Tag Archives: eagle owls

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.



Trapped Under Ice

It has been a busy couple of weeks since my last blog. We’ve been getting the centre ready for re-opening to the public – which we did successfully on Feb 1st – training our display birds, and continuing to build our new aviaries. The trained owls performed wonderfully in the first displays. We also received some new owls this week, very exciting!

IMG_8560bbAharonis Eagle Owls are a sub species of Eurasian Eagle Owl, and in the wild they live in the semi desert and mountain regions of the Middle East. They are smaller than the Eurasian and a sandy yellow with dark spots. They represent an intermediary stage between their larger cousin and the smaller paler Pharaoh Eagle Owl species found from Saudi Arabia around to northern Africa. They used to be quite common in UK collections but I hadn’t seen or heard of any in the last 8 years. Towards the end of last year I was surprised to find a centre with not one but two pairs. We arranged to bring one pair up north but needed to build them an aviary. Through asking around the network of owl keepers in the UK, there appear to be a few places with single birds and people are now interested in pairing them up. It can be quite easy for birds to become ‘out of fashion’ to the point that they vanish from aviculture. We have our fingers crossed that our new pair breed of course. I’ll keep you updated.

The long period of sub-zero temperatures has hampered our building work that’s for sure. Snowfall is one thing to contend with, but the temperature has been below freezing for long enough for the ground to become as solid as concrete. Even the gravel and woodchip in our aviaries has been frozen solid, which along with frozen pipes and taps means we haven’t been able to clean aviaries with much success either. But this is winter and what we expect, so we’ve slowly but surely continued with our work.

sunday 017The structure of the new Burrowing Owl aviary is complete pretty much. I’m working on the interior landscaping a bit at a time, as the materials are frozen, but once there’s a thaw I’ll get stuck in properly. We’re trying to design this aviary to include a nestbox camera so that visitors can view what is going on inside the nest – hopefully we will learn about Burrowing Owl domestic life! We need to build a viewing booth on the front of the new aviary to complete the outer structure. In the meantime our Burrowing Owls are still in their original aviary. The reason we’re moving them is that I’ve been unhappy with the lack of sunshine they receive tucked around that corner, and the corner with the nestbox gets so wet and damp I’m sure that is the reason the eggs do not hatch in there. We have hatched them in our incubator however, so we know they are viable. In the new enclosure I’m hoping the design will make the nestbox much drier, and with the camera we might see the female Burrowing Owl hatch her own eggs for the first time.


Over to the other end of the centre again. 20150204_094151Those Aharoni Eagle Owls are temporarily living in the aviary where our Indian Eagle Owls have been housed. (The Indian Eagle Owls have moved closer to the reception building in our re-designed entrance area). The Aharonis are able to watch us build their new home, and are quite vocal about it too! The aviary is taking shape now, after this photo was taken we managed to get most of the roofing beams and connecting beams along one side in place. By my next blog we should have the structure done, hopefully.


IMG_8576bbAn extra special new owl arrived in the last week too. A female Vermiculated Fishing Owl. With less than half a dozen of these remarkable owls in the whole of the UK we are privileged to have this female at our centre. She’s most certainly the only one of her species in Scotland. Our hope is that the collection she came to us from in England will breed a male this coming season, and we will be able to pair them up. Fishing Owls are native to Africa. Unlike the Fish Owls over in Indonesia they are small and have neither ‘ear tufts’ or a facial disk, such as most other owls who hunt by sound. (Eyesight is more useful for hunting fish that can’t be heard underwater!). They have bare legs with scaly toes, like those of an Osprey, to help hold on to slippery prey. I have been fortunate to work with this species before and am really happy to see one again, she’s a beauty!

Right, time to sign out. See you next blog. Keep warm!

Strange goings on

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.

Snow Joke

Well the snow that had been forecast arrived during last night, just as predicted, and I woke to a world dressed in white. It wasn’t lying thick, but it was still falling heavily. The snow was one thing to deal with, but the strong wind from the north-east was viscious and made the snow swirl around and drift. The wind chill factor was pretty serious. So I started my day with my usual rounds checking on the owls, but a little more anxious than usual.

I was relieved to find that the Wee Owl Kingdom was quite sheltered from wind from this direction, and all the tiny owls were fine. The Western and Tropical Screech Owls have been spending a lot of time in their nest boxes lately, so they were very sheltered and I just saw beady eyes peeping out of the hole.

