almost grown and bad weather rolling in, and that they probably needed to hunt quickly and get the owlets fed before the weather hit.
I managed to catch two interesting shots of papa arriving with a tasty gecko for the kids, and him turning to feed it to the fuzzball in the doorway. But they’re fast, and I’m not, so photo opportunities in the gathering dark were dwindling. I also really felt that with the lightning increasing it was time for me to leave their little family alone for the night, so I retreated to the indoors and watched a bit more from an upper window, where my presence wouldn’t trouble them.
All week, we’ve been catching glimpses of owlets poking out their front door. Yesterday, they were both comical and alarming, extending their bodies waaay out, and snaking them around like they were dancing. They elongate and contract quickly. I thought for sure I’d see one fall, and hoped I wouldn’t. One kept leeeaaanning way out to inspect the landing branch.
One owlet had a stare down with me. My place at the table faces the box, and while we were dining I saw him hanging out and looking in at us. When I looked back there was sun glare on the window, so I moved my head sideways for a better look. He did too. I laughed and moved my head the other direction. He did too! Pretty soon I was moving my head from side to side and he was doing the same where he perched. If it was a contest, he won. I stopped moving, but he continued and started doing circles with his head. I’m sure he was just getting a good look, but it’s eerie to see the eyes fixed forward while the whole face is doing loops like a spot on the rim of a bicycle wheel. Owls are pretty flexible—flexible enough to be really goofy dancers.
Just in time for Mother’s Day, Mama Owl got her brood launched last night. We returned home from the farm near dusk and heard the alarm chorus of Robins in the front. By the time I had put down the farm gear and made my way to the back windows, it was nearly dark, but I could see one lumpy owl sitting on the landing branch in front of the box. It was too dark to tell which one. It stood up unsteadily, flapped a little bit, and then made its way further into the tree where I could see at least two more owls flapping. The babies worked their way through the branches using a combination of wings, feet and beaks, still too uncertain to go by flight alone. One of the owls I could see maneuvered with ease, and must have been a parent. At least two did an unseemly amount of flapping and walking for an owl, and must have been babies.
I didn’t want the wobbly babies to be alarmed or injured, so I did not even try to photograph the big event. Sorry, all you get from me are photos taken on other days, in the gloom, from a respectful distance and mightily cropped—and some wholly inadequate words.
I am so happy for Mama Owl this Mother’s Day. She not only got them hatched. She got them to fly.