Chris’ Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box Cam’

Established 2000

The 2011 eastern screech owl (Megascops asio, formerly Otus asio) nesting season is underway in this urban Austin, Texas, nest box. You can also see the results from previous years, and follow my blogging in the lead-up to this year’s nesting.

The views shown here are provided by one or more tiny monochrome video cameras that are sensitive to both visible and near-infrared light. During the day, the cameras "see" using the daylight that streams in through the entrance hole. At night, arrays of infrared illuminators take over from the sun. (Meet the nest box internals.)

Daily Image Archive
March 2011
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April 2011
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May 2011
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Start of Nesting: 11-Mar-2011 • Eggs Laid/Hatched/Failed: 4/4/0 • Adoptees: 1 • Weather / More Weather

Daily News

May 8 – The owlets are climbing well within the nest box, and have learned the trick of sitting in the entryway at night to monopolize the food deliveries. (They always figure that out.) This means that the first owlet(s) may leave the nest any time now. Normally they leave about 15 minutes after local sunset. So, watch for that, if you can, but bear in mind that it's easy to be fooled into thinking an owlet has left the nest when it's actually standing on the floor with its brothers and sisters hiding it from the camera’s view.

At this time of year, I normally mount the “owlet rail” on the outside of the box, just below the entry hole, to give exiting owlets a place to stand and consider their next move. Unfortunately, leaping squirrels damaged it badly prior to the start of nesting, so I'll have to make some new parts to repair it PDQ, if I'm going to get the rail mounted, say, late this afternoon or early this evening.

My thanks to Michelle, Jeanne H., G. & K. Barbier, Nancy, Annie, and Alison for their postcards. Sorry about being so slow about everything this year.

April 26 – [9:30 PM] Owlet no. 4 has returned home, replete with a pair of working eyes, thanks to rehabber friend Sallie. Both Mr. and Mme. Owl have delivered food since no. 4’s return, but I don’t think either one has noticed that they now have five owlets (or that Sallie and I left a dead mouse in the nest to help them feed the family). Unless screech owls employ a "1, 2, 3, many" counting system, Mme. Owl should notice the extra owlet before too long (actually, I’m surprised she hasn’t noticed already). I wonder what she’ll think.

April 24 – [10:39 PM] Owlet no. 5 is now at home in the nest box, and has even received a nice, big gecko from Mme. Owl, who watched patiently with that gecko while I installed the new vent, photographed the kids, closed-up the nest box, hauled it back to its place in the tree, stowed all the cables, and put all my stuff away. After that, she was in there like a shot. The appearance of an exta kid gave her pause for thought, but she didn't wait long to feed the adoptee, especially since all of her own owlets were still playing dead after having their nest disturbed. No. 5 couldn’t have cared less about the disturbance, having become accustomed to people, so he/she was the only one paying attention when mom was offering the gecko around.

Also, I now have a bag of frozen my mice in my feezer, so I can supplement the family's food supply while mom and dad adjust to having four mouths to feed, again.

I just wish I'd noticed that the owl cam’ video capture software stopped working at 5:20 PM this afternoon. Had I known, I’d’ve fixed that, and you, loyal viewer, could have observed this process. Dang. It should be working again by 10:54 PM CDT.

[8:45 PM] Owlet no. 5 is on his/her way, and should be in the nest in about 30 minutes, give or take some time for installing the new vent in the nest box, examining the current owlets, taking some photos, etc.

April 23 – Owlet no. 4 is reported to be starting to open its eyes, but it’s much too soon to determine what state they’re in. Meanwhile, owlet no. 5, the adoptee, might be added to the nest late tonight. (I know: promises, promises … but it could happen.) Whenever I next bring down the nest box, I’m planning on adding a vent in the lower-right corner of the far wall, as seen from the owl cam’. I’ve been watching the owls panting (technically, it’s called “gullar fluttering”) in the heat of the day for too long now. I think a little cross-ventilation could help enormously. Unfortunately, it will be a problem during cold periods, so, if the vent is installed, I’ll need to make provisions for covering it during the cold parts of coming years (I think we can assume that cold won’t be a major issue for the remainder of this nesting season). One other problem the vent might cause is adding bright light to the box in a place where it’s never been present before. Whether that’ll skew camera exposure for the worse, cause unexpected refelections, etc., is just something I’ll have to determine empirically.

