Monthly Archives: April 2012

Cool Kids

Well I’ve had a day or two off so a day or two without blog writing. Back in this afternoon and other than being a bit nippy for the time of year (come on, it’s nearly May!) the sun was shining and the centre had good numbers of visitors.

I was pleased to see that the Great Horned Owlets are now getting so big there is at least one visible most of the time. They seem to almost double in size every day at this stage! I’ve never seen owlets from this species before so I’m loving every day of seeing them.

No news is good news, definitely the phrase of the week as far as the other nesting birds go. Our female Ural Owl is still sitting tight on her nest, and the male is calling to her in the afternoons after food has been put in the aviary. They must have one or more owlets, surely? Over the way in the Northern Hawk Owl aviary the male spent most of the day sitting either next to the nest box or on a perch where he could face the box – could he hear owlets/hatching? The fact that both these female owls are still sitting in the nest box is a good sign, but we won’t know for sure that any eggs have hatched for some time yet. If only I had the Great Grey Owl’s super hearing I could hear if there are owlets in these boxes!

In the last few days we have added more owls to the breeders board; Southern White Faced Owl, Mottled Owl, and hopefully tomorrow the Ashy Faced Owl.

I doubt our Siberian Eagle Owls will breed this year given that the female is going through a moult at the moment. Today I found one of her primary feathers from her left wing – it’s huge! I have in my collection the same feather from a Eurasian Eagle Owl, a Turkmenian Eagle Owl and a Red Kite, and this Siberian’s feather is the biggest of the lot! She’s a very impressive bird!

Today’s flying displays that I took part in were not my best, nor did the birds perform that great either, but everyone has an ‘off day’ every now and then. Sarabi had a bad encounter with wheelchairs in the morning, and seeing another in the afternoon show just put her in a stubborn mood. She was still lovely for the photo sessions, just not inclined to fly today. Hudson the Great Horned managed two short flights and one long one today. Not great by flying display standards but still a milestone; his first flights with an audience and the mic system switched on, so two distractions to put him off. Luckily Prince the Ashy Faced and Lofty the Barn Owl put in good performances, Lofty being particularly aerobatic showing off his hover and pounce technique!

Before my days off we had our first school visit here to the Scottish Owl Centre. One of the local schools – Polkemmet Primary School – came to see the centre. There were maybe 40 to 50 children I think, and they enjoyed their ‘Walk to the North Pole’ guided tour followed by a flying display. There were other visitors in that day too and they were invited to join the tour if they wished, then see the flying display in the indoor arena. The owls put on a good show for the children – I could hear their gasps, laughs and squeals from through the wall as Broo the Eurasian Eagle Owl swooped over their heads. I prepared Lofty for his turn as Hosking the Tawny Owl whizzed around the arena before returning through his little door in the wall to his aviary. Lofty was in a good mood and really showed off for the kids. He is stunning as he is so pale underneath and a rich honey colour on his back, and he flies around the arena quite happy to do his own thing while I talk, then comes over when I offer food. As he will fly to the glove I can go and stand behind – or within! – the audience and bring him over to fly right over their heads or land right next to them. I love seeing the reactions of the audiences as our owls do this, and the school children really enjoyed it. I rounded the display off with a ‘question time’ and was amazed and pleased with all of the things the children asked. There were so many questions I had to stop myself from getting carried away, I could have kept on going all day with a crowd as enthusiastic as that! Well that couldn’t happen of course, and I suggested that the children send us questions through the school or ask next time they visit, maybe with their families.

I really enjoyed this flying demonstration as it was quite different from anything I’d done before – so much fun! We hope to have a lot of schools visit us this year. If you live in the area, maybe you are a teacher or know a teacher, or have children at a local school – get in touch and arrange a visit!

Anyhow I think I’d better log off and get some sleep, it will be a busy day tomorrow!



Snap snap snap

On a quiet day for visitors we had quite an interesting morning all things considered.

A photographer from the Herald newspaper came through to take some pictures of the owls in action in the display arena. It was quite the setup, with lights and a screen etc, so we weren’t sure that the birds would be comfortable at first.

Starting out with probably our most steady bird I brought out Sarabi the Milky Eagle Owl. As expected she took it all in her stride. She’s quite nosey and likes new things so she was quite happy to sit and watch the photographer set up equipment or change cameras. She flew well and was really well behaved – but then she always is – as long as there are no pushchairs around! 🙂

Next up was Prince the Ashy Faced Owl. As he has been so good in the public displays lately I figured he’d be co-operative. Some of the pictures the photographer showed us were amazing, the lighting making his golden brown plumage almost glow. He was less patient than Sarabi but very well behaved.

