Monthly Archives: May 2012

Smells Like Surgical Spirit

Quite an odd day at the Scottish Owl Centre today. Well, it’s not every day you take an adult male Snowy Owl to the local vets to have laser surgery (thankfully).

We’ve been monitoring the bird since the beginning of the year, and those who have followed this blog since January may remember the first time we called out the vet it was to look at the large swelling on the owl’s left wing. The diagnosis then was that this was a benign lump of fatty tissue, a xanthoma, and that the bird was not affected by its presence. In the last few weeks we have seen it become more prominent, possibly due to the hot weather. The bird was caught up at the weekend when we had a spot inspection by animal welfare inspectors and the decision was made to seek veterinary advice once again. (More on that inspection later).

Our local veterinary practice is very modern and well equipped and this morning a surgical laser was used to cut the lump off. The male Snowy is quite a calm bird once in the hand and so the vet decided that a local anaesthetic would be the best choice for the procedure. Once the area was frozen we all had to don protective goggles as the vet used the surgical laser to cut the tissue away. I won’t go into more gory detail but it was quite fascinating to observe. As fascinated as I was, after 45 minutes of this I was beginning to feel a bit hot and stuffy. I was wrapped up in four layers this morning, including waterproofs for the heavy rain, plus my ‘summer cold’ meant I could barely breathe. I thought I just needed to cool down but when the vet suggested I step outside for a moment I suddenly felt a bit wobbly! The cool air hit me and for one of the first times in my life I felt faint! I had to sit out the rest of the operation and hand over to Rod to handle the owl. Another 45 minutes later and the procedure was all done. I was disappointed not to have seen the whole thing through as I wasn’t squeamish about any of it, just overheated. The main thing though was that the Snowy Owl was sat up in his carry box looking a bit indignant about what had been done to him, but otherwise looked okay.

The prognosis from the vet was good. The lump had been an abscess and was removed quite easily. He felt that the bird could be observed for an hour or so then released into its aviary. Erring on caution we decided to keep the owl indoors overnight and see how it fares.

After a breath of fresh air and a trip back to the owl centre I was feeling more myself, a ‘medicinal’ ice cream later, and I felt fine – like I’d been the patient all along! Oh dear, never mind!

Back in the centre we did some checking on the nesting birds this afternoon. A few disappointments, a couple of surprises, some good news.

Our Little Owl female is still incubating 5 eggs, but they’re a little overdue now. The Mottled Owl has given up and thrown out a single infertile egg. The African Wood Owl had done the same. The White Faced Owl has thrown out an egg with a fully grown owlet inside but is still sitting on two eggs – fingers crossed one is fertile and she doesn’t throw it out too. Not a good start…

Better news came from the Tropical Screech Owl nestbox. I’d noted that the female hadn’t come out of the box since her last infertile eggs were removed, checking today we found she has ‘recycled’ and laid 3 more eggs. Fingers crossed that this clutch are fertile! One of our two female Ferruginous Pygmy Owls has laid another 3 eggs too, making 9 between the two girls – we need to get a male this year!

Best news still came from the Ashy Faced Owls, who are feeding at least one owlet! I got a glimpse of a small grey-white head yesterday while investigating owlet noises. Today we didn’t go in to look but watched as the male took all of the daily food delivery up to the box.

Ashy Faced Owlets would be fantastic for the centre’s first season in the new location. We’ll keep a close watch on them and hope they make it through to fledging safely.

I wrote up a list of nesting attempts made this year and came up with 15 species – not at all bad considering all the trauma and ordeal of moving to the new site. Even if we didn’t get any more owlets this year 15 species with eggs is a very respectable first season and gives us a lot of scope for next year. We’re not done with 2012 yet so let’s keep hoping for more fluffies this year!

Okay that’s my lot for tonight, I’m signing off and heading to bed. ‘til next time, goodnight.


Pole position

Well the heatwave seems to be over with us for the moment, and this morning there was a little moisture in the air. No rain though. Just as well really as we had another school visit booked for this morning.

