|Pictures from the Long-eared owl's life|
Long-eared owls are relatively abundant in the Czech Republic. Yet few people know of them - we cannot see them at night and they use their perfect camouflage during the day. These owls usually nest in old crow or magpie nests, but they have started to use nesting boxes that we had installed for kestrels in the Břeclav region years ago. So we installed a camera in one of them and thanks to that we can watch the nesting process along with you.
Mgr. Libor Opluštil
Český svaz ochránců přírody Břeclav
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This is how the nesting box with a camera system was made. We put the technology above a false ceiling to protect it from rain. It was important to set the camera viewing angle correctly to see the nest well.
Testing the technology interconnection in the OXID Networks office. A Little Mole was the box’s first inhabitant.
16/3/2018 - Today we installed the camera-equipped nesting box at the selected location, replacing the existing one. Now we can just fine-tune the technology and wait to see if the owls find the box attractive.
26/3 - The owls flew into the box soon after dusk, they seemed to like it. Hopefully they will not mind the camera!
27/3 - The owl is sitting in the box opening, only the ends of its wings and the tail can be seen from the inside.
29/3 - We managed to capture the owl on another visit to the box. The owls now fly into the box every night defending it with their screeching.
1/4 - The International Bird Day is here. And the nesting box is still empty. The owls fly into it and sit there at night, but no eggs.
6/4 - A female kestrel flew in the box in the morning (its tail rectrices are brown-black striped). The box would suit the kestrels, so they will probably try to settle down here. What will the owls say to that?
6/4 - The kestrels have been showing great interest in the box all day long. The picture shows a grey-tailed male luring the female into the box. He is even making a nesting pit for the eggs by movements of his chest. Who will be the winner - the kestrels or the owls?
6/4 - A few hours later, under the guise of the darkness, the box was re-occupied by the owls. Well, it will be thrilling. It will be down to who will lay the first egg and start sitting on them.
10/4 - Today, for the first time, the female owl stayed in the box even during the day! She probably knows that the kestrels would be happy to claim it. They are flying around discontentedly. Hopefully the owls will not give up the box.
10/4 - The female owl is looking out of the box carefully watching the kestrels who cannot cope with the fact that the box is already occupied. The picture clearly shows the fluffed "ear" feathers, which are actually no real ears (the owls have ear openings hidden on the sides of their heads).
12/4 - The female owl has been sitting firmly in the box for three days leaving it only briefly at night. It looks promising!
Friday the thirteenth was our happy day - the female long-eared owl showed us the first egg! She laid it on April 12 or 13; the young one will hatch in 28 days, i.e. around May 11. The female owls start sitting as early as the first egg is laid and the young ones thus hatch one after another. When will another egg be added?
The second egg is here! The owl laid it on Saturday, April 14. The third, fourth and possibly fifth eggs should follow at two-day intervals.
17/4 - The third egg appeared in the nest. The long-eared owls usually lay 4-5 eggs, so this number should not be final.
19/4 - Now we have a quartet! The age difference between the first and the fourth young bird will be 6 days. Another one might come the day after tomorrow (Saturday). Let's see!
21/4 - The owl added the fifth egg today. This is usually the final number. Yet, the female may lay 1-2 more eggs if there is enough food (mice and voles) in the nest vicinity. We'll know more on Monday.
The male is passing on food (slowed down 3 times).
Peekaboo! I know about you!
24/4 - Still five eggs, it seems that this is it. Now the female will have to keep the eggs warm while the male will have to feed her and protect the nest from invaders (to be on the safe side, we sprayed a marten-repelling chemical on the tree foot).
13/5 - The long-eared owl family is gradually growing - the female flew out for a while, so we can finally see what she has been hiding underneath her for several days now. The smallest youngster hatched this evening; this means that its siblings came into the world on 9/5 and 11/5.
18/5 - These days the female keeps the chicks warm under her body, so not much can be seen apart from the small heads occasionally peeping out. This evening, when she left the nest for a while, we managed to record that all five chicks had already hatched! The young owls have formed a ‘thermal pyramid’ to keep each other warm.