Kenya the White Faced Owl is very photogenic, and the photographer took some good portrait shots, but she was too fast for him to get good pictures of her in flight. The same was true for Hosking the Tawny Owl too, but we arranged the angles well so that Hosking swooped onto a perch just right and one photograph was particularly stunning.

When Oulu the Great Grey Owl had a turn we really didn’t know if she would be patient enough at all. She is more jumpy by nature and the most moody of our trained birds. Having said that she was in quite a good mood today (hungry, in other words!). She took a little convincing to fly with all the tall tripods and screen and equipment around, but she did us proud. Again the photographer managed to take some spectacular shots of her flying to a perch. She definitely didn’t have the patience of birds like Sarabi but she always has a dramatic ‘wow factor’.

We hope that the pictures will be part of a feature in the magazine included with the newspaper at the weekend, although I can’t remember if that is Saturday or Sunday. It would be fantastic to see Oulu or one of the others on the cover maybe!

The rest of the day was quiet at the centre, with the weather turning wet and windy and surprisingly cold. This Spring seems to be full of ups and downs as far as temperature goes. I’m looking forward to dryer weather at the weekend but it would be handy if it were dry tomorrow too. We have our first school booking and 30 to 40 children will be visiting. At least we have plenty of sheltered areas to get them out of any rain, and our display team will put on a good show rain or shine.

Around the owl collection today I felt that the elderly Long-eared Owl that we have been caring for actually looked a little better. Not a lot better but she still has a lot of strength and eats well.

One of our Mottled Owls spent another day sitting low in the nest box so I’m hoping that means she is laying eggs. I’ll see what’s happening tomorrow and maybe start the clock. There is still no sign of hatching in the Ural Owl nest but there could be tiny wee owlets in there. Our fingers are crossed for that and for Hawk Owl eggs hatching in the next few days too.

Right, that’s me for this blog. ‘Til tomorrow, gnite.


I’m back! Just in case any of you were getting ‘blog withdrawal’ symptoms after my day without blogging!

I enjoyed my day off/birthday yesterday, went through to Edinburgh for the day and visited the zoo in the afternoon. This is kind of a ‘busman’s holiday’ for me I know, but as they have no owls at the zoo I’m there to enjoy looking at other animals and birds. I saw the Pandas again, and again they were asleep! I did look over their enclosures with a critical eye though, thinking about the good tips I could pick up for enclosures at the owl centre. On my wanders around Edinburgh in the morning though I found a statue to native born philosopher David Hume, albeit with the obligatory traffic cone adornment. In the cemetery in Calton Hill I found his mausoleum.  I am reminded of one of my favourite quotes of his;

‘A propensity to hope and joy is real riches; one to fear and sorrow real poverty.’

To which, I consider myself a rich man indeed. 🙂

Back at work today I found that the sickly Long-eared Owl is still with us, with a surprising amount of strength and energy, a lot of life in the old girl yet. We are evaluating her condition daily and daily making a decision whether to take her to the local vets.

Over at the Great Horned Owl aviary the two owlets are growing so fast you can almost see them getting bigger by the day. With the spells of warm sunshine today the female felt able to leave the nest to take a break, with the owlets now big enough and downy enough to keep warm without her in the good weather.

No sign of owlets next door in the Ural Owl aviary though. There may be, or may not be, we will just have to be patient and watch what happens.

Other good news for the breeding season is that the White Faced Owl female is still in the nest box and now counted as nesting. As with the other owls I’m now counting on the calendar for when to estimate their hatch date. These owls are great and their owlets are cute and fun to see when they fledge – just don’t get between parent and young, they have no respect for how much bigger than them you may be, they protect their babies!

Today’s mystery lies in the Mottled Owl nest box, literally. There has been one of these owls in the nestbox for the best part of a month now, but it (presumably the female) has always been standing up rather than lying down on eggs. Today I could barely see the top of her head as she lay so low down. If she is really breeding she will still be lying like this another full day or two before I’ll believe that they are breeding. They have been playing at it for so long, and I’ve never seen this species breed before, I’ll need some good convincing before I write them on the list with those breeding.

We’re getting a good number of volunteers coming through the centre lately. Once everyone is trained up to speed the place will just be jumping, and I’m sure we’ll all have a good time along the way. I enjoy interacting with people as well as the birds so this is just perfect.

As I sign off for this blog, I leave you with a pic from the birthday surprise that was sprung on me at work – cake, candles, song, the works! Gnite!

Owlet signs?

Do we have more owlets? That’s the question I was asking as I ended my day today.

But first, ‘more?’ you say? If you haven’t been to the Scottish Owl Centre yet, or haven’t been following my blog entries, you may not know that we already have owlets hatched at the brand new owl centre!

