Field Notes: March 2008

March 7, 2008

Friday 7 March For those who are inquiring and wondering what Eleanor’s up to on her road trip, here’s an informative blurb from about Barred Owl behavior this time of year:

Barred Owl courtship activities begin in February, with breeding occurring between March and August. Males hoot and females give contact calls. As the nesting season approaches, males chase after females, giving a variety of hooting and screeching calls. Males display by swaying back and forth and raising their wings while sidling along a branch. Courtship feeding and mutual preening also occur.

Barred Owls nest in cavities and will also use abandoned Red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Squirrel, or Crow nests. Eggs number 2 to 4 and are white and almost perfectly round, with a slightly rough texture. They are likely laid every 2 to 3 days, and incubation begins with the first egg laid. Incubation period is 28 to 33 days. The male brings food to the female while she is on the nest. The Barred Owl is single-brooded but has a long breeding season, which allows for laying of replacement clutches if the first clutch or brood is lost.

When the young leave the nest, at about 4 weeks, they are not able to fly but crawl out of the nest using their beak and talons to sit on branches. These owlets are called branchers. They fledge at 35 to 40 days. Once they lose their down, there is no difference between adult and juvenile plumage.

Parents care for the young for at least 4 months, much longer than most other owls. Young tend to disperse very short distances, usually less than 10 kilometres (6 miles), before settling. Pairs mate for life, and territories and nest sites are maintained for many years.

Thursday 6 March Eleanor has been “on the road” since last week. It’s breeding season, and instinct compels her to seek a mate. The good news is an owl pair returns to the female’s home territory to nest, so we do expect her back soon to resume her reign over our historic neighborhood. I’ll keep you posted!


Field Notes: February 2008

February 2, 2008

Feb 26      For the first time since January 8, Eleanor was not in her tree this morning. Apparently, it’s another road trip to find a mate. She was gone two weeks last time. Let’s wish her luck!

Feb 25      It was only partly cloudy tonight, with a bright pink sunset. At 5:45 Bette noticed a couple of turkey vultures in the southernmost tree in the oak grove to the southwest. Eleanor noticed them, too. Rather than sit across her perch, she was positioned along on the length of the branch, turned toward them. She watched them intently, although they appeared quite settled high in the big oak, in stark relief against the pink sky. At 6:18 Eleanor flew to a tree across the street, surprisingly to the southwest — right toward the buzzards. A minute later she flew to the next tree. In this manner she hopscotched through four trees until she was directly across the street from the one the buzzards were in. She was perched in plain sight below them. At 6:22 it was almost dark. Suddenly, one of the buzzards took off and flew high to the west until it was out of sight. Whereas Wednesday night Eleanor had appeared quite spooked by them, tonight she seemed simply curious. At 6:24 she flew off high to the south — and right under the remaining buzzard; then it too took off, following its partner in a high arc to the west, until it was out of sight. 1 pellet in the evening.

Feb 24      Flight at 5:57 in the rain, across the Smiths’ lawn to the bare tree by the front door. She paused there momentarily, then flew off high to the southeast. 1 pellet in the evening. 

Feb 23      I went out about 5:45 to hose off the driveway under Eleanor’s perch. She usually ignores this type of thing, but tonight she watched me intently. I’ve read that if an owl spends more than half its time staring at you, you’re bothering it, so I went to shut off the water. As I came back I saw that she’d turned around on her perch to watch me walk across the yard and back. I think she was just giving me a dose of my own medicine.

At 5:58 she jumped to a couple of branches near her perch and at 6:02 appeared about to take off. Suddenly, she hunkered down very low. A large buzzard sailed westward low over her tree, followed by a second one, heading for the oak grove across the street. Eleanor stayed motionless for 2 minutes, then suddenly stretched up very tall and moved tight against the vertical branch; a buzzard was passing back overhead in a large west-to-east arc. She then hunkered down low and stayed motionless for a good 10 minutes, apparently preferring to postpone dinner rather than risk a run-in with a larger raptor. At 6:12 she straightened up and started looking around, then flew right over me to the tree I was standing under. I moved to the top of the Smiths’ stairs, and was only about 10 feet away from her. It was very windy, and she looked around quickly for a few minutes. She flew to the branch over the swingset in our backyard, then, at 6:18, finally flew off low to the north. 1 pellet in the afternoon.