This was our second school from the Edinburgh region, just a little way down the motorway really, and they easily arrived for ten o’clock. We’re starting to get into a pattern that suits most with the schools now, and began their visit with a short guided tour ‘Walk to the North Pole’. The children were primary 4 age and so were pretty clued up on the need for camouflage, food chains, and taking care of the environment topics. It was nice to get some thoughtful questions from the children and well thought out answers to my questions too.

Finishing at the ‘North Pole’ the children then had some time to explore the owl centre as they looked for the answers to ‘Professor Hoot’s Tough Test’ on the information boards and in our education zone. After all that running about and thinking they were ready for a sit down and so met up with us in our indoor display arena. We flew some of the trained owls for them with more good questions and answers throughout. We had some other visitors in at the same time and they seemed to enjoy the session as much as the children did.

The afternoon was quieter, not just because the school children had left to go back to school! We had a steady flow of visitors and Poncho the Tropical Screech Owl made an appearance in one of the afternoon shows. The contrast between this tiny owl and then Hudson the Great Horned Owl was quite something and the audiences were fascinated. It’s nice to have Poncho in the team now and he is proving to be a pretty steady and good natured owl, happy to be in the shows and to have his photo taken with the public.

We usually feed the collection in the afternoon and while volunteers Karen and George were taking the feed buckets around today I heard a familiar sound coming from the Ashy Faced Owl aviary. Were my ears deceiving me, or was that the sound of an owlet? Hmm. Well with a few people to act as witness we were pretty sure we did indeed hear the tell-tale hissing made by babies of the Barn Owl family to which the Ashy Faced belong. The male had taken food straight up to the nest the second it hit the floor of the aviary and passed it to his mate. She began to rip it up into pieces small enough for tiny beaks to swallow, and this was when we were hearing the owlet noises.

I’m hesitant to get too excited about the prospect of owlets here after such a run of bad luck so far this season. This pair have been reliable breeders in previous years though, so should be steady enough to keep looking after their young. The Ashy Faced Owl is probably the most endangered owl in collections in the UK so this makes them the main target species for us to breed. I’ll keep my excitement reigned in for a day or two as I don’t want to be disappointed with such an important species for the centre.

I’ll leave you tonight with a up to date picture of our two Great Horned Owlets, taken this afternoon with my shiny new camera. Enjoy, and good night!

Sleep well Sam

Today was a very tough and very sad day for us at the Scottish Owl Centre. Sam, the American Barn Owl we were hand rearing to join our flying display team died quite suddenly. 😦

At just six weeks old this is a tragic thing to have happened. In my last blog I mentioned that the owlet had not been eating as much, and although since then it had taken more food, this morning it passed away. It was very quick and sudden, one minute seemed fine but the next gone. We will see if the vet can find what was wrong but sometimes these things just happen without reason.

While we are all upset it is some comfort to think of the little owlet as being a happy and curious little soul, and brightened our lives if only for that brief time with us.

Sleep well now Sam.

Hot Hot Hot

Well summer finally arrived with style. The BBC news tonight is saying that Scotland had the hottest places in the UK today and I can believe it. We had at least 22 degrees Celsius here but I think I can almost guarantee that the hottest place in the UK today was inside our Rainforest Realm! 😉

Before I go further I must mention that I am still having difficulties with my blog service. Maybe I keep trying to log on when everyone else is hammering the server, but for whatever reason when I try to log in I get a message saying the site is unavailable. To get around this problem we are in the process of upgrading our official website, and my blog will be incorporated into that. Along with more powerful software for me to write my blog in we have a dedicated server just for our site, so I won’t have to compete with the many members that WordPress boasts. We aim to get this new service up and running in time for the Scottish Owl Centre’s official launch date in June – more on this when I have more info.

Back to the news and weather desk.

Two days of sunshine here in West Lothian has been very nice, with today hotter than yesterday. The owls have been making the most of the heat and many have been seen sunbathing in their aviaries. Some seek out the perch in the sun, others get down onto the floor and spread their wings to squeeze out every last drop of feather strengthening vitamin D. Not all of them love the heat though, most obviously the Snowy Owls. A bit of sun is okay but the temperature was just a bit much for them today. They sought out shade and shelter behind the big rocks in one half of their aviary. They are able to find some shade at either end depending on where the sun is in the sky during the day, and they have water to drink and keep them cool too.

