Sunday, March 6, 2016

Owl Updates: March 2016

Boreal owls (Aegolius funereus), are small nocturnal predators common to the boreal forests of the far north. Beginning in late January, male owls locate suitable nesting cavities in trees carved out by woodpeckers, and begin calling to defend their territory and to attract a potential mate. Their winnowing calls are a familiar sound during the long winter nights in Fairbanks. If a female is satisfied with a males performance, she will settle into the nesting site some time in March; laying a clutch of around 8 eggs shortly after. 

In response to a high volume of boreal owl calls in our yard last year, we decided to install a nest box in a spruce near our house. While we did see a pair of owls using the box, we had no idea how successful their breeding attempt was. This season, we've upgraded the box to include a spy-cam with infrared LED lights to monitor nesting activity throughout the season. The audio/video feed is routed to the TV in our living room. The following is a summary of our observations, which I will update as the story develops. 
Observations as of March 30th
2/28 - Male observed calling from box entrance for the first time this season (see previous post). 
3/1 - Male seen calling for roughly 20 min, followed by the sudden appearance of a presumed female. Male jumped into the box and gave out a steady low winnowing call. The female then entered the box and the male exited. The female remained for a few minutes, scratching around at the floor of the box while giving out a series of quick high-pitched calls. She then looked up at the camera and left. 

3/4 - Red squirrel rooting around inside the box on two occasions around 10pm, no sign of owls. 
3/6 - No activity within the box or calling from the male. The last two nights have been quite. 
3/9 - Reconfiguration of leaves and sticks within the box, along with the appearance of a mysterious blueberry-sized black orb, indicates more unknown activity when we're not watching. Could be a another squirrel, but after a long stretch of quiet nights with no calls heard from the male, we're hoping the pair is still interested in the box. 
3/13 - Whether or not a good idea, Casey and I brought home a massive puppy who we've named "Noosa", after my favorite surfing spot in Australia. She's a mix of five different large breeds, and yes, I've had several panic attacks. Mostly because having a new pup in the house reminds me of when Reef was little. I mention all of this because last night we found an owl sitting in the box when we flipped on the owl cam, which jumped up onto the entrance hole when I let Noosa outside to pee. 
3/30 - After a prolonged period of no activity following the initial sighting of Owl-berta on March 1st, I'm beginning to wonder if the pair has decided to abandon breeding this year. We haven't heard as much calling from the male this winter, and we've passed the time when the female settled in last season. I'll give it a few more weeks before I lose all hope, but it's not looking good.