Feb 22      1 pellet in the afternoon. 

Feb 21      At 6:04 she jumped to the next branch; then at 6:07 she flew off high to the northwest. 1 pellet in the afternoon.

Feb 20      Flight at 6:06 — to a lower branch in her tree, where she sat facing west. At 6:09 she flew off west, high over the houses toward the oak grove. 1 pellet in the evening.

Feb 19      At 5:53 she started hopping around in her tree near her perch. Flight at 5:57 — “Flight Plan A” — straight down the Smiths’ driveway, swooping low near us just 5 feet off the ground. Landed on her usual branch over the driveway. At 6:01 she flew to the wire over the alley, then at 6:03 took off to the east. 1 small pellet in the afternoon.

Thanks very much to Marsha Smith for her field notes for the past few days.

Feb 18      Flight at 6:01 — down the driveway to the oak in our backyard.  At 6:05 she flew south over the hedge into the Brydens’ yard. No pellet today. MS

Feb 17      Flight at 6:01. She flew down a branch and at 6:02 flew down our driveway to the branch over your swing set. At 6:05 she flew to the top of the swing set and sat there until 6:11, when she flew to the roof of your guest house above the front door. At 6:15 she flew east across the alley. 2 pellets in the afternoon — 1 quite large and the other small, gray and furry with a rodent skull in the larger pellet. MS

Feb 16       Flight at 6:01. She flew to the oak in our backyard at 6:01 and sat for about four minutes, then flew toward your back yard, where there was a slight scuffle and a squawk. I couldn’t see where she was but assumed she had her first tidbit for the night. At least I am not a nervous wreck tonight! 1 small pellet in the morning — brown with bones. MS

Feb 15      Eleanor has given me about three heart attacks this evening. She was very different tonight than I have seen her before. At 5:50 she went down a branch from her spot and was there for about five minutes when she flew to a larger branch over the street. She seemed a little agitated and kind of paced back and forth along the branch. At 6:01 she flew across the street and landed in the parking strip, where she stayed for a few minutes. She didn’t appear to be eating anything. She flew back across the street right in front of a car. (This was my first heart attack.)  She landed on the wire above our driveway. At 6:04 she landed in the middle of the street, with four cars going right passed her. I couldn’t get to the street fast enough! Heart attack #2.  As I was running out there, a fellow stopped his car and got out and shooed her back up onto the wire. Next she flew down to the parking strip below her tree. I went out to her and she went back into the tree. When I went back outside, she was gone — hopefully into the back woods somewhere! 1 very dry, very hairy gray pellet in the morning. MS

Feb 14       Flight at 5:58. After dropping to a lower branch in her own tree, she took “Flight Plan B” — exactly the same route as Feb 11, due north to Wings’ tree (same branch), then over to Don and Richard’s big pine tree about 12 feet up (same branch). She sat there a good 15 minutes, actively watching and listening to a couple of robins and alternating between stretching up tall and crouching down low. She seemed hunkered down and willing to wait, so I left her to her hunt at 6:20. No pellet today.

Feb 13      Flight at 5:58. Like last night she moved around in her own tree for a few minutes first. At 6:00 she flew off to the northwest toward the oak grove. 1 small pellet in the afternoon and another in the evening.

Feb 12      Flight at 5:57, but she moved around some before that. About 5:50 she moved just 2 feet from her regular roost to a small branch, facing north; jumped back to her perch; then flew about 10 feet up in her own tree. I’d never seen her do that before — she aways moves lower. In each new location she was watching something to the north. At 5:57 Clemmie joined me just as Eleanor dropped toward us and did a perfect swoop down the driveway about 6 feet over our heads, landing on her favorite branch over the Smith’s back drive. She then moved to the telephone line (right next to the nest box!), then at 6:00 flew north down the alley. 1 huge pellet in the evening, gray rather than the usual brown and containing large bones.

