Back together

The two barn owls have now settled into the old barn owl box, having decided the other box isn’t quite up to their standards. The nights are long and we don’t see much of them but occasionally they come out together at dawn or dusk to survey their territory.

The two owls in the dim light of a winter dawn.

Second home?

The pair of barn owls aren’t out hunting all night: we’ve found that they’re also spending a lot of time in another nest box which until now was empty. They may be checking it out as as an alternative nesting site, or hopefully they will use it as a daytime roost and keep the first nest box as their nesting site: that way we will see a lot more of them in the spring.

The female gives the male some attention, preening his flight feathers for him.

Ta-da!

Hooty has a surprise for you. We shall reveal all very soon!

And here it is!

Hooty has a boyfriend! He’s the one spreading his wings, and giving her a hard time. Turned up this morning, perhaps rained out of wherever he’s been roosting. Not the time of year for nesting so she may have to put up with him mucking around all winter.

A new owl!

The empty nest didn’t stay empty for long. We only just had time to renovate the second owl box before this beautiful specimen arrived. He (or she, we can’t tell yet) is unlikely to be one of the youngsters who recently dispersed, may be one of the adults (though we haven’t seen them for months) or more likely a new owl seeking out its own territory.

After reviewing the video we think likely a new owl – the way it takes an interest in the camera makes us think it hasn’t seen one before.

And on even more reviewing, we think it is a female – the darker tail and a glimpse of black spots on the white chest. We’re going to set up a second camera on the outside of the nest box which should give a better view.

That empty nest feeling

At last the two owlets have dispersed. They started coming back less and less during the night as they grew more confident and able to hunt for themselves, and we now haven’t seen them for over two weeks. They’re out there somewhere: perhaps the next time you see a barn owl it might be one of them.

They just won’t go!

It’s hard to tell if they’re not hunting well, or they just like free food, but they keep coming back to the nest box. We’re only putting food out every third night and they don’t hang around all the night, but should we cut down more and force them to cope on they’re own? The daft pair of wobbleheads need to get their act together.

Almost there

Day 84. Twelve weeks old and our work is almost done. The two owls (no longer owlets?) are occasionally returning to the nest box, but no longer constantly calling for food, so we think they are now able to hunt and feed on their own. We’ll leave the occasional dinner for them, just to make sure (and because we’ve got a whole bag of them taking up space in our freezer!), but this (blurred and grainy) photo taken at dusk may be the last.

I remember you when you were a cute little egg!

Typical teenagers

Day 75. The two owlets are now confident flyers, spending most of the night out and about and only coming back to the nest box when they’re hungry.

We get a good view of them at dusk as they fly silently up and down the edge of the field, practising hunting by pouncing on anything that moves on the ground (including leaves blowing in the wind). We don’t know for sure how well they are hunting so are feeding them once every third night so that they don’t starve.

It won’t be long before they naturally disperse and we probably won’t see them again.

If you’re going to eat a field mouse whole you have to get it lined up just right.

1 + 1 = 2

Day 71. Proof that both owlets are back. We have been hearing them both the past couple of nights but last night they visited the nest box together, looking for food. Unfortunately they didn’t come two nights ago when we left food (it got taken by magpies the next day) so left empty handed. They do need to learn to be hunting so have to go a bit hungry to encourage this. It’s a difficult balance to take: if the parents were around they would still be feeding them occasionally though much less than before the owlets could fly.

Not one but two?!

We left some food on the ledge last night and one of the owlets came back and took it, as you can see. Not bad flying but still a little unsure of itself. But if you listen carefully (and ignore the background thumping noise) you can hear another owl in the background hissing. We think the other owlet is back too!

Lazarus!

One of the owlets is alive! It appeared back in the nest box last night, hungry and looking for food but otherwise appearing quite healthy and clearly able to fly. It didn’t stay long and annoyingly we hadn’t left any food (having more or less given up on them).

Back from the dead.

We’re not sure whether it is the male or female, and we don’t know what has happened to the other one. We’ll put some food back in the nest box tonight in case either come back.

Was this the fate of the owlets?

We took the opportunity of the empty nest box to do some work on it, move the camera and install a second one on a boom outside looking directly at the nest box. We also left some food on the ledge in case one of the owlets did come back. Then this happened.

A buzzard came and in an instant had made off with the field vole. Buzzards are known to take birds, particularly fledglings and though we will never know for sure this could explain the sudden disappearance of the two owlets.

Here’s the video in slow motion.

And then there were none

Day 65. After the first owlet disappeared yesterday, the second left the nest box last night, despite the wet weather, and hasn’t returned since. No signs of either owlet (and we have searched and searched). There is a slim chance they have both fledged and are roosting in another tree somewhere nearby, but the weather has been dreadful (owls can’t fly in the rain) and they have only just started to learn to fly.

Fingers crossed. We will keep the nest box ready for them (and have adjusted the cameras so we will spot them if they do appear), but there is a good chance we won’t see them again.

Missing in action

Day 64. It looks like we’ve lost one of the owlets. Looking more closely at the video clips from yesterday one of them didn’t come back into the nest box in the early hours of the morning, and hasn’t been seen since. No sign either up in the tree or one the ground (and we have searched and searched), not even a feather.

It’s likely it fell out of the tree, and not being able to fly properly yet would have been easy prey for a passing predator.

Such is nature. Going to make sure the remaining hootlet gets all it needs over the next few days.

The last sighting of the two owlets together

Nine weeks old

Day 63. The two owlets have spent the night outside, firstly watching the bats (perhaps for inspiration) and then climbing all over the oak tree, finally returning to the safety of the nest box at dawn. Tomorrow night might be the night for their first flight!

Here are a few video clips from the night of adventure

Daredevils

Day 62. The two owlets have both ventured out onto the ledge for the first time, despite the wind trying to blow them off.

One of the adults even made an appearance with a fat ? (mouse, vole or mole, we can’t quite make it out) for one of the owlets.