The owl files – Chapter 3: Mixed messages

16 September 2022

Mixed messages

Yesterday started well!!! I climbed the ladder to check on the nest .  .  . and the first thing I saw was the female and one of the chicks together in the Elm next to the Air Quality Monitoring Station. When I checked just after 08:30, the whole family were in the Elm – all good. At around 16:00 however the female came back to the nest box .  .  .  and was still there when the chicks and the male were already moving around. The first, more adventurous chick had already moved to the Blue Gums, while the second had simply changed perches in the Elm. The chicks responded very differently to my approach – the first, as usual, pulled itself erect and sleeked down its plumage to change its outline and, hopefully, be less visible, while the other sat calmly watching me. It may be that this chick is simply calmer/ less aggressive and has become used to people in its space, while I have handled the first (when I rescued it from the ground) and it is now a little more cautious of people. Not a bad thing.

This morning, as my head appeared above the wall, I saw the female flying straight towards me.  She swooped up and landed on the step of the nest box only 2m away. She had a partially-eaten Vlei Rat in her talons – so hopefully the chicks had just eaten. The male landed in the Blue Gums – but there were no sign of the chicks so I went out back to search for them. The female was back in the Elm, and I eventually found the chicks together in a Tipuana higher up the hill – so no drama so far.

This behaviour of the female spending so much time at, or in the nest is something that I’ve not recorded before however, and the way the roosting family is often widely separated so soon after fledging is also something new. I hope there are no more ‘curve balls’ in store.

This will possibly be my last update for a while as I leave for Cape Town to lead a VENT tour of the South-western Cape and Kruger tomorrow. To all of you who visit Delta Park to see the owls – please could you keep an eye on them in my absence – thanks.

By Geoff Lockwood