IT'S THAT TIME AGAING - OWL-O-WEEN!
During this time of ghost stories and things that go bump in the night, here at Bird Rescue, it's more about who is hooting in the night!
Owls have become synonymous with the season, but why? Well, if you've been home at night, enjoying a peaceful evening and suddenly a silent winged figure appears with a deafening hoot or screech it can be downright frightful. No wonder they've developed a reputation!
We tend to see owls this time of year because this is the season they scope out their territories, causing them to be more active and vocal to whomever they deem an "unwanted visitor". Young owls hatched earlier in the year may also be leaving parents' territories to stake out their own ground. Others are migrating, or like the Snowy Owl, may simply have nomadic tendencies. Though typically taking their "flyabouts" in the winter and returning to the Arctic for breeding, some Snowy Owls have been spotted as far south as Texas!
When Can I Clean Out My Owl Box?
The answer? Right now! Barn Owls are the biggest users of owl boxes and will start looking for their perfect love nests in late November. We typically recommend the period between Halloween and Thanksgiving to be the perfect time to open up your boxes and clean them out for a fresh start.
Remember to check the box before starting any cleaning to be sure you're not disturbing a sleeping occupant! Won't Birds Clean Out Nests Themselves?
Though most birds do a little sprucing up of their nests prior to adding the next batch of babies, boxes are a little harder for them to clean out. If you can believe it, this photo is of a recently cleaned box. (Yes, small places filled with multiple bodies get dirty quickly!) These were orphaned babies we placed in a freshly cleaned box for a process called "hacking" where we provide food while unseen by the birds until the time arrives for them to start flying free and hunting on their own.
What Can Happen If Boxes Aren't Cleaned?
Over time, the combination of leftover food, pellets, and feces can build up inside the box, raising the height of the floor. As young owls become ambulatory, this build-up gives them easy access to the nest hole – meaning they can walk right out of the box before they are old enough to safely fly down! In the photographs above, you may have noticed the sizable difference in the age of the Barn Owls. If the little downy owls were to prematurely exit the box, they could be harmed on the fall, caught by a predator, or suffer from hypothermia if not found immediately. Various health problems are another consequence of waste build-up and poor living conditions. These issues often present as respiratory issues or, even more commonly, foot and feather issues. One such group of 4 babies came to us in July of 2018 with the skin of their footpads crusted over. Walking on soft, damp substrate led to their skin softening to the point of sloughing and then thick scabs forming with no real skin underneath. (Yuck! And poor babies!) We spent the better part of a year (six to nine months!) doing various foot treatments to protect and promote the newly growing skin. Not only was captivity and medical treatment hard on them, they were not able to grow up with their parents.
In the photos to the right, you can see the crusted footpad on intake, then healing progression after 2 months, and nearly healed pads at 4 months. Luckily we were able to get them released as happy, healthy owls ready to live out a natural life and continue to provide very important rodent control!
Nature's Rodent Control
Rodenticide affects a whole lot more than rodents! As seen in this diagram, rodenticides build up in the food web and affect living beings from earthworms to owls. At Bird Rescue we have seen the firsthand negative impact of rodenticides on a variety birds, including owls and eagles. In terms of natural rodent control among raptors, the gold standard is the Barn Owl. During the nesting season, they spend roughly one-third of their time hunting, and a single family can consume roughly 3,000 rodents! Though we've seen more farms, vineyards, and individuals opt to promote healthy and natural pest controls like putting up owl boxes to attract Barn Owl families and steering clear of rodenticide use, this is still an illness we face each year in our hospital. And it's one we all help prevent by using only natural, non-toxic pest
If you are looking to put up yard decorations and want to be sure they're safe, please remember our wild neighbors. These innocent animals don't know anything about holidays, they're simply trying to continue with business as usual, accessing food and shelter. Fake netting and webbing are two of the most notorious types of Halloween decorations that each season harm birds. Wildlife from small songbirds to raptors can become the unintentional victims of our desire to create a festive environment. For them, the results can be deadly.
Photo courtesy of WildCare in San Rafael of a Western Screech Owl needed for treatment after entanglement in fake webbing.
If you're a lover of this spooky season and thrive on decorations, consider using festive window decals, yard structures that would not cause entanglements, or ramp up your indoor spookiness!
HOOT 'N HOWL: NIGHT CRITTERS OF THE LAGUNA
We are excited to partner with The Laguna Foundation and will be making an appearance with Ambassador Birds at their Hoot and Howl event!
Date: October 30
Time: 5:00 – 7:30pm
Location: Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation
Celebrate all things nocturnal with this Halloween-themed exploration at the Laguna Environmental Center. We will keep our ears open for hoots, visit an owl pellet dissection station (if that doesn't appeal to you, just ask any child under 12!), and use a black light to discover nocturnal insects and arachnids that live at the Laguna. Our celebration finale will be watching our local bats leave the Hop Barn for their nightly hunting. We anticipate dozens of bats simultaneously departing from their bat boxes to catch insects after sunset. This phenomenon is called a “fly out”, and is one you won't want to miss!
Find out more information and register for free here!