Moving round to the Boreal owls I found one of the Tengmalm’s Owls wet and bedraggled on the floor at the back of the aviary. I made a note to come back to this one at the end of my rounds. Around the rest of the centre I found that 98% of the owls were either sitting in shelter or in nest boxes. Two or three of the eagle owls were a bit wet but did look alright. I found one more owl wet and looking sorry for itself; one of the pair of Tawny Owls. The other Tawny had gone into the nest box but this one was caught out in the open. I retrieved a couple of carrying boxes and picked up the Tawny and Tengmalm’s and took them through to the ‘Rec’ or ‘Recovery’ Room where they could dry out.

To my surprise one of our volunteers arrived to work. Considering the weather I really didn’t expect him to come through but there he was, and wearing shorts too! Obviously made of sterner stuff coming through from Glasgow!

Between us we made sure all the rest of the birds were okay and then found a ‘nice’ indoor job to keep ourselves out of the weather. Our display area has rows of benches for the audience which need painting with wood stain, so Stuart and I made a start on this task.

There weren’t have any visitors today, as you’d expect, and so there were no flying displays. We flew a couple of owls in training anyway, and today Prince and Tiger showed improvement on yesterday. One of the great benefits of having an indoor display arena is that we can not only continue with the public flying demonstrations no matter what the weather is outside, but we can also keep up with the training sessions too.

Once this was done we fed all of the owls and called it quits for the day. I decided to keep the wet Tawny and Tengmalm’s Owls in their carry boxes in the Rec Room overnight, with food, just in case the weather overnight continued to be wet and wild. The almost blizzard conditions continued through most of the day, but by evening there were more calm spells with clear skies. That probably means the temperature will drop below freezing, and potentially more problems for the owls. I will be out early to check on them as always.

‘Til tomorrow then, goodnight.

Compare and contrast;

Today I took myself off on another ‘busman’s holiday’ to Edinburgh Zoo. As well as getting out from under the feet of the workmen on the site of the Scottish Owl Centre – at least for a day – I intended on checking out some enclosures and interactive display materials for inspiration for our new centre. (Oh alright, I wanted to see the animals and take photos too!)

I did get one or two odd glances from other zoo visitors as I stood taking pictures of door frames and flooring of indoor areas, or a row of plants with no animals in sight. Yes I went to see the Pandas, and while there I took a look and some photos of one of their outdoor areas to see what the planting looked like in these new enclosures. With the Scottish Owl Centre building the new site from scratch all of our enclosures will be new, and we will have to build up the level of planting in and around them all as time goes on. I wanted to see how a big collection goes about the task so we can guage our own modest efforts. I really liked how they filled an indoor area and made it look so tropical in the entrance to the Koala house and the Brilliant Birds exhibit. It may take us some time to get that amount of coverage but it is something to aim for.

On my travels around the zoo I took a moment to look at the Rock Hyrax. They are funny little critters, and my interest comes from reading in my Owls of the World book that they are a favourite meal of the Milky Eagle Owl. These animals are most closely related to elephants! Well the Milky is known as the Giant Eagle Owl in Africa for a reason perhaps!

Well I’m going to wrap this short blog up with a picture, but as there were no owls at Edinburgh Zoo for me to see today I will leave you with the next best thing – a Stellar’s Sea Eagle! This chap was very obliging and came right up to the window when I was taking pictures. With him standing so close to me I got a real good opportunity to compare the size of this Eagle with our Eagle Owls. I have to say that our Siberian Eagle Owls compare very nicely thank you!

Anyway, til tomorrow, gnite!

This Valentines Day, say it with chicken?

Valentines Day at the Scottish Owl Centre, and lurrve is in the air…

… for some of the owls at least!

