Tag Archives: barn owl

Birds of a feather, hoot together

Great Horned OwlWe’ve been busy as always at the Centre over the last two weeks. It has been the mid-term break for schools so we have had more visitors, and our flying displays have been a major feature in both the visitor experience and the staff and volunteer time in training the birds for the displays. Some of our owls have started the nesting season off too, like our Great Horned Owl in the picture above.

Like the majority of Bird of Prey centres or zoos with trained birds of prey, we give our birds a break over winter. This for us is the period that we are closed, December and January. During their ‘holiday’ the owls are not flown and are given more food each day. They put weight on that helps them cope with the cold weather, and they also have the extra energy available to produce new feathers, so many trained birds moult in their off period.

When we open to the public again in February we start our flying displays again, so we select the team of owls who are going to start off the season and we put them on a diet, along with getting them back in flying fitness in the display arena. With about 25 trained owls (out of our total 100 birds) we can work them on a rotation through the year.

Our team starting the season off this year have been Lofty the Barn Owl, Zeus the European Eagle Owl, Sarabi (and me)Sarabi the Milky Eagle Owl, Lulu the White Faced Owl, Rocky the Indian Eagle Owl and Hosking the Tawny Owl. Taino the Ashy Faced Owl has done a couple of shows but is still a little over her ideal flying weight so is still a bit rusty. I’m sure she’ll get there in the next week.



Ashy Faced Owl family 2012The Ashy Faced Owl is a species we particularly like and feel is important in conservation breeding, so we are pleased to find our pair of Ashy Faced have started the nesting season a little early and have a clutch of eggs. (The photo here was taken in 2012 when their owlet was a few weeks old). As a member of the Barn Owl family, they are capable of having two clutches each year, so if the weather is right they will start early. As I write this they have been incubating for about two weeks. As they are such an important species – they only live on two islands on the whole planet in the wild – we will try to increase our chances of rearing owlets this year by taking fertile eggs from the first clutch and putting them in our incubator until they hatch. We will then have to hand feed them and rear them together in a ‘creche’. I’ll be setting up an incubation room this next week in readiness for these eggs.

IMG_5373Work has slowed but continued on our new aviaries. In between flying displays during the week I have been helping Rod with building the framework, and I have been putting the mesh on the new aviary down by our pond. At the weekend we have had more staff and a dedicated team of volunteers around so I have been able to concentrate my full day on the new aviary. We’re really pleased with how this aviary looks and the size of it (26 feet point to point of a stretched hexagon shape). The design matches the new aviaries recently completed near reception, part of a new phase or next generation of ‘showpiece’ aviaries.

On Wednesday I was finishing off the mesh side panels quite late in the day. As the light of the day grew dim the owls in the aviaries around me began to hoot. It is quite a remarkable experience to hear all these species from around the world all hooting in the same place. On either side of me were two types of Eagle Owls Aharonis Eagle Owlsthat are close relatives in the wild. Our new pair of Aharonis Eagle Owls have been settling in so well they are doing courtship calling and the male offers food to the female. Meanwhile over in the African Avenue the pair of Pharaoh Eagle Owls have also been hooting and passing food, the male also making a scrape in the nestboxPharaoh Eagle Owl ready for the female to lay her eggs in. These two types of Eagle Owls are neighbours of a sort out in the wild, with the Aharonis found in the Middle East down to Saudi Arabia and the Pharaohs pick up in Saudi around to Morocco (thereabouts and with a gap where they may have become extinct in recent times). As they are so close in location and biology the two owls make quite similar hoots, so by having the new Aharonis I think we have prompted the Pharaohs to begin courtship earlier in the year than usual. A bit of completion can make them more territorial and from there, spur on courtship and breeding. It would be wonderful if both pairs were to breed, even if it does catch us by surprise and delay some of the repair and building work we have planned!

Time for me to sign off so cheerio for now.



How Come It Never Rains… It Only Pours?

Well in the week since the last blog we’ve had a lot of rain – and yes I know these blogs always talk about the weather sooner or later, but we get rather a lot of it here in Scotland in winter! All of our work is influenced by what weather we get, that’s the breaks when you work outdoors I suppose.

I mentioned last week that we are building new aviaries this year. All of this rain has delayed me cementing the foundation posts in – the holes fill to the brim with rain water!