Our first bundles of fluff and talons are two Great Horned Owl chicks. They are doing well, eating like it’s going out of fashion, and getting so big that mum has trouble keeping them both under her wing, literally! Today the lovely sunshine meant that it was warm enough for the female Great Horned Owl to leave the nest for a well deserved break – the owlets would be warm enough without her what with the heat from the sun combined with their thick downy feathers. I noticed today that the owlets are starting to change colour from pure white with black eye masks to a grey and black with wavy bands. I’ve never seen Great Horned Owl chicks before so I’m watching them grow with interest. Nothing is changing when it comes to parental duties though. Even though ‘mom’ is able to leave the nest for a break she is quick to return and both she and her mate are quick to click, a warning to me to steer clear or suffer the consequences!

I did back off of course, I wanted to see the two owlets were okay but I also didn’t want to cause disturbance either to that owl family or to the potential new family next door.

We’re into the ‘estimated hatch dates’ for the Ural Owls, and at the end of the day today, just as the doors were closed and I was doing my feeding rounds, I heard the male Ural Owl calling. A few minutes after I had fed them he was over on the perch close to the nest shelf. I take this as a very good chance that there is something very interesting going on in the nest – maybe one or two new owlets! Well it’s a long shot just from hearing an owl calling, but calling at 5 p.m. is unusual behaviour for this nocturnal owl so I’m hoping it’s a good sign anyway.

Other potential breeding news at the owl centre today is that the female White Faced Owl has been in the nestbox for three full days. This is the timeline I take for estimating that she is nesting and maybe has her first egg. I’ll start counting on the calendar from today and get an estimate on when there may be eggs hatching. It is all guesswork but the anticipation is good I think. 🙂

I also noted at the end of today that there was only one Tengmalm’s Owl visible. They have been going through a quiet kind of courtship, with subdued hooting during the day (so not to attract attention from would-be predators like Tawny Owls) and allo-preening, where they groom and preen each other’s feathers as part of forming a strong bond between the pair.

Elsewhere, our elderly Long-eared Owl is still under care. She has eaten less in the last 24 hours although her condition otherwise seems stable. Examining her in my hands today I found she was fairly well off when it comes to weight and muscle tissue, I have found much thinner owls in worse condition than this one. She was relatively relaxed in my hands but had good strength and was pretty feisty. However, she was also wet and bedraggled, having sat in one place out of shelter and has done no preening for days. Her food intake has dropped since yesterday too. I’m not very hopeful now and will be evaluating her condition and quality of life at more regular intervals from now.

As it is so often, the cycle of life is evident at the owl centre. Just as one life – one incredibly long life – is slowing down and reaching an end, other lives are just beginning. This job isn’t for everyone, but the cycle of life is with us all and can bring a lot of joy for those that choose it.

Well I’m signing off for this blog entry, then having a day off tomorrow as it’s my birthday. Probably having a ‘busman’s holiday’ trip to the zoo so don’t be too surprised to see a blog entry for tomorrow! Anyway, gnite!

El poncho

It was quite a busy day at the Scottish Owl Centre today. Despite the occasionally heavy showers we had a good number of visitors and we put on three flying displays for them.

For some reason my talks were better, I felt, than the last few days have been. Some days you just aren’t in the zone, other days you are. It helped that the birds I flew today were all in the same zone too. Sarabi showed no signs that yesterdays bad encounter with wheelchairs was still on her mind. She flew in two shows today and was good both times. She is getting good at the long flights down the arena to go to the high perch in one corner. Twice she flew by different routes, and a third time up to that perch was from a standing start as she was on the floor in front of a bench of visitors. She lifted off almost vertically – right in front of their faces! They loved it, as did those whose heads she flew just above too.

Tiger and Prince made up the afternoon show with Sarabi, and they kept up the pace. Prince particularly showed that he is getting used to the new flying arena now. He is so comfortable with it all now that he anticipates which post I’m heading for and beats me to it sometimes, or he chooses to fly over to a perch – or even do a lap of the arena, knowing that he will still get a reward when I eventually call him back to a perch. I’m really pleased with how he is coming on and am revising what I say in my talk about Ashy Faced Owls. They are beautiful birds and quite special to me, so I want my talk to do them justice. We’re working on a concept for an all ‘Americas’ display in the coming months, and want to include the Ashy Faced Owl in that.

One more member of our display team has that ‘Americas’ link too. Poncho the Tropical Screech Owl is a good representative of the region and as the tiniest member of the team gets a lot of attention, especially from children. He is the last of our current team to bring into condition for the shows, and I’ve not mentioned him much before now. Being so small it is more tricky to get his weight right for flying displays but he is pretty close now, just another 10 grams to lose. Today he starred in the photo booth for part of the day, to help him get used to being around people again. He looked a bit bedraggled as he got a bit wet in a shower first thing but he had the ‘cute’ factor in his favour. He is such a character, and nobody can resist saying ‘aww’ when they see him. 🙂

We’re lining up groups of owls in the trained team to put on various themes, as well as the Americas. Another theme we are aiming to put on is an African theme. European owls would be another theme of course. It is good to have such a diverse team of trained birds as we can do so much for education with these birds acting as ‘ambassadors’ for their wild cousins around the world.

