The owl files – Chapter 3: A roller-coaster ride . . . and a magical evening!

20 January 2023

A roller-coaster ride .   .   .   . and a magical evening!

On Tuesday evening I heard the angry HOOO!!! threat calls of an adult coming from the Tea Garden and I rushed downstairs to see what was upsetting the owls. There were some people walking their dogs in the Tea Garden, while the female was up on the corner of the roof voicing her displeasure.

On Wednesday, I woke to the sound of the chick’s wheezy begging calls from the Tea Garden. It had obviously had a bad night and was still very hungry. What is going on? I checked on the chick again at 08:30 – and it was still begging, but when I checked again at 16:30 there was no sign of the chick and the male had also disappeared. The behaviour of the female was also strange, and I had a sinking feeling that something might have happened to the chick.

Yesterday, I was in the Tea Garden just before 05:00 – the male was in his usual spot; the female was on a window ledge, but there was still no sign of the chick. Fortunately however, three hours later the family was all together in the Tea Garden. There was no begging from the chick, but I decided to get more mice ‘to cover the bad days’. Only question was ‘would the chick recognise a dead mouse as food?’ It was easy when it was still in the box, when I just put the mice either in, or under the nest – but this could be different.

I decided to test whether supplementary feeding would work last night and took four mice down to the Tea Garden. The three owls were all relaxed and dozing – so obviously not too hungry. I put a mouse on one of the tables below the chick, but no reaction. The female was dozing on the corner of the roof so I waved a mouse to attract her attention. I then tossed the mouse onto the ground where she could see it – and again no reaction. I then decided to try the male, and put a mouse on a table where he could see it. Intense interest! After a long wait, he flew down and picked up the mouse. He gave a few quiet ‘hoo hoo’ food delivery calls, and the chick started begging. Immediately, the male flew straight to the chick and handed over the prey .  .  . and the chick quickly swallowed it. Would it work again?

Another mouse out on the table .  .  . and the same result! This was working! With the third mouse, things changed. The male came down as previously, but when he took the mouse to the chick, the chick wasn’t interested. The male then gave slightly louder ‘food delivery’ calls .  .  . and the female swooped down from the roof, took the mouse from him, and flew to the back corner of the building. I put the last mouse out, and the male again announced that he had food. No response from either the chick or the female .  .  . and after a few minutes, the male swallowed the mouse.

About ten minutes later, the female returned – still carrying ‘her’ mouse. She approached the chick .  .  . and looked like she was going to feed it, but there was only half-hearted soliciting by the chick – and she began tearing the mouse and swallowing the pieces herself. What a wonderful end to a stressful day!

By Geoff Lockwood