Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Saturday, June 9, 2018

An Owlet Adventure

There comes a time when almost all living creatures leave home. The outside world is exotic, appealing and perilous. 

Fear may slow the process, but curiosity will win. 

 Food, shelter and predatory protection are all essential, initially.

Learning the habits of self-maintenance and cleanliness are also critical lifelong skills.

After three days of searching the sky and....

...half hearted attempts, the young owlet finally leaped. Of course, at this point it could not actually fly.

When I first spotted the owlet outside the nest it was wedged against a neighboring tree with a small branch firmly embedded under its wing. It was not moving. I feared the worst. Luckily, as I watched the owlet began to wiggle and twitch and in a few moments it freed itself and began to climb. However, it was still learning the concept of coordination and it soon found itself completely upside down. 

This angle does provide an interesting view of the rough-textured pads on the bottom side of the owlet's foot. In addition to their talons, these pads give owls a life-saving grip. Of course, the talons and pads also provide them with a life-ending grasp of their prey.

During the next few hours the owlet spent a good deal of time wandering about among small branches ten to twenty feet above the ground.

The topsy-turvy process relied a good deal on its iron grip.

One of the reasons an owlet is initially unable to fly is because its flight feathers are not fully developed. In their half-formed state the feathers are not yet capable of working together as a functional wing.

A few days later, I happened to have the chance to photograph two of the owlet's lost feathers. The upper feather in the photo looks like a flight feather which has not yet fully emerged from it's initial sheath. The lower feather resembles some of the young downy feathers which retain heat but provide no help with flight.

Update:

Just in from a wise and observant reader:

Larry,

Great photography of the owlet leaving the nest!  Isn’t that an amazing experience to witness?

A comment on your feather photo.  It may be the photo, but the upper feather in sheath looks like a crow feather to me.  Crows form a good part of the barred owl diet, and at this time of year, young crows are particularly vulnerable.  Sheathed feathers do not fall out – they are pulled out with a great deal of force required.  This particular sheathed feather appears to have been severed off above the skin, further supporting that it was at one time , barred owl food.

Thanks so much for sharing with Tweeterdom, I really enjoy your posts.

-Jamie

J. Acker
Bainbridge Island, WA

 Read on and you will see why this conclusion makes a lot of sense.

Since the owlets are unable to chase down their own prey, they are totally dependent on their parents for food.

The parents not only catch the prey, they offer it to the young in bite-size pieces.

After feeding, the parents help tidy up the owlet. The term allopreening is used to describe the process of one bird cleaning another. It usually happens with mated birds, but among Barred Owls I have seen it happen between parent-and-child and even between siblings.

Clearly, this owlet is the lucky recipient of parental affection.

For the first week or so after the owlet leaves the nest, I find it interesting that they are virtually egg-shaped.

Ultimately, the body will lengthen and the tail will grow out. A more mature shape will totally destroy the egg-shaped illusion.

But in the mean time, a young owlet sure looks like a fluffy little egg to me.

As the day wore on the owlet became active again. Using talons and beak it began to climb the bark of this large Western Red Cedar.

The wings waved around and the stubbly little tail got carried along for the ride, but it was primarily the talons that kept the owlet in the tree.

Ultimately, the challenge was too much for the young bird. It fell.

When a young owlet finds itself on the ground and unable to fly it is probably the most dangerous moment in its life.

Just a week earlier, I watched two raccoons cross the trail at this exact spot. A raccoon, a coyote or even an off-leash dog would only have to grasp and shake to end the life of a young defenseless owlet. The parents would certainly swoop in and attempt to distract any such creature but they would be hard pressed to actually stop an attack.

Luckily, owlets have a strong instinct to climb.

The young bird clambered up inside a rhododendron and apparently spent the night about nine or ten feet off the ground.

In the days that followed, the young owlet steadily climbed to new heights. The second night it was probably 60 to 70 feet up in the air. 


Surprisingly, throughout this time the crows seldom bothered the young bird. At the same time, they harassed the parents mercilessly. The parents were sitting ducks. They would perch above and often on either side of the young bird and watch for approaching danger. Their stationary devotion made them easy marks for the crows. One morning while I watched the young owl, the cacophony of crows behind me grew suddenly quiet.

A moment later an adult appeared with a decapitated crow. I suddenly understood the silence.

Food is food and not to be wasted. For the young owlet, eating-crow has a very literal meaning.

On the second or third night after the owlet left the nest, I found the parents allopreening in a rhododendron fairly close to the ground.

This behavior was very different. Previously, they had been perching above the owlet and ready to swoop down on any potential predator. I could no longer find the owlet. The change in behavior made me wonder if the owlet had survived. Luckily for me, the next night a friend sent a text which simply said, 'Bobo Lives!'

During the next week Bobo's coordination steadily improved. He (or she) spent the night in many different trees but always high above the ground. Surprisingly, the parents were often stationed closer to the ground. My only logical conclusion was that they were worried about raccoons climbing the trees. Maybe they were thinking that from the lower locations they could start harassing the raccoons before the masked bandits even located the correct tree.

Sometimes I wonder if we truly knew all the dangers in life, would anyone ever leave home?

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city!

Larry


Going Native:

Without a well-funded Environmental Protection Agency, it falls to each of us to be ever more vigilant in protecting our local environments. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. My hope is that we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (If natives plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants.

My intention in my weekly post is to include at least one photo each week and visually challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms.









Is this flower native to the Northwest?








Scroll down for the answer.









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Foxglove: I believe this plant is foxglove and it is not a native to North or South America. It is reported to be extremely poisonous and also the source for digitalis which is used for heart medicine. Click Here to learn more.












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The Email Challenge:

Over the years I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements regarding my posts. Even more frustrating when they go to 're-sign-up', hoping that will enable them to once again start receiving the announcements, they get a message which says 'Sorry, you are already signed up.' Google has not responded to my requests for help with this issue. 

My functional work around is to setup my own email list and each week I manually send out a new post announcement. If you are experiencing the issue and would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Thank you for your patience!


My email address is LDHubbell@comcast.net




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