Some of the young couples have been mentioned in my blog before; the Great Horned Owls that hoot through the night, the Siberian Eagle Owls, the Tropical Screech Owls, all have been hooting and calling for some time now. Last month the female Siberian Eagle Owl laid two eggs – she didn’t sit on them and they weren’t fertile, but it was a promising start as the pair had only been together around 5 months. The male is still hooting from evening to dawn and takes her gifts of food. I have been noticing something strange in their aviary the last few days and today came to a theory about what is going on…

Our aviaries are brand new, obviously, and so far haven’t had much in the way of plants put in them. One or two do have small leylandii conifer trees planted in them, and the Siberian Eagle Owl pen is one of them. As you can see from the photo here this tree does not look happy! Looking closer you can see the bark has been ‘nibbled’ and a lot of bits of branches and leaves have been pulled off. Is the female getting broody? Is she pulling at nesting material? Most owls don’t make nests, just use someone elses old one, but what other reason could there be? Maybe it isn’t her, maybe it is the male? Say it with flowers, or say it with chewed up bits of leylandii tree? A mystery!

Well that’s something I’ll have to keep watching and wondering, but what about new romance? Well we have that too.

Our pair of Snowy Owls have bred in the past and have been one of the most easily settled in the new location for the Scottish Owl Centre. The male in particular seems to really enjoy sitting on the huge rocks quite close to the front of the aviary, where he often catches a bit of sun. Well today sunbathing wasn’t the only thing on his mind. Food is another of his most favourite things in the whole world, so for him to offer some to his mate shows true adoration! With Snowy Owls it isn’t just a case of ‘hoot hoot here have some food’, no, he has a very special dance.

It does look bizarre to you and me, but he picks up some food in his bill and shuffles about making very odd noises, more like a pig than a bird! His body crouched low to the ground and his wings held up half open from his body, he sways his head left and right. He does look very silly! At the moment she seems to agree, not being impressed one bit. Keep in there lad, even Romeo didn’t win fair Juliet in one day!

I will of course keep you updated on how our hopeful romances progress – hopefully we will see some more eggs soon!

Not all of our owls are in pairs. Some are single birds. We’re trying our best to find them a partner and some have already been located. In a few weeks we will have new birds arriving at the Centre. A mate for our Spectacled Owl, a mate for our Striped Owl, one for our African Wood Owl, all arriving before we open to the public. There are a few owls that we still haven’t found a pair for yet. So it’s a bit of Lonely Hearts for our hopeful singles.

And then of course there is Sarabi the Milky Eagle Owl. Although not technically looking for a male Milky Eagle Owl as she is an imprint, and doesn’t know she is an owl. She has been feeling a little broody lately. She sang to me while I was fitting a catch to the back of the door of her aviary today. Thanks Sarabi, lovely voice!

And with that I think I’d better sign off before it gets too silly round here! Gnite all!

Movers and shakers

It’s a long Blog today so you may need to make a coffee or something before settling down for a read (or scoot down to look at the photos!)  🙂

It was a testing day for me today. Quite frustrating at times, quite an adrenaline rush at other times, but at the end of the day it all worked out well.

The last day of the working week saw the joiners complete work on three more aviaries. The Great Grey Owl, Milky Eagle Owl and MacInders Eagle Owl enclosures all had their roof altered for better strength against strong winds (not that they had any problem so far, but thinking for the future…). With the mesh on the sides, tree perches dug in, gravel spread and raked across the floor, and a nestbox fitted in the MacInders pen, they are structurally complete. Of course they still need branch perches and plants added, and they need owls too!

We have a MacInders Eagle Owl already on site, just waiting in temporary accommodation until the proper aviary is complete. We have a pair of Milky Eagle Owls – fingers crossed – arriving from another collection in two to three weeks. We do also have a pair of Great Grey Owls on site, again in temporary accommodation, and they have been keen to get to somewhere more roomy for a while now. I have been just as keen to move them too. It is quite frustrating to have birds in the wrong places, sometimes places that are difficult for me to keep clean and tidy if the owl is large and the pen is small. Today was a good day from this respect as today we could move the Great Grey Owls into their newly completed home…

Before I could do that though I had to do some training with the owls for the flying displays. I had planned to fly Prince the Ashy Faced, Sarabi the Milky Eagle Owl and to spend time ‘manning’ Kenya the White Faced Owl. This plan did not work out. Kenya still needs to lose some weight to be interested in leaving her aviary, and while I was trying to encourage her, it disturbed her next door neighbours. In the next pen is a pair of rare Black-banded Owls, temporarily until their pen in the Rainforest Realm is built. They are quite nervous birds in an enclosed space and as they flew and bashed themselves around I was worried they would hurt or injure themselves. I backed out of Kenya’s aviary and let them calm down. They weren’t hurt, but I had to shelve my plan for Kenya. Oh well, on to Prince. He is in the pen on the other side of Kenya and is always keen to get out of there! He is a very nosy bird and also very demanding that he has a lot of attention. Once out and in the big wide world though he becomes very quiet and well behaved – just a brat when he’s at home! He is a great bird though and I love working with him, even if he can be frustrating at times.