In a break i10924152_10205129011658616_1649785349031857467_on the cold and the wet, we took the opportunity to catch up our female Siberian Eagle Owl for a little beak trimming. In the wild the prey of these birds could be carrion that has been out in the elements for days, and the act of ripping through the hide and picking pieces of meat off the carcass would keep the owl’s beak sharp and shaped. In captivity our bird is fed d10887386_10205129029179054_8149616581248372051_oead day old chickens and her mouth is big enough to swallow one whole! This means her upper mandible grows overly long and we have to intervene to cut and file it back into shape so she can keep eating. It’s a tricky job for volunteers and staff to do so we only do it when really necessary. Luckily no fingers were lost in the operation!


The weather has also delayed the release of the wild woodpecker handed to us before Christmas too. A little male Greater Spotted Woodpecker, one of last years I suspect, he flew into a window and was stunned. I had our vet give him a look over as I was concerned that there was weakness in the right leg and wing. Just a bruise or sprain perhaps, but the bird has been gaining strength daily and is now ready for release. We just need a break in the wet weather! I’ll get a photo when we get chance to let it out into the wild in the park.

IMG_4833We had two other new arrivals this week. A pair of Barn Owls given to us by their owners in Fife arrived late Wednesday evening. They are currently sitting in the sheltered area of the aviary that Kara the Turkmenian Eagle Owl has lived in for the last couple of years. (She is still settling into her new aviary at the front of the centre by the way!) That a centre like ours has Barn Owls arrive isn’t that remarkable, but when one is a regular coloured bird and the other is melanistic they look very remarkable indeed… Melanism is where there is an unusual abundance of the dark pigment, melanin, caused by a genetic mutation. This makes this Barn Owl look ‘black’ but it’s really more like a mix of dark grey or brown with a tinge of caramel on the facial disk. Very unusual certainly, but the owl probably doesn’t know it looks any different than its white-fronted companion. We’ll give them some time to get settled in and moult into a new set of feathers ready for Spring.

Okay time for me to head off. See you next week, send us some dry weather!

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.

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.

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!

Opening day!

Whew what a day! The Scottish Owl Centre is now open and the first day went by without a hitch!

Last minute preparations began at daybreak. Even before I arrived at 7 there were joiners on site to finish off things around the site. The back gate needed completing and the owl climbing frame just one or two last details before it was done. Even with this there were things that still needed doing as opening time quickly approached. We cleaned the aviaries, tidied round and swept up sawdust, and finally the doors opened.

Visitors began to arrive, slowly to begin with but getting busier as the morning went on.

At ten thirty we gave our first flying demonstration in the display arena. With the birds still getting used to the new place and people they were a little hesitant but this was understandable. Kenya the little White Faced Owl was the first bird in the first show, and she did well considering she has only flown three or four times here even without an audience. Lofty the Barn Owl came next, thankfully in a really good mood today. Third out was Sarabi the Milky Eagle Owl. This was to be her first flying demonstration in front of the public since arriving at the Scottish Owl Centre so the pressure was on. At her previous home she was known to have a fear of pushchairs and buggies. Unfortunately the first thing she saw as I brought her into the arena today was a pushchair. I walked her to the end of the arena to the far perch but she was just fixed on the moving wheels and would not fly. I eventually got one small hop out of her then picked her up for a parade around the audience. Oh well, can’t be helped. I put her away to settle down until later in the day.

I have to say that my talk was a bit ropey to begin with. I am new to working with these particular birds and I was too distracted watching and thinking about where they were and what they were doing to concentrate on my words. This is only to be expected too so I wasn’t that worried. Practice makes perfect as they say.

The second display went better as we were getting into the swing of things. Hosking the Tawny Owl, Bruce the Boobook Owl and Oulu the Great Grey Owl flew in the second show. Hosking and Bruce did their routines well and the audience loved seeing the birds flying so close to them or just inches over their heads. Oulu was more spooked by the strange new situation, and like Sarabi would need a bit longer than the small owls to get used to it all.



By the third show we had a bigger audience and the birds were a bit more keen. I flew Hosking (my first time flying him) and Lofty, and the Barn Owl was just brilliant. He was very quick to fly and anticipate where I was heading, following on to the next perch or flying on ahead of me. I enjoyed the fun of neither me or the owl knowing where to head to next, Lofty often flying laps around the arena or switching back to land on a different perch. It was fun and the audience were laughing as much as I was! Last up was Sarabi again.

