2007-2009 OwlCam Updates

More than four years after Ward and June's departure, I finally have some very encouraging news to report. Earlier this summer, a neighbor who lives about one half mile away reported frequent sightings of a pair of barred owls in her area that began about the time that Ward and June disappeared. As much as I would like to believe that it was Ward and June, there is no way to be sure. There had, however, been only one brief sighting of a single owl in the area of the OwlCam nest box and no indication that a barred owl might even recognize the new nest box as a potential nesting cavity. That changed on  September 25th 2007 when the loud rustling sound of an owl entering and exiting the nest was picked up by a nest box microphone that has been operating continuously for the last four years. By the time I could turn on the night vision camera, the barred owl was hunting from the nest box rail as pictured on the right. After scanning the ground below for a couple of minutes, the owl zeroed in and tracked a target before diving on what was probably a good meal.

As this owl remained in the area for the next week, its behavior and vocalizations convinced me that it is a first-year owl that has just left its parent's territory. I spotted it on two other occasions as it was being mobbed by smaller birds while trying to hunt in daylight, and heard many other indications of daytime hunting in the distance. Daytime hunting in a season when a mature adult would easily meet its needs at night is a strong indication of an immature owl -- especially in the late summer and early fall when young owls are dispersing from their parent's territories. More conclusive evidence came when I was able to record the vocalizations of the owl a few nights later. First-year owls are  restricted to wheezing while they are in their parent's territory, so that it takes time for them to master their adult calls after leaving. The first call that I was able to record was this wailing call, which sounds very much like an adult wailing call. It was, however, a very different story when the owl attempted this more complex call. Those of you who have the OwlCam DVD may recognize a  similar sound at the end of one of June's wild hooting sequences as Ward arrives with a meal on a very hungry day. This young owl obviously has a lot of  practicing to do before it will be taken seriously in the world of adult owls.  The only other call that I've heard from the young owl sounded like the siren call from the OwlCam Sound Library. I had previously only heard this call on two occasions during the five years that Ward and June nested here, and it's quite possible that those calls also came from first-year owls that were just passing through.

While young barred owls do not nest until their third year, I'm highly encouraged to learn that the owl is able to enter the nest and am hoping that it will find the habitat inviting enough to hang around. My faith in the predator resistance of the new box was bolstered when a gray squirrel failed in a recent attempted to enter -- first from the side, and then by climbing down the steep slick roof. The squirrel quickly lost its grip and slid uncontrollably to the front of the roof where it fell off and tumbling 20 feet to the ground. Red squirrels and flying squirrels have also failed to find their way into the nest and I would expect a fisher to have an even more difficult time. It looks like a pretty safe place for a new owl family and I will report any future sightings on this page. Those with wideband internet service will get a chuckle out of this video of the squirrel's failed attempt.

In October of 2008, I again heard the calls of immature barred owls behind my house. They remained in the area for more than a week, but this time I saw no evidence of them entering the nest box. The appearance of first-year owls during dispersal season in two consecutive years strongly suggests that a pair of adults have found another nesting cavity nearby. If they consider the nest box to be within their territory, they will not allow it to be occupied by another pair of owls for as long as their new nest holds up. When their current nesting cavity does eventually succumb to the elements, my very safe nest box will be waiting. The predator resistance of the design was again confirmed on  March 9, 2009 when I  watched another squirrel slide off the roof and tumble to the ground after a determined but futile attempt to enter the box.

Feb 2012 Update: The predator proof nestbox has remained vacant since the fisher tragedy, but the frequent calls of both adult and juvenile barred owls in the area indicate that they have found a new home nearby. While I have considered putting the old box back up; frequent fisher sightings have convinced me that this would be a mistake. It is still possible that owls will once again occupy the nest, but this will not occur until their current nesting site fails.

Thanks to all of those who have let me know that you enjoyed the DVD. It is satisfying to know that Ward and June's exploits are still being enjoyed by so many. The DVD continues to be available for purchase through Amazon.com

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