We will be adding new members to our team in the coming weeks too. Watch this space! 😉

Right, I’m off, see you tomorrow. Gnite!

Egg ‘watch’ starts here!

Well today was a pretty average day at the Scottish Owl Centre, but by no means dull, how can anything be dull around owls?

Our Ural Owls showed no signs that any eggs have hatched yet, but I’m not surprised by that. Any newly hatched owlet would be tiny and hardly need much food at all. As I always do with breeding owls, I put in some food in the morning as well as the afternoon feed. It’s usually the only way to tell if there are extra mouths being fed, but as I say at this early stage they wouldn’t need much food anyway. Plus there’s the fact that Ural Owls are quite nocturnal by nature, so extra food put out in the daytime would most likely be left until dusk anyway. There may not have been any hatching yet in any case, as the date is only an estimated hatching date, hatching could be anytime in the next week. I really hope they do though!

In today’s flying demonstrations we had a hiccup in the first show. Sarabi froze in front of audience that included wheelchairs, and only did two long flights before I had to put her back in her aviary. She has been doing really well with facing and overcoming her fear of things on wheels but today was something of a relapse. She flew well in afternoon show after time to settle down though. Prince flew really well in two shows today, his weight reaching 320 grams, the ideal weight we would expect for a Barn Owl of his size, even though he is an Ashy Faced Owl. Lofty, Bruce and Tiger also flew well, with Tiger and Bruce flying to benches next to audience – who loved it, especially the children, and they loved having their fingers nibbled by an owl – Bruce is very gentle so it’s fun, and physical contact in this safe supervised way helps make a ‘contact’ in the person that just looking may never do. It’s certainly something to tell people, how you were nibbled by an owl today!

I showed round and talked to another new volunteer this afternoon. We are still building up our volunteer rota and it is great to have so much interest.

For those following updates on our elderly and ill Long-eared Owl, well she is still hanging in there, still eating well, but her condition hasn’t improved either. A very resilient old girl for sure.

Out around the collection today I noticed that one of the White Faced Owls was inside the nest box. There has been one sitting in front of the box for a few days now, and I expect that this was the male guarding their chosen nest site. The female was inside the box all day today. I will keep watching them. As always I start counting them as nesting from the third full day in the box. I had expected to see breeding behaviour from the Ashy Faced Owls first, but the White Faced may sneak in there before them, with any luck!

Right I’m signing off on a short blog tonight, will be up and out early again and will write as usual tomorrow night. ‘Til then, goodnight.


If wishes were horses, or owlets…

It was a quiet day at the Scottish Owl Centre today, with just a few intrepid souls and season ticket holders dropping by to visit the owls. I of course still had plenty to keep me busy though.

Starting with my usual rounds to check the birds are all okay, I found that our unwell Long-eared Owl had eaten all of the food I had left for her overnight. I moved her outdoors to an aviary but left her inside the ‘pet carrier’ with the door open. I cut some food up for her and placed it inside the box. Her condition hasn’t really changed in the last 24 hours, but it hasn’t improved either. We’ll see how she fares through another 24 hours.

With the centre so quiet it was a good time to see the owls relaxed and moving about. I was intrigued to see that the Barred Owls had swapped perches, with the male now sitting on the female’s favourite place and the female sitting beside the nest shelf. I wandered by on occasion through the day and saw them both using different perches each time. Maybe there is more interaction between them, along with the hooting at night, that might give hope of them breeding? This might be too much to ask, with them only having met at the beginning of March. I can dream though.

On my wanderings I also noticed that one of the Little Owls was inside the nest box each time I passed. I heard them call once too. Another one to watch over the next few days.

Our pair of Ashy Faced Owls may be the next to breed though. The female is sitting rather than standing in the nest box most of the day now, and I heard them calling to each other a minute or two after feeding them this afternoon, likely the male passing food to his mate. These are the parents of Prince in our trained owl team and have been good breeders in previous years. Their open fronted nestbox is different from ones I’ve previously seen this species use, so it will be interesting if they do breed; their owlets would be viewable from outside the pen once they grow big enough. Another one to watch and hope for!

Overall then there are a lot of hopes and dreams for the owls to breed this year. Tomorrow marks the first estimated date for hatching eggs in the Ural Owl nest. Fingers are crossed and I’ll let you know if I see any signs.

Okay so I’m signing off early tonight, need to get some rest. ‘Til tomorrow then, goodnight.