After her not budging in the first show I was more than a bit apprehensive about whether she would fly, but I didn’t have to worry. After a couple of minutes to settle she flew the whole length of the arena several times. I was able to settle into a pattern talking about the Milky Eagle Owl as she flew more reliably. By the end of the show I was very pleased with her. She definitely earned that round of applause, her first public flying demonstration probably for years!

We did a few photos for visitors holding Tiger the Brown Wood Owl or Sarabi and got a system working for the new camera and printer set up. We know now that even on busy days this set up will work well.

Finally as the day was coming to an end the collection owls all needed feeding. I was helped all day by new volunteer Veronica and I really have to say thanks to her again, she was invaluable today! What a day to start volunteering! She and another volunteer helper Stuart joined me feeding the birds. Woody the Tawny Frogmouth, sat in his aviary in the Rainforest Realm, was very eager for his food and flew like a shot to my glove to swallow a whole (small) rat in one gulp! I’d always thought these birds were slow moving but Woody is like greased lightning!

The collection birds themselves seemed to take the first day of public visitors well for the most part. I was aware that one of the Indian Eagle Owls, the young male, was quite jumpy in the afternoon as a crowd gathered around their aviary and the pond, but he wasn’t distressed or injuring himself. I popped by a couple of times to see he was okay but other than being jumpy and flying from one end of the aviary to the other he wasn’t too bad. I thought up an option of building a screen in one of the back corners for him to feel a bit more secure should it look like him not calming down over the next day or two.

So, that was our first day open to the public. No major problems at all and a steady build up helped us all settle into the swing of it all; just what was wanted from a ‘soft opening’ before the busier Easter weekend next week.

As you can imagine we were all exhausted by the end of the day so I’m going to sign off and get to bed, it all starts up again in the morning!

‘Til tomorrow then, goodnight!

Dirty deeds done dirt cheap

(A friend made a bet that I wouldn’t use this song title as a blog title, so I have!) 😉

My day was spent catching up on the cleaning of the aviaries today. I didn’t do much else but then there was an awful lot of catching up to do. With weeks of freezing winter weather and no water supply, the aviaries were in quite a state.

Today was mild but not as nice as yesterday at all. The sunshine proved to be brief and today we had grey cloud and drizzle. I didn’t mind that at all as I was wearing full waterproofs for cleaning. It was tiring and dirty work. It isn’t always a glamorous job being a keeper, and that’s a fact. Anyone who wants to get into this line of work thinking it’s all about standing talking to people with an impressive owl on your arm, or flying one in a display really needs to think about the days like today.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining one bit. As I think I’ve said in another blog, once you have cleaned all the enclosures and stand back and look at them you do get a sense of satisfaction. Knowing that the animal that lives in that pen is in the best place, well looked after and well fed does give you a good feeling. Even when you are wearing clothes covered in mud, grime and owl droppings!

Well with there being so much cleaning to do I actually didn’t get all the way round in the day. To give each aviary a really good and thorough scrub and rake I only managed about a third of the centre on my own today. Imagine if all of the aviaries were built and occupied! (Like …next week!)  I really need to get into a daily routine and then it will only take a fraction of the time. Now all of the hosepipes and water supply are repaired I can start that routine.

So, guess what I’m doing tomorrow? Yep more cleaning!

One thing did make me chuckle on my rounds today though. While I was cleaning Lofty the Barn Owl’s aviary he followed me round, as if supervising my work. He is a friendly soul – especially now he’s at his flying weight, he’s more likely following to see if I will feed him! I had to laugh as he landed and perched on the rim of the bucket as I was scrubbing the droppings from the wall. I turned round to rinse the brush and found an owl sitting looking up at me! He did this everywhere I moved to. I put the bucket down, started to scrub at the wall, turned around and there he was again! He did get his reward, as did they all, once I called it quits for cleaning today. I went round with the feed bucket next and Lofty was first in the queue. Having said that, the Great Grey Owls were both ravenous again even though I feed them the same daily amount as the Snowy Owls, Siberian Eagle Owls and Great Horned Owls. Soon they will be in good fitness and condition, hopefully ready to breed by the end of March. Wouldn’t that be great? We already have Great Horned Owl eggs being incubated by mother owl, who will be next?

Oh well I think I’d better sign off and go get some rest ready for tomorrow, I’ll need it. Til then, gnite!