Feb 11      Flight at 5:58 due north to a tree one yard over. She sat there for a few minutes watching bats, then flew north to the big pine tree, landing only about 12 feet up. She watched birds and bats for a few more minutes, then flew to the top of the telephone pole. At 6:10 she finally flew off to the northwest. 1 pellet in the afternoon (with teeth!). 

Feb 10      Flight at 5:43 to a lower branch in her tree. It was cloudy. At 5:45 she swooped me in the driveway en route to the low branch at the back of the Smiths’. She looked around for a few minutes, then flew east across my backyard (chickens were still out). I went around to the back to close them up and at 5:57 saw her flying high toward the southeast. 1 small pellet in the morning. 

Feb 9      Flight at 5:58. It was clear and bright. She flew toward us but high (presumably because there were 4 of us) and over the house to the northeast. 1 pellet in the afternoon. 

Feb 8      Flight at 5:43. She flew to the tree I was standing under in the Smiths’ front yard, landing right over my head; then to a couple of spindly branches. She walked up and down the branches, wings spread for balance, checking out the clumps of dead leaves (where she’d had luck catching a bird last night). Then she flew over to the bare tree by the steps. At 5:51 she flew off low to the south. No pellet today.

Feb 7      Flight at 5:39. She flew early — it was still quite light — but she was fascinated with something in the next tree. She flew to a spindly little branch — and caught a small bird with her beak (she was using her feet to hang on to the branch, flapping her wings to stay upright). She dropped to the telephone line and proceeded to swallow the bird whole in less than a minute; it took about 6 gulps to get it down (gnarly!). She looked around for a minute or two, then flew off to the southwest. 1 pellet in the afternoon.

Feb 6      1 pellet in the morning. 

Feb 5      Flight at 5:41. Again, like the past three nights, she flew toward and then over us to the same branch above the swing set. Flew north at 5:45. No pellet today.

Feb 4      Flight at 5:48. Like last night, she flew toward and then over us to the same branch above the swing set. She briefly eyed the rabbit on the back lawn, then looked around for more-reasonable prey. Flew north at 6:00 to the big pine tree at the high school. 1 pellet in the afternoon.

Feb 3      Flight at 5:41. I was standing in the driveway, and she flew right at me and low over my head to the tree above our swingset. Ellie happened to be on top of the swingset, taking pictures. She got in a couple shots of Eleanor with the flash before Eleanor took off to the southeast at 5:46. (See the “spooky” photo at No pellet this evening.

Feb 3      9:30 a.m. This morning the two crows were back, and they brought a friend. They landed right next to Eleanor on her branch — not 3 feet away — squawking at her in unison. This time she seemed nonplussed and ignored them completely. The harassment lasted about 10 minutes. Found the pellet she dropped last night.

Feb 2      Flight at 5:33 p.m. It was raining, so Rosa and I were against the trunk of Elenor’s tree. She flew closer to us to a lower branch. At 5:38 she dropped a pellet in the grass, walked down the branch and back, then flew south to the bare tree by the Smiths’ front door. She looked around there for 5 minutes, then flew back, very low (my eye level) across where we were standing, then up to the telephone wire along the street at the end of our driveway. Sat there looking around for a few more minutes, then flew northwest, low, and it looked like she landed behind the houses across the street. 1 pellet today, but we couldn’t find it in the dark.

Feb 2      11:45 a.m. I heard the ruckus of a pair of crows, who had taken it upon themselves to harass Eleanor as she dozed. They started by noisily circling her tree a half dozen times, then moved in to land close to her (6 to 10 feet), squawking, and then take off again. Eleanor woke up immediatley and moved close to a vertical branch. The pair continued their in-and-out offensive for about 20 minutes.

