Elvis Has Left the Building- Part One

by Dan Weisz

Two of the baby owls have left the nest box.  While observing the owls this weekend I noticed different behaviors by both the adults and the young prior to their fledging.  Watch things unfold in the next few emails.

Sunday night:

Dad has been keeping watch from the nextdoor neighbor’s porch.  The builders left the large concrete blocks used to create the porch pillars open at the top, providing a safe “cavity” for the owl to reside in.

With the kids growing up, the nest box has gotten very crowded.  I also imagine that the amount of debris inside has increased making the environment interesting, to say the least.  In any case, Mom has decided to spend her days at the neighbor’s porch in a different porch pillar than Dad uses.  An hour or two before sunset, she leaves her concrete home and flies to the ladder alongside my house.  The porch has been exposed to the afternoon sun and must be very hot.  Sunday’s high temperature was 97 degrees.  On the ladder, she is in the shade and is “hanging wings”, opening her wing to let the air flow through and cool her off.  You don’t see that behavior often, but how often do you observe owls during the daytime?  While she is aware of my presence, she continues to cool down.

I also witnessed her preening.  Again, a typical bird behavior but one that I haven’t seen in owls before.  Up to this point, when the mother remained in the nest during the day she just left the nest each evening quickly.  There was no visible stretching, preening, or any other activity other than just flying off followed by perching and then flights into the desert.  All of this behavior was new.

While preening, she gives her toes a little nip.  She may have had an itch there or something.  Note that her eyes are closed to avoid any accidents.

After sunset, the owl prepared to fly off.  While I had seen her do that often, I had not seen her stretch her wings. She did this stretch twice before flying off.  I’ve seen falcons do this “warble” but never an owl.   Of course, how often do you see an owl do anything‚Ķ.

After the hot day in her porch pillar, she stopped to drink before heading out for the evening.

Up until now, I’d only seen one owlet at a time.  I had noticed that one chick had a small black dot on the lower left corner of its iris while another did not have that dot, so I was certain there were two owlets.  I wasn’t sure if there were any more.  Sunday night I got the chance to confirm my hunches:

If you’ve seen kids jockeying for position on the couch, you will recognize this behavior. Two owlets are fighting for position with their eyes closed and nictitating membrane visible on the upper owl.  I can imagine them arguing about who got there first.

The owl on top seems to have an edge, and you can see that black dot on the iris of its left eye.

The struggle continued but the siblings seemed to have accepted each other’s presence:

In the meantime, two other things were happening.  When the parents brought food to the nest box, they did not immediately enter the nest.  They would land nearby calling the chicks to entice them to leave the nest.  Additionally, the owlets, when peaking out of the nest, really seemed to be stretching their heads and shoulders out now and were bobbing their heads, turning them all around quickly and without pause.

In Part Two of “Elvis Has Left the Building”, the story continues.