This was one of the priority jobs for myself and the volunteer keepers today. We regularly checked that the water dishes had water in them, and those in which it had evaporated were topped up. I think our Spectacled Owls, Ural Owls and Tiger in our trained display team were very grateful of this as they all took the opportunity to bathe and cool down. Tiger bathed right before it was her turn to perform in the afternoon show! Normally this would mean the bird would be too waterlogged to fly but Tiger flew just fine. When Sarabi the Milky Eagle Owl flew she seemed to have her own hot wind preceding and following her slow and steady wing beats. It was quite the experience and reminded me of the hot sirocco winds of Southern Europe and Africa.

We’ve had some more disappointments from our breeding birds. Our Brown Wood Owl female was seen out of the nestbox one afternoon and was still off the next morning. I checked the box to find a single egg, stone cold and abandoned. Removing the egg and leaving the aviary I later checked inside and was dismayed to find an owlet in there. One theory I have is that the owlet formed well up to a point where the weather was particularly cold – we had a few minutes of snow even last week remember – and even in the warmer environment of the Rainforest Realm it would have been cold. This female has not had any luck in breeding in the past, having panicked during her first attempt and killed the owlet. This dead owlet today was particularly disappointing for us as this season is proving pretty awful so far.

To add to this, today I checked the African Wood Owls in the aviary opposite the Brown Wood Owls. Their eggs were due to hatch the day before the Brown Wood’s so were also a couple of weeks overdue now. I found broken eggshell beneath the box but inside I found the female still sitting on a single egg. This far overdue it looks like this is another infertile egg.

Tomorrow I will check on the African Spotted Eagle Owls as they too were due to hatch their three eggs around the same date as the Wood Owl pairs. I can’t help feeling there are more infertile eggs in that box too. 😦

Oh well. Such is the way of things when working with breeding programmes for birds or any animal. We still have other owls on eggs and I’m thinking that our Tengmalm’s Owl and Burrowing Owl females may have laid eggs this week. Our Mottled Owls and Ashy Faced Owls are coming up to their estimated hatch dates in the next few days. The year isn’t over yet and neither is the breeding season – after all, the weather just improved! Our fingers remain crossed.

On a brighter note; Sam the American Barn Owl is doing fine. The six week old owlet seems to have a smaller appetite lately, but I remember the last Barn Owl I helped hand rear going through a similar phase. Up to now all the effort has gone into growing big and tall, now things slow down a little and the work goes into growing feathers – so not as much food is needed I guess. We still take Sam out into the displays each day and each day the owlet is walking a little more, either for food offered or to go over to the nearest humans to investigate their footwear. Sam seems to be going through that phase that all children go through where feet are the most interesting things in the whole world! It is quite comical to see this young creature look at human feet or shoes then look down at its own feet and back again. In a time of disappointments from the breeding birds it is good to have this little one around to lift the spirits.  🙂

Sam had a first experience of being in an aviary this afternoon, as I put the owlet in one of our empty places for half an hour just to let the owlet get used to it. The ‘Prep’ room has been awfully hot these last two days and I decided that the owlet would fare better outside. At least in the aviary there is shade and a refreshing breeze. The little owl took it all in with ease. This aviary will be Sams home once old enough, and is right next to the entrance to the Rainforest Realm, so plenty of people will get to see him/her.

I’ll leave you tonight with a pic of Sam in the aviary. Signing off, see you next time, gnite!



I haven’t been able to log into WordPress for the last few days, so apologies for the lack of blog entries. It isn’t the first time I’ve had problems with the site and I envision moving to a different host at some point. For now it appears I’m here.