Photos of owlets no. 4 and 5 can now be found on my blog.

April 22 – Sallie called to share the latest information on owlet no. 4. On the 21st he/she was 63.0 grams and on the 22nd 80.9 grams. All of which is good. Unfortunately, his/her eyes haven't opened yet. The eyelids are now being treated with a long-lasting moisturizing agent intended for use on/around eyes. With luck, if there’s actually something interfering with eye opening, that’ll reduce its hold and allow the eyes to begin opening. In the meantime, Sallie is considering adding owlet no. 5 (the adoptee) to the nest ahead of the return of no. 4, just to give the adults some time to become accustomed to feeding four owlets, before they have to feed five (when no. 4 finally returns). I’ve taken some photos of owlets 4 and 5, and will make those available soon.

April 21 – As you may have noticed, owlet no. 4 was not returned to the nest last night, contrary to previous plans. Its eyes still haven’t opened. Sallie tells me that it’s possible for an owlet to naturally take this long to open its eyes, but that it is increasingly unlikely for the process to take so long. Neither of us know what, if any, conclusions can be drawn from that. Obviously, it does cause concern about what condition the owlet’s eyes will be in when they do open, so Sallie wants to hang on to no. 4 until its eyes do open and we know what that condition is.

In the meantime, Sallie has acquired another owlet a few days older than no. 4, and the plan is to place him/her in the nest at the same time we return no. 4. So, there'll be a no. 5 owlet. That should be an interesting surprise for Mme. Owl. Of course, an extra owlet will place an additional strain on the adults, so we may artificially supplement their food supply by providing a mouse or two per night. The great benefit of this arrangement is that owlet no. 5 will be raised by real owls in the wild instead of by a rehabber. Rehabbers do great work, but none will deny that an owlet, or any critter, is, all things being equal, better-off being raised naturally by and with its own kind. So this is a great opportunity for no. 5, and, in the meantime, no. 4 has some company (actually no. 4 currently has at least two “screechlets” to keep him/her company).

More, including some photos, later.

April 20The Owlets on the 17th. I’ve finally finished going through the photos.

By the way, owlet no. 4 will remain in Sallie’s care for one more day, while we wait for it to open its eyes. Sallie thought one eye had just barely begun to open yesterday, but it turned-out to be an illusion caused be the growing prominence of the eyelid edges. And so we wait. Meanwhile, Sallie dotes on no. 4, and he/she grows accordingly: 41.5 grams on the 18th, 46.1 on the 19th, and 54.0 grams on the 20th.

It’s finally available: Chris Cooley’s “Owl Nest Box” app. for Apple’s iThings. It’s free, so if you have an iThing, consider it recommended, and go & get it.

April 19 – Owlet no. 4 has cleaned-up well and does not appear as though he/she will benefit from additional medical treatment, so the plan is to return no. 4 to the nest tonight.

[11:23 PM] Change of plan: Owlet no. 4 will spend one more day with Sallie. At the moment, only one of its eyes is just barely open, and the other one is still shut. By tomorrow, both should be open and Sallie can examine them for any damage. No damage is expected, but if it's present, it'll be worth knowing about.

April 18 – [3:00 AM] As you can see, things are almost back to normal. The ants are gone, the bedding in the box has been replaced, the three neatly beheaded cedar waxwings which were cached in the box were rendered ant free by being submerged in a bucket of water for more than an hour (any ants remaining alive on them must have gills), each owlet received a detailed medical inspection and treatment for the tiny black parasites we found on all of them, the box is back in the tree, and Mme. Owl returned to the owlets about half an hour after I picked-up all of my stuff and cleared out of the area.