Today was one of those times. I was pleased to see his weight has stayed at the level I wanted, the level where he is keen to fly, so I took him into the arena. He has flown in there a good number of times now, and on a couple of occasions with two or three people as an audience. I thought he would be okay with the electrician still working away in the arena today… I thought wrong. Maybe he just doesn’t like the electrician but he didn’t budge from his perch while the poor guy was trying to do his job. I got Prince to fly short distances to me if I stood so that he couldn’t see the workman, but only twice. So that was another plan I had to shelve! Well if he won’t fly he will at least sit quiet if we go for a walkabout, so I took him out into Polkemmet Country Park to see if there was anyone around that might like to meet him.

Nobody this way….

….nobody that way…

It was a quiet day at Polkemmet Country Park!

Scrap another plan!


<Musical interlude (not my video I might add! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-6lNuNI7uQM >

So what do you do when all your plans for the day go out the window? Make up new plans!

My idea once Prince was returned to his aviary was to try to work with one of the other ‘difficult’ ones in the display team. I have mentioned Broo the European Eagle Owl before in my blog. We have been slowly building up trust to work together, but only in her pen. When I tried to put a leash on her she went berzerk and threw herself to the floor like a child having a temper tantrum! Not good at all! Well today it seems she still hadn’t forgiven me for that last misdemeanor. The largest species of owl in the world, with the largest stubborn streak, and the longest memory for people they don’t want to work with! I left her pen without feeding her the treats I had prepared for her. *Sigh*

Okay time for something ‘out of the box’. I had the food, I had the eagle glove, I had the large set of jesses and leash… Time to work with Hudson the Great Horned Owl.

Another one I have mentioned before, Hudson is quite the pushy individual. As I only met him a couple of months ago he has tried to intimidate and bully me into just dropping the food and running for my life whenever I have been near his pen. We have had some successes since those days though. Today I knew he was well enough fed to not be that interested in attacking on sight (so I hoped!) so I carefully entered his pen. He flew up to the post I pointed to with no problem, flew over to my glove for food reasonably well… next I had to attach leather jesses to his anklets…. Well having this notorioulsy aggressive owl so close to my face as I reached around and under him to fit the jesses really got my adrenaline pumping I can tell you! He fidgeted a little but I got the task done without losing any fingers. A metal swivel and leash were fitted to the jesses and still no damage done… okay… let’s go for a walkabout!

As you can see from the picture here, Hudson was not impressed with the big wide world. Being the Big Fish in a small pond is great, but when the pond becomes an ocean… Like a sulky child he refused to stand up properly on my arm for most of the time we were slowly walking around the centre. When we passed the aviary with his parents inside he did stand up – only to flinch as his father launched at the mesh right at us! No happy family reunion – just as in the wild, the parents drive the offspring away from the nest. It is coming up to breeding time for our Great Horned Owls, and the male was not tolerating an intruder to his territory – even if it was his son! We moved on.

All in all Hudson did very well on our travels. We met a few walkers and families, he panicked when he met a dog, but this was to be expected on his first trip exploring the Park with me. I was relieved to put him back in his aviary (and give him his food reward) but only once the door was closed did I realise how fast my heart had been beating! I think we both did well today!

So as I wrap this blog up all that remains for me to say is that the Great Grey Owls moved into their proper aviary with no hitch at all. At the very end of my day I moved them in and stood back to see how they settled. They went to opposite ends of the aviary from each other! The male seems quite out of condition, no doubt due to being in a small pen for the past couple of months. Now he has a lot more space he can get more exercise and fitness back. He did have one moment of panic as he spotted his new neighbours – the Siberian Eagle Owls – but soon realised they were in a separate pen across the path. As I left them they were shaking their feathers and starting to preen. I was pleased and relieved and it was a good result to end my day on.

So until tomorrow, I’m signing off. Gnite all 🙂