Too many mysteries remained at the end of the 1997 nesting season. Did Peanut have any brothers or sisters? When were the eggs laid? When did they hatch? When did the first owlet climb the owlet ladder? Why did they vanish so suddenly? I was determined to find a non-disruptive way to answer these questions in 1998. I also wanted to make it easier for a flightless owlet to get out of the nest and return without falling to the ground. This latter objective was easily met by simply adding an "owlet step" under the door and putting slats between the front rail braces. Configuring an unattended monitoring system that would not alarm the owls proved to be more of a challenge.
My solution was "OwlCam". It consists of a highly sensitive (.015 lux) miniature video camera and two miniature microphone/preamplifiers. I rejected systems that used IR illuminators because they emitted a faint glow that would probably have disturbed the owls. I also rejected color cameras as they require far more light than the nest cavity offers. OwlCam is mounted on top of a wooden platform that is just below the ceiling so that an owl sees what appears to be a false ceiling with a one-inch hole in it. Power and audio/video signals are routed through a small hole in the back of the nest and then 110 ft to my house. There is therefore no need for any human activity, such as changing batteries or tapes, in the area of the nestbox during nesting season.
The owls had apparently been watching with keen interest as I installed OwlCam. Within hours of the time I moved the ladder away from the nest, one of the owls began calling from a nearby tree. Its mate could then be heard responding from the distance. This exchange must have been an "all clear" signal since both owls entered the nest shortly after dark. Those of you with sound cards may listen to the owl's very vocal opinions of the changes. The 90k audio file takes 20 seconds to download at 28.8 Kb/s. You will hear them hooting, scratching and flapping their wings inside the nest box. Subsequent visits by the owls over the next three nights made it clear that they still consider the nest box to be their home.
The picture at right was captured by OwlCam during installation checkout. The wooden Elf Owl illustrates the type of inside view that should be available when the real owls return.
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