Feb 1      Flight at 5:39 p.m. She flew straight at Rosa and me and then swooped up directly over our heads, landed on the familiar branch across the Smiths’ driveway about 14 feet up, looked around for 5 minutes, ignoring us just below her, then flew off toward the east at 5:44.  1 pellet right before takeoff.

Field Notes: January 2008

January 28, 2008

Jan 31        Flight at 5:40; she flew southeast to a low branch by the Smiths’ front steps — closer to me than ever before. When I moved to the top of the steps, I was just 15 feet away and 10 feet below eye-level. It was the best look I’ve had of her with the naked eye. She looked around for about 4 minutes, then flew off to the southwest. No pellet today.

Jan 30        Flight at 5:40; flew southeast around the Smiths’ house; 1 pellet in afternoon, reddish brown, not the usual gray

Jan 29        Flight at 5:42; flew to lower branch in same tree, dropped a large pellet at 5:48, then flew east at 5:50 toward me and over the house. Pellet was still very hot and (no surprise) smelled really bad!

Jan 28        Flight at 5:31; flew to lower branch in same tree, then east toward us and across the front yard north toward the school; no pellet today

Jan 27        Flight at 5:30. Her usual flight plan was disrupted as her tree was heavy with snow. She waddled down the branch about 8 feet before flying to a lower branch and then taking off; 1 pellet

Jan 26        Flight at 5:35; flew to a lower branch, then west across the street over to the oak grove; 1 pellet

Jan 25        Flight at 5:27; flew east right over me and Eric; 1 pellet in afternoon

Jan 24        Flight at 5:27 (early — it was dark and stormy); flew east right over me, 3 feet over my head; 1 pellet in afternoon

Jan 23        8 a.m. She’s back! After a two-week absence, she’s in her regular roosting spot!

                 6 p.m. Most AWESOME owl encounter to date. She flew at 5:32 p.m. to a lower branch, then east (in the same direction as the previous three times): down the driveway to a branch over the Smith’s yard. At 5:42 she swooped about 6 feet lower, we heard a scuffle, then she returned to the branch with a big rat in her talons. She flew a little higher with the rat in her mouth; took 10 minutes to eat it. This was all very visible as she was silhouetted against the sky. Apparently not done hunting for the night, she flew off at 6 p.m. toward the west.

Jan 8        8 a.m., she was not in her tree for the first time since she was first spotted! (Is she in the nest box? Has she gone to look for a mate and will be back?)

Jan 7        Flight at 5:17; 1 pellet in the a.m.; another in the afternoon; again she flew east directly at us, right over our heads, and across the backyard

Jan 6        Flight at 5:15; she flew east directly at us, right over our heads, and landed in a tree about 15 feet up

Jan 5        Nest box is installed! Snow is forecast for tonight. Flight at 5:14; she flew east right by us, over our house, and right past the nest box; 1 pellet in evening.

Jan 4        Flight at 4:59 (it was very dark and stormy); flew northwest through the Brians’ covered porch to a high tree in the oak grove; 1 pellet in the a.m.

Jan 3        Dropped 1 pellet at 5:12; pooped at 5:13; flight at 5:14 to lower branch in same tree; 5:18 flew west to oak grove across the street

Jan 2        Flight at 5:09; flew south to Vicki’s tree, back to Smiths’, swooped low over our yard (chickens were out!), paused in our Horse Chestnut tree, then took off; 1 pellet with foot sticking out

Jan 1 Flight at 5:07; flew northeast across our yard and over Wings’ house

Field Notes: December 2007

January 28, 2008

Dec 31          Flight at 5:05; across Brians’ yard and beyond; 1 pellet

Dec 30          Flight at 5:07; to telephone pole

Dec 29          Flight at 5:10; to English’s tree, top of Carol’s house, then beyond; 1 pellet

Dec 28          Flight at 5:05; to phone pole

Dec 27          Posted Audubon Society notice re: ID

Dec 26          1 pellet

Dec 23          1 pellet

Dec 21          1 pellet

Dec 18          1 pellet

Dec 10          showed up in tree