We have been continuing to experience an overabundance of eggs in the collection this week, it seems to be the theme for the year. Well, except in the case of the Tropical Screech Owls who seem to have ‘lost’ their three eggs at some point. It isn’t unusual for a female to eat eggshell to get the calcium back into her system so I assume her eggs were infertile and she did some recycling of materials. It’s a shame but at least she laid some eggs to begin with. Maybe next year, with no disruption from moving home and the noise of a building site, they will have fertile eggs.

So like I say, an overabundance of eggs; we discovered on Thursday that our two female Ferruginous Pygmy Owls had six eggs between them, both sat in the same little nestbox. If only we had a male! We have the same situation with our Tawny Owls of course, with both girls sitting faithfully on four eggs each, squashed together in a nestbox built for one.

Our lone Southern Boobook Owl laid a second egg on Thursday, discarding it on the woodchip floor of her aviary. A more positive discovery was that our Little Owls are definitely nesting now, with the female sitting on five eggs. At least there is a pair of them, although they are unproven when it comes to breeding, so we can at least cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Even Oulu, our trained Great Grey Owl laid an egg yesterday! She’s been flying most days in our displays too! She has been heavier and in the mornings I have seen broody nesting behaviour from her, so I’m not so surprised that she is in condition and ready to breed. We will not fly her in shows now until we are sure she is not carrying any more eggs inside her. If she was, and they broke inside her, she could die of a condition known as egg peritonitis. Her egg, at this time of the year, has given me unexpected renewed hope that there may still be a breeding attempt from our pair of Great Greys in the collection.

At least all these eggs show that we have a lot of very healthy female owls in our collection.

I suppose if we were to look on the positive and hopeful side, there could still be time for a late breeding season this year. If we had a warm June through to late September that would give plenty of time for our owls to court, mate, incubate and raise owlets before winter comes. I don’t like looking on the gloomy side of things, and it has been disheartening lately seeing birds like our Northern Hawk Owls and Ural Owls breeding attempts result in infertile eggs. All we need is a good period of good weather…

Over in our display arena we have continued to train the smallest member of our team – smallest but not youngest. Poncho the Tropical Screech Owl has been flying really well these last few days. I still find it odd to see such a small owl flying around the arena but he acts like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Once he reached his ideal weight – just 100 grams! – and sat on the glove for half an hour or so, he figured it all out really quickly. Quicker than some of our larger owls!

Our youngest member of the team is doing well too. Sam the American Barn Owl already towers over little Poncho at just six weeks old. The owlet has been appearing in the displays this week and has begun to walk around, exploring. He or she (we won’t know which for at least another month or more) has been amusing us all with behaviour none of us have seen in an owlet before – snoring! The owlet seems to like standing with it’s chin resting on or against the top of the box and go to sleep. Then after a few minutes it begins to squeak. When I first heard it I thought there was something wrong with it, but it’s just sleeping! Maybe dreaming of mice?

Well I’ll sign off and get some sleep myself I think. No dreaming of mice though I hope! ‘Til next time then, gnite!

School Daze

We had our second school visit to the Scottish Owl Centre today. Getting the word out about the centre as an educational resource has been a high priority since opening day. Our first school visit was a few weeks ago and went so well I was really looking forward to the next one. Now we have two this week and more bookings are coming in daily.

Well to cut to the chase today’s visit went great. The school had travelled all the way from Edinburgh, and after an essential pit stop to the Park play area they came through to our flying display arena.

Our arena has enough seats for over two hundred people, so plenty of room for a school group and any day visitors that may wish to come along for the show too. We can theme our flying displays to whatever a school may want as they cover many topics in the school curriculum, and if a school is studying a particular topic in class then we can tailor our material to suit.

Today we started out with our baby, Sam the American Barn Owl. The children always love seeing a fluffy baby but it’s a great opportunity to learn about the life of an owl in the wild, how they live, nest, incubate and hatch the eggs, rear owlets, how long it takes for the owlets to grow up, when they get their feathers, how they learn to fly, how they learn to feed… all with a living (squeaking!) model there in front of them.