The only lingering problem was that the youngest owlet had injuries to the eyelids of its still-closed eyes, and some injuries to the surrounding areas. These appear to have been the work, not of the ants, but of the tiny black parasites we found on all of the owlets. The state of the youngest's eyes was uncertain, so my raptor rehabber friend Sallie took owlet no. 4 to her home for more intensive care. The hope is that the owlet will recover with no serious injuries, and can be returned to the nest in a week or two. So, for the moment, we're down to three owlets, and Mme. Owl was very upset about that when she first returned and did an owlet count. (Evidently, screech owls can count to four, or, at a minimum, they can differentiate between three and more-than-three.)

Since then, Sallie returned to her home with owlet no. 4 and started working on the little guy/gal. She has reported that the injuries to the eyelids and face were not as serious as they first appeared; a small, dark feather from one of the cedar waxwings had become, in effect, glued across the eyelids by dried blood and parasite feces. The feather is gone, and the affected areas cleaned-up. In the meantime, owlet no. 4 has been fed a bellyful of minced mouse, and is sleepy comfortably in an incubator. With luck, no. 4's actual injuries will heal rapidly enough to allow its return to the nest sooner than expected.

Photos and whatnot later.

April 17 – [4:30 PM] Don't panic about the owl box being open and empty; the owlets are together in a box, sitting next to me as I write this. The youngest appears to have been injured by the ants that finally scared me into taking down the box to remove them. My raptor rehabber friend is on her way to take a look at the little fellow. The others seem uninjured, and before the box goes back into the tree, several steps will be taken to make it an ant no-go zone. BTW, I've given the owlets water, a tricky process, but at least partially successful, I believe, and they're currently enjoying the air conditioning. Needless to say, I want to get the box ant-free, re-stocked with owlets, and back in the tree ASAP, but the youngest needs an expert to have a look, and fortunately, my expert is on the way.

April 15 – [12:23 PM] I took some simple steps against the ants that have been a worrisome presence within the nest box, by spraying portions of the electrical cables they were using as a route to the box with pyrethrin. It seems to have reduced ant concentrations for the moment. Ants, of course, are nothing if not persistent, and they will find other means of access. So, if anyone in the Austin area does have a Texas Blind Snake they can spare, I'm still interested.

My thanks to Charlotte, and Jan W. for the postcards.

April 14 – Egg no. 4 hatched sometime prior to 12:48 PM. The owlet looks OK.

In view of the insect presence in the nest box (threat level still undetermined), it's pretty clear that what this nest needs is a Texas Blind Snake. Anybody got a spare I can have, or know of a source of them?

April 13 – As of 11 PM, three eggs have hatched (as regular viewers will, no doubt, have already noticed). I am keeping an eye on the level of ant activity in the nest box. They may be harmless and/or they may only be concerned with the prey that Mme. Owl has cached in the box, but they worry me a bit, regardless. If there's an opportunity to bring down the box and examine the situation more closely, I may do so.

BTW, there's a free iPhone app. for watching the owl cam’ written by long-time friend and former colleague Chris Cooley. He’s incorporated a time-lapse movie mode that I've been meaning to support in the web interface for a while. Unlike me, Mr. Cooley (in an office with three people named “Chris” in it, we referred to each other by last names) has gotten around to making that happen. And more power to him. I hope owl cam' viewers with iThings will enjoy his work (I am). I’ll be sure to mention when it becomes available. (It has already been submitted to Apple, it’s just waiting for Apple’s people to approve it.)

April 12 – Owlet no. 1 has hatched, and appears healthy! When, exactly, hatching took place, I'm not sure. It could have happened in the latter half of April 11 or the first quarter of April 12. A review of archived frames from the box—as soon as I can find the time—should narrow down the time frame. Alternately, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find, when I check my email, that dedicated viewers have already spotted the owlet's first appearance.

March 30 – My thanks go out (belatedly) to two long time viewers: Dale P. for the card and art, and Nancy C. for the postcard.