20/5 - The voles and field mice brought into the nest by the male are being torn into small pieces and fed to the youngsters by the female. The bigger chicks are already trying to swallow larger pieces. Later on, they will be able to devour a whole vole in one go.
20/5 - The long-eared owl female still warms up her young during the day. The two older ones have already opened their eyes and their fluff is gradually changing into the ‘grey outfit of the young’.
20/5 - The two-day differences between the young owls are well visible. The total between the oldest and the youngest is 8 days.
22/5 - The female owl brought in a small mouse and the oldest youngster readily took and swallowed it within a moment.
23/5 - Common food – voles – are rare in the nest vicinity, or the long-eared owls find them difficult to catch in the high grass and fully-grown crops. Therefore, they try to catch small songbirds or their young that have just left the nest as an alternative.
23/5 - There is a shortage of food in the neighbourhood and the youngsters eagerly pounce on all the prey that the female brings in the nest. There are only four of them in the box now; the fifth one disappeared. It probably died of starvation and its siblings ate it. Only the strongest survive - such is life in the wild.
23/5 - The female owl is staying with the young, hiding them under her wings, and combing their feathers. She watches the progress of the curious youngsters, but gets little rest with these little fidgets. She patiently waits for dusk to be able to go hunting and feed her chicks.
25/5 - The differences between the youngsters are large, the youngest being significantly smaller than its three siblings. It cannot jostle through enough in its fight for food and it still needs it to be torn into pieces by its mother at this age. Both parents, however, need to search for food out there, which is unfortunately very rare at this time. Therefore the female does not have enough time to care for the youngest chick, whose development is lagging more and more.
25/5 - This morning at 7.30 it is clear unfortunately that the youngest chick has died. The female is sitting in the box's opening, so only her tail feathers can be seen. Thus only the three oldest chicks remain in the nest. Let's keep our fingers crossed!
26/5 - The youngsters got their rings today and we measured and weighed them (195 g, 150 g and 120 g). They were in reasonably good shape. The female no longer stays with them in the nest, but rather watches events around the box from the next tree. We invited the project partners and other owl enthusiasts for this ringing event. They could look at the owl chicks closely and learn several interesting facts about them. It was an unforgettable experience, especially for the children.
26/5 - We ringed owl chicks from two nesting boxes during the Saturday event: there were four more grown up chicks aged 17-23 days in one of them while the other (the box with the camera) hosted three, aged 14, 16 and 18 days. We had a nice talk about how the long-eared owls live and what awaits the chicks in the days to come. We all wished them good luck at the end.
27/5 - Why do they shake their heads? The youngsters are growing up in the box, watching everything around them curiously. They move their heads from side to side or they turn them in various ways. These movements make it easier for them to focus on nearby objects.
31/5 - Several elongated greyish cylindrical items can be seen in the box. These are the pellets that owls regularly regurgitate. They are made up of hair, feathers and tiny bones that the owls are unable to digest. By analysing the pellets, we can see what the owls have caught. The owl species can be determined from the size, shape and colour of such pellets in the wild.
1/6 - Young long-eared owls leave their nests when they still do not have fully grown feathers. They scatter around onto neighbouring branches and bushes in their effort to avoid predators (such as martens) who might surprise them in the nest and kill them all at once. This means that if you find a young owl on the ground and it is not injured, just put it on a branch of the nearest tree or bush and their parents will find it and continue feeding it.
3/6 - A short report was shot on the nesting of our owls and broadcast by the TV Barrandov channel as part of their news on June 3, 2018. Thanks to all participants for their cooperation!
5/6 – Meadows have been cut in the nest vicinity, so the owls have field voles – their typical food – more accessible. A youngster just took one of them from its parents and put it aside in the nesting box for later. It can be seen that they are no longer suffering from hunger.
5/6 - At night, the oldest chick (aged 28 days) left the nesting box leaving its two younger siblings in.
6/6 – The second chick has flown out of the nest (aged 27 days). The youngsters are still covered by remnants of their fluff, but their wings are getting longer and longer. Thus they can glide to the ground and climb up to the safety of the nearest bush.
7/6 – The third chick could not stay long on its own and set off into the world at the age of 26 days. The parents will continue feeding their young for a few weeks until they learn how to hunt for food themselves. We wish them good luck!