Thankfully, I was able to re-nest all the young hawks, and I didn't get any calls for baby Screech owls this year, so all I've had to raise are the 5 orphaned Barred owls (and it's a good thing, too, because I've lost my wholesale mouse source and I'm freaking out, but I digress). The first babe came around the first week of April and they will probably all be dispersed by October.
Do some quick math...from April all the way to October??? This is why most rehabbers refuse to hack because it takes a lot of time and resources Their method? Just grow them to a certain size, toss them some live food before taking them off site to turn them out to slowly starve to death...logical, huh? Why waste your time?) Would a parent do that? NO, they stay with the babes for a given amount of time, giving them the life skills necessary to become a productive member of the gene pool. That said, 8 out of 10 babes born in spring won't be alive come winter. The natural world is a harsh mistress. If you don't employ good hacking methods, I would hazard a guess they they all die given that the whole, healthy parent reared birds have an 80% mortality.
The barred owls come in looking something like this...
Little "Lumpy" from last year!
Then they start growing into these fuzzy little creatures
And before you know it, June has arrived and it's time to open the door to the big, big world! Here you can see their chamber door has been opened and the hack board is outside garnished with mice. They will leave at their leisure and start to get a feel for the property...
I released the babes Memorial Day weekend and every once in a while I will see all five in the yard at the same time which makes me feel good knowing that they are all still viable. Lately, I am consistently seeing three in the yard together for breakfast and the evening meal. It's hard to tell them apart now, so I don't know hoo is hoo...
How many pairs of eyes do you see?
This shot was from the 2011 hacking season.
I won't go in to explaining 'hacking' again as I have just about exhausted the subject, but a quick synopsis is that I use operant conditioning techniques while they are still in captivity so they will start to associate a certain sound with food, so after they are released and about the property, I can literally 'call' them in for supper. It's pretty wild and crazy around here for a while. At first, the babes are very comfortable with my presence and they will hang out on the deck, on the window sills and if the door is open, they will walk right into the house. However, as they age and mature, they become more wary and less tolerant of me, so I take FULL advantage while they are young to do as much photography as possible.
I'm wet. I'm hungry. Feed me NOW.
Wha'chu lookin' at Willis?
I'll take mine to go, please.
This limb is over the pond, where they will learn to dine on fish and froggies...
This tree is right off the deck and was shot this morning. They were ready for breakfast!
These stiff feathers are called rictal bristles and they are the first feathers to grow out on the face. Momma will brush these sensitive 'whiskers' with the food and the owlett will open his beak to receive.
And THIS is the business end of things. His fuzzy slippers are being replaced by big-boy feathers!
It's thirsty work becoming an owl!
I know most people's economy is swirling around the drain and everyone is scared out of their wits, so you can just imagine how things are around here what with me losing my good pricing on mice and rats. I'm having to scrape together about four hundred extra dollars a month so that I don't become road kill myself from having to shovel dead things off the highway. It's a dreadful way to have to feed one's charges; it's dangerous and humiliating for me and it isn't healthy for the birds.