March 28 – Several people have asked about me and the status of the cam’ in the absence of regular updates. Thanks for your concern. The demands of work are preventing me from maintaining this site the way I'd like to. There are some new features I'd like to add, including: (1) a view from the nest box 12 hours earlier, so people who can't watch when it's night here can still see that activity later, and (2) the ability to let people see the 400+ frames that my software automatically isolates as "interesting" each day and to vote on which ones should become permanent parts of the online gallery. The first feature is simple to implement, and the benefit is obvious. The second feature will take considerably more work, but will let me do two things: allow viewers to see far more of the frames that accumulate each day, and externalize the work of picking the interesting frames onto any viewers who would find that effort worthwhile (in addition to reducing my work load, I would hope that such an opportunity would be pleasant and even educational for the viewers who would choose to participate).

Unfortunately, implementing either feature, or even just keeping up with the daily updates myself, requires spare time I no longer have, and/or energy that’s currently all going into my job with the University of Texas at Austin. This is not how I'd like things to be (ideally, there should be a much better balance between work and life), but that's how they are.

For the same reasons, almost all of the owl email I've been receiving is being stored for later reading and replying. So, I want to answer people’s questions (don’t feel like you have to stop sending them), and will do so if/when time permits.

For the time being, I’ll do everything I can to keep the "live" views from the cam’ arriving reliably (I believe I've traced the prior outages to heat build-up in the video capture hardware and have taken mitigating action), and I’ll also comment on major events as they occur, or, at least, as I become aware of them. (Astute viewers were noticing new eggs before I did in some cases. Well done, astute viewers!)

* * *

One small bit of good news: As many viewers may be unaware (and there's no reason you should have noticed), some videos from previous years that I'd uploaded to the "Ourmedia" service, which builds directly on the marvelous Internet Archive, are finally in a viewable state. For years they've been available, but the Internet Archive's video processing system ignored their aspect ratios when it processed them, making the results, at best, painful to watch. I raised this issue with the Internet Archive people late last year, or early this year, fully expecting nothing to happen (at least not in the foreseeable future), and was subsequently amazed to see my videos reappearing in the correct aspect ratios just a week or so later. Kudos to whoever cared enough about doing things right to do the work to sort out that issue. I hope that all video producers who work in unusual aspect ratios will now find that the Internet Archive is an ideal home for their work.

There's just one remaining problem: The Ourmedia pages, for some reason, cannot display the videos (and videos represented with the generic "video" icon are usually incomplete uploads that can’t be viewed at all). Instead, you have to look down each video's page for the "Download or watch" section, and click on the " Download original file" link. That does not start a download; instead, it takes you to the Internet Archive's page for the video. From there you can download it in a variety of formats. I strongly recommend the largest QuickTime or MPEG4 version of each video, because that'll be the original video, from which all the other versions were generated, and the original is definitely superior.

I know that's more work than dealing with, say, YouTube, but the Internet Archive should be around essentially forever, guaranteeing that these videos survive, and, more significantly in the short run, it doesn't distort or corrupt videos the way YouTube does.

With all of that tedious explanation out of the way, if you want to see the videos, proceed to my Ourmedia page, and take it from there, in the manner explained above.

March 21 – I finally have a selection of frames from March 8th and March 9th online.

March 19Fourth Egg Laid.

March 18A Better Look at All Three Eggs.

March 17Egg no. 3 Arrives Early?.

March 14Egg no. 2 Appears.

March 11Egg no. 1 Debuts.

March 10Mme. Owl Spending Her 2nd Day in Nest Box.

March 9Mme. Owl May be Spending Her First Day in the Nest.

March 4Owl, meet Owl Box; Owl Box, meet Owl.

March 1The Screech Owl Nest Box: A Depression Sets In.

February 28Bee Removal Phase 3: The Box is Back.

February 27Bee Removal Phase 2: The Smell of Honey and Death.

February 25Bees Dead. Next Step: Cleanup.

February 23Bee removal commences.

Things to Know About

If you are enjoying the Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box Cam' this season, please send a picture postcard from where you live. My address is: Chris W. Johnson, P.O. Box 302042, Austin, TX 78703, USA. If you have questions, continue to send email.

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