Tag Archives: barn owls

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!


Spring Cleaning

Another day of cleaning for me today, as promised! I was determined to make the most of the quiet weekend to do as much of the real thorough clean up of the aviaries as possible. With all the noise around during the week I really don’t like to add to the stress and disturbance for the owls.

Like yesterday I concentrated on getting quality rather than quantity, and cleaned another section of the centre. The sections cleaned yesterday got a quick hose over to keep them up to speed, but today I was ‘spring cleaning’ along the row that currently houses Barn Owls, Tawny Owls, Ural Owls and an African Wood Owl. All that is left now is the Wee Owl corner, and I gave that a preliminary hose over today to make it easier tomorrow. I know I go on about it a lot but having working hosepipes makes a big difference to my daily work; like providing fresh water in every aviary in the centre every day.

Later this week the aviaries I spring cleaned today will see new occupants arrive as we shuffle birds into the correct aviaries. The row I worked on today will be the first part of our Walk to the North Pole feature, and so we will be moving in Tengmalm’s Owls, Northern Hawk Owls, and another I will reveal later this week when the rest of the collection arrive! We hope to run guided tours along this Walk, explaining about each owl and it’s life out in the wild and the further along the walk the further north you travel. Along that Walk you see the Great Horned Owls, and today I was pleased to see that the female remained on the nest (and eggs hopefully!) even while I was cleaning the aviary adjacent. A good sign that she is now in for the long haul and will see the incubation through to hatching. We will have some particularly noisy machinery on site over the next few days but I have high hopes now that she will sit tight. Part of my study back at university was on how birds were affected by human disturbance. My subjects were wild birds, Capercaillie, up in the Scottish highlands, but my research – combined with words of wisdom from my previous manager – show that many captive birds and animals are quite tolerant of work like we are having done at the Scottish Owl Centre as long as they can see what is going on. They watch and remain alert, but realise that the noises are not coming up close, and danger is not present in their own ‘territory’ that is their enclosure.

This also answers a question I got from two of the joiners in today to do some more work on completing the last aviaries being built. They hadn’t really noticed what happens when I go in the pens to clean before, and today passed by as I was scrubbing the walls of the Barn Owl enclosure. The owls were disturbed from their perch as I was cleaning the wall behind it, so they were flying around at the front of the pen. The joiners were surprised that I wasn’t bothered that two owls were flying around at head height. The birds weren’t trying to hurt me – believe me they could if they wanted! – but were more interested in getting away from wherever I was at the time. Once I had done with their pen they went back to perching at the back. I had gone beyond the edge of their zone of tolerance and their thought was just to flee. Once the disturbance was gone they settled quickly.

“Don’t any of them attack you?” they asked. “No. Well those would yes, but I’m not going in there!” I replied pointing at the Great Horned Owls. Well, would you?

Something to think about, until tomorrow, gnite!

The Long and the Short of it.

My work today was mostly taken up with training the display birds. As it is quieter at the weekends (most of the workmen and electrician are off of course) I try to make the most of these days to fly the birds in the indoor arena.

The owl I started with today is another ‘new’ one – new working with me at least. We are fortunate to have a diverse range of owls for our displays, from the tiny Tropical Screech Owl to the huge European Eagle Owl, but today I wanted to work with one of the two Barn Owls.

This chap is Lofty, a Common Barn Owl. This is the one found in the UK, although the Barn Owl family is found in many parts of the world. Lofty is in really good condition at the moment, fantastic honey colour speckled with grey to the feathers from the back of his head down his back and wings to his short tail, and his front a pure white.

Lofty weighed in at 319 grams today, which is around his ideal flight weight – the weight the owl would hunt at in the wild, because its belly is empty! I had high hopes for him to fly in the arena as he was at the right weight. This was our first day working though so even if he did one short hop to my glove it would be a good start. Lofty has only been inside the arena once before, so today he just wanted to get a good look around. He was hungry, but was more interested in his surroundings. Perhaps he needs to lose just a little more. That’s alright. Once he did a hop to me for a piece of food I quit while I was ahead. As I have done with the other birds I have been training, I took Lofty out for a walkabout. I have started to do a ‘Meet the keeper, with an owl’ encounter each day through the Feb school half term, and figured this would be a good way to combine my work training him, getting him used to sitting on the glove and working with me.

We had some interested people come to meet us, and Lofty behaved very well. After a while of course he became restless so we wandered back to his aviary where he received his main meal for the day. A good first day.

Prince the Ashy Faced was next, and today was not his best day. Now he’s flown in the arena a few times he is getting the hang of it all. This also meant he started showing one of his old bad habits from last year – flying to land on my shoulder (or face!). This isn’t on, and at one point I stopped and turned before he was ready and got a face full of feathers. I was lucky he didn’t draw blood as he tried to land. This behaviour will have to be discouraged of course, but I’m told he eventually figured out he wasn’t allowed to do that after some training. Apart from that he flew very well. It was really only the first few flights that he made his mistake. Once he had some food in his belly he calmed down and flew to perches or glove just as I wanted. Very good but more work needed.

Third up was Sarabi (or Sarah to her old friends, of which there must be a few as she is around 17 years old!). I still can’t get over how long her wingspan is. They are called Giant Eagle Owls in Africa, but we call them either Verreux’s or Milky Eagle Owls. When she flies the full length of our flying arena you really get why they earn the name ‘giant’ that’s for sure! Today she flew more lengths and with less hesitation than her last ‘lesson’ and really took my breath away. I hope she can keep this up!

So, with owl school done for the day I went to check in on the Great Grey Owls that moved into their new enclosure yesterday. They were fine. I was pleased to see the male perched high up. He is still sitting at the opposite end from the female but they are both looking content with their new aviary. Happy with that, I went around the corner to see the newest owls to the Scottish Owl Centre.

Last night we had a delivery of Long-eared Owls, Little Owls and a Short-eared Owl. They are all looking in good condition and healthy. The one obvious exception to having full health is the Short-eared. The story of this bird is quite a sad one that I’m afraid is heard all too often in the UK. This was a wild bird that was injured. When it sits on the perch in the aviary you can see that the left wing does not sit flush with the body the way the right wing does.  Short-eared Owls are long-winged hunters of open countryside. In the winter they hunt the coasts, marshes and estuaries. In the spring they then return to their breeding grounds high in the hills, mountains and moors. Most of the Short-eared Owls breeding in the UK actually breed in Scotland. Hunting in open places sometimes brings them into collision with traffic, fences or power lines sadly. Once a bird of prey breaks or fractures a wing it almost never returns to 100 % fitness or mobility. At most 70 %. Of course out in the wild you need to be fit to survive. 70% is just not enough. So this bird would not survive if returned to the wild. A real shame. Here at the Scottish Owl Centre we aim to give the bird the best quality of life that we can. The last set of aviaries to be built – next week – is the British Owls section. As we have an aviary dedicated to Long-eared Owls in that section we can now alter the design to accommodate the Short-eared Owl as well. These birds spend much of their resting lives sitting on the ground, so we will make sure the enclosure has places for that as well as the option to perch along with the Long-eared Owls. They are all lovely birds and we want to make them as comfortable as possible.

Right well that’s enough for today. So much for this being a short blog huh? Oh well, gnite all!