I have no idea what is going on with the Spotted Eagle Owls. We have a pair of these birds, but are they a ‘pair’? Owls are almost always the same coloured plumage from male to female, with size being the most obvious difference to the observer (females are around a third larger). To find out whether your cute fuzzball owlets are male or female you have to wait until they grow their adult feathers and remove two or three of them. You then send the feathers off to a laboratory for them to test the DNA. The lab then tells you if you have a boy or a girl. So the two African Spotted Eagle Owls came to the Scottish Owl Centre with paperwork saying their DNA showed them to be one male and one female. From what we thought we knew, the one with the chestnut brown coloured plumage was a 19 year old female and the grey plumaged one was a young male, around 4 years old. All was good when the female went to sit inside the nestbox on the ground at the rear of their aviary. I discovered that she had two eggs. All good. Then the grey one went to sit in the box too.
After a day or so I began to get curious. Going in the aviary with food I stepped closer… closer… and the grey owl was sitting glaring at me. I expected him to get up and leave the box but instead I got more glares. I stepped closer, closer… then ‘he’ stood up and I saw underneath – an egg. Oh! So we have two girls? Okay. Disappointing if that’s the case as it would have been good for the 19 year old female to breed.
Then things got stranger. The next day the grey one got out of the nest box to chase me away at food time, and there was no egg… the chestnut one must have been sitting on all of them!
So, is the grey one male after all, and wanted to help out with incubation? They are not recorded as doing this. Or is it an egg laying female? Well I’m going to hope for the first option and re-write that estimated hatching date on my board again, then we’ll just have to wait and see!
More egg-strordinary findings this morning. As volunteers Matt and Billy helped modify the Burrowing Owl nestbox, we discovered a clutch of eggs inside the box. Sadly they were all cold and infertile. I had been worrying about one of the two Burrowing Owls as I had not seen it in a long time, maybe a couple of weeks. Enough food for two owls was disappearing when I put it into the pen, but I just couldn’t see two owls. The problem was that the nestbox lid was screwed shut, and the box was then covered in sand to make it look a natural Burrowing Owl nest site. I couldn’t open the box to see if the second owl was alive or dead, surrounded by a pile of stashed food.
The owl was indeed alive, and sporting a very prominent brood patch. Unfortunately she had not been incubating these eggs for some time and they were stone cold.
I caught up both Burrowing Owls and moved them through to the off-view area and checked their health. Meanwhile Matt and Billy dug out the nest box and fitted a proper wooden base, recovered the waterproofing felt, and modified the lid so that it can be more easily lifted up for checks. We will check the ring numbers against the records. Once the work was finished on their box they were returned and set loose. The female with the brood patch darted straight into the tunnel that leads into the left hand nest chamber, but was out and about later in the day. Maybe she was reminded that the outside world wasn’t that bad after all, or maybe she didn’t like the new wood chip interior we put in her home! Either way it is much better now we can get inside the box to see if they are alright in the future. Later this year hopefully we will get some more Burrowing Owls, (including a male!) and we will be set up for the next breeding season next year.
Before I sign off, an update on the elderly Long-eared Owl. She is still with us, and is still managing to eat over night and during the day. Today she actually looked a little more settled. We keep our fingers crossed of course and I’ll check on her in the morning.
‘Til tomorrow, gnite.