Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The White Ghosts

I was unreasonably annoyed when nest cam had to be removed from the bird box. I was unreasonably pessimistic when Dave cobbled together am emergency owl box cam as compensation for lost blue tit chick viewing opportunities. More fool me as owl box cam has been an outrageous success. We’ve been privileged to watch the barn owl chicks develop from being a mere twinkle in Mr Barn Owl’s eye, to the gawky, greedy, screechy teenagers they are now. 

Who needs the sharks and Nazis of Channel 5, or the pregnant teenagers and streetwise superheros of BBC 3, when each evening we can flick to the Owl Channel for live action from our own treetops!  There’s mystery – is that one egg, two eggs, three eggs or, oh my God, I think there’s four eggs. Romance – Mr Barn Owl brings furry edible gifts to Mrs Barn Owl. Sex – Mrs Barn Owl lets Mr Barn Owl get jiggy in return for said furry edible gifts. Comedy – how many fluffy owl chick faces can you fit in a 20 cm diameter hole. Suspense – will the fourth owlet ever get fed or will his bigger greedier siblings starve him to death. Dance – stretch the wing to the left, stretch the leg to the right, bob up & down, turn your head upside down. Horror – rodents swallowed whole or ripped to shreds on a nightly basis. High drama – owlets falling backwards off branches, owlets getting wedged between branch and box, and owlets clinging to ledges by just a beak and a claw. All this and more every night on the Owl Channel.


The eldest owlet must be at least nine or ten weeks old as it's flying well. By eleven weeks an owlet should have made his first prey capture and perhaps started to disperse. Ours are clearly not so keen on the dispersal idea. If they hang around much longer, mum and dad will start chasing them away. Better to jump than be pushed (especially when you live above a house of inquisitive chickens), but any day now we’ll flick over to Owl Channel to find nothing but an empty box. The time will come when our four intrepid owls must make their own way in the world. What a sad day that will be, not just by the fact of their leaving, but by the even sadder fact that the first-year survival rate for juvenile barn owls is as low as 25%, so statistically only one of the four is likely to live to see his 1st birthday. So if you’re driving around at night, spare a thought for all those dispersing barn owls, slow down, and watch out for those beautiful white ghosts.