Next I flew Lofty, a three year old Barn Owl of the type you find out and around the UK, and in particular for these children, Scotland. The children here today had been reading ‘The owl who was afraid of the dark’ in class, so as I flew Lofty I asked them questions about the owls, to see what they had learned and remembered. Lofty himself was in a funny mood today, distracted by the strange pops and crackles coming from our speaker system today. We hope to have the problem fixed tomorrow but today it was a distraction we didn’t need. Having said that Lofty flew really well, choosing to fly lap after lap around the arena before landing on a perch at random. He didn’t go where I wanted him to go and when I wanted him to, but he looked fantastic all the same! I like to ask the group questions as I fly the birds, and enjoy seeing them think about what they are learning during the shows. My talk wasn’t quite as flowing or ordered as I’d like but it’ll get better each time.

After Lofty came Broo the Eurasian Eagle Owl. If Lofty flew well, floating round and round like a big white moth, well Broo had the children laughing and squealing all at once as she charged about over their heads and from one end of the arena to the other. It’s always spectacular to see the largest species of owl fly so close and Broo puts on a great show.

After the display I took the group on a ‘Walk to the North Pole’ guided tour. It was more of a whistle stop tour as the kids hadn’t had lunch. We ended up at the Snowy Owls of course, and of course they were a big hit.

The rest of the day was quiet in comparison, but with more odd weather that was understandable too. Sunshine and snow are not expected companions for May, but as long as there is more of the sunshine than of the snow it’s not all bad. Prince and Sarabi flew in the afternoon flying display, and Sam made another appearance in the arena, this time taking a few more steps to investigate the nearest bench. Between myself and volunteers Karen and Mhairi we set out a ‘feed tag’ system around the centre this afternoon too. This will help new staff and volunteers know what food to put in each pen each day. Eventually it all becomes clear and the tags won’t be needed but to start out it can be bewildering trying to remember what to put into over sixty aviaries!

Well I think it’s time I went about finding some food for myself, so I’ll sign off and see you next time. ‘Til then, gnite!

A hop, a flap and a hoot

It’s been a good day to see progress from our owlets at the Scottish Owl Centre today.

Sam our five week old American Barn Owl made two more appearances at our ‘flying’ displays, to the delight of our audiences once more. Once s/he has been paraded for all to see close up, Sam is gently lifted out of the box and placed on the floor of the display arena. In the centre of the room, and centre of attention, the owlet is showing a growing skill for standing up and taking a few shaky steps. Last night in my living room I was astonished to find the owlet stood on the living room carpet looking very pleased with itself, having climbed through the hole at the front of the cardboard box! Each day now we will see a few more steps, then with growing confidence the young owl will be wandering around and exploring all over.

Out in the centre, the two Great Horned Owlets have made it through another night of awful weather. Wind and heavy rain persisted through most of yesterday and the night too. I was pleased to see both sunshine and healthy fluffy owlets this morning. Today the pair were doing their own exploring around their aviaries. By feeding time one was perched on the tree stump below their parents perch, and the second owlet stood on one of the rocks in the centre of the pen. As we stood admiring the owlet it launched into the air and flapped frantically. The flight was less than graceful but made it all the way across the pen to land, if land is the right word, on the tree stump with it’s sibling. There was a bit of a scramble as both owlets tried to balance and not fall off but they just about managed it. I made one last tour around the centre as I finished my day and passed by their aviary for another look. If I was surprised by that first flight you can imagine my delight as I saw one owlet perched high up with one of the parents! They sure are growing, and now they can start to fly they will be very entertaining to watch in their explorations! I hope they put on a good show for the school group visiting the centre tomorrow!

An update on our new African Spotted Eagle Owl. Having arrived the day before yesterday, she has settled in very well indeed. In her first night she ate three chicks, and three again the second night. Today I hooted at her and she responded. Now as each member of staff or volunteers goes past her we hoot and have a good ‘conversation’ with her. This afternoon we heard our male African Spotted, one of the pair along the African Avenue, joining in the hooting, then the male Siberian Eagle Owl joined in too! It’s nice to see not only that the new bird has settled okay, but that she has others to talk to (as well as the staff!) 🙂

Okay that’s it for today so until next time, gnite!