Another Heartbreaking Year
A 2020 Update with Thoughts on the 2019 Season
Throughout the fall / spring of 2018 / 2019 the behavior of the owl puzzled me. Olivia had always appeared content in the box, sitting in the doorway, watching the neighborhood, not really caring about noise or traffic. But the owl that occupied the box in the fall of 2018 and into the 2019 nesting season was different. She was skittish in the box. Frequently Olivia would fly in like a bullet - wings folded, drop to the floor, perfect landing. This owl would fly to the doorway and pause before entering, consistently.
The spring day she laid her first egg she was frantic - tearing the leaves in the box, shuffling them around. Different than Olivia.
Looking back now, I am reasonably certain that the fall 2018 / spring 2019 owl was not Olivia.
I do not know what became of Olivia, but I think Alton brought a new mate home to the box. I think she didn't like life in the box.
The spring 2019 nesting season was another heartbreaking year. Olivia still managed to keep her eggs out of view some of the time so we were never sure how many eggs she laid.
While brooding, she decided to discard some eggs. That was hard to watch. She kept two eggs and continued to brood them long past their viability date.
When it was clear Olivia wasn't ready to give up, I removed the eggs from the box. Olivia left that evening for her summer break.
Through the summer I frequently hear screech owls nearby, especially just before dark. I seldom see them because of the tree cover.
I put off my summer nest box work until early August and I’m glad I did. In late July a female squirrel moved into the nest box. She was accessing the box by coming around the left side near the camera mounted on the front. When she moved in, she chewed through the wire for the camera mounted on the front upper left of the box.
So this year’s work included repairing the tiny wires that provide the audio, video and power to the camera that is aimed outward to catch fly-ins and watch the mouse tray when it is in use. Always a new skill to learn!
I also added a new inside camera. Now there are three cameras mounted on the left side wall as you look at the nest box.
The regular floor camera is reset lower on the wall to make room for a new “optional” view of the floor. The regular view is more straight-on instead of being slightly overhead. It’s only a few inches difference, but changes the perspective some. It’s a view I used early on but each year I raised the camera to try to get more of the very front.
But Olivia proved she is more clever than me and those efforts just didn’t work to see the front. So I lowered that camera again and added a new inside camera that is aimed directly down at the front edge we haven’t been able to see. It eliminates the possibility that eggs can be hidden there. Usually we will see the regular view, but during egg laying we can switch to the optional view to see the eggs better.
To foil the squirrel, I added more screening. If you look at the left side of the box, you can see some screening barrier along the vertical edge of the box extends a bit along the bottom of the box. That barrier didn’t go all the way to the nest box roof, but now it does. It should prevent the squirrel from get across it to the front. The barrier on the back right side prevents it from coming around that direction. And the tin roof prevents it from an overhead approach. Maybe I have foiled the squirrel. Maybe not. We’ll see.
You might have seen that last summer I added a piece of artwork to the inside wall. The artwork was done in decoupage. That technique uses varnish to fuse the image onto a piece of wood. I learned it is important to pre-paint the wood with white (oil-based) paint if you want to see the image clearly. I’ve put a brighter version of it back in the house. Thanks to artist Dan Piraro of Bizarro comics for permission to use it.
Last spring Olivia chewed the oak leaves down to nothing and the floor had bare spots. This year I painted the floor of the box with white Flex-Seal, a rubber-like paint. I poured it onto the floor to create a depth of about 3/16 of an inch (4 or 5 cm). When I press on the floor now, it has a slight “give” which I hope will act as a cushion. I verified that the paint is non-toxic for the birds.
The material on the nest box floor this year is a mix of cedar shavings, live oak leaves and a handful of dog hair. We’ll see how it lasts through the fall and winter. I usually take the box down in mid-January for a quick change of nesting material so I can adjust as needed then.
I completed the tree work in late August - up on the ladder again 20 feet in the air. The camera that looks at the doorway had slipped and needed to be re-aimed. It also had a tendency to get wet during storms as water accumulated in the PVC end-cap it is mounted in. So I cut a slot in the bottom of the cap to drain during storms and reset the camera.
Also in summer 2018 I added some extra infrared lighting to illuminate the doorway and the camera that catches fly-ins. In the spring this year, the light aimed at the doorway quit working. With everything else going on, it was the least of my worries. However I’ve replaced it and we’ll have better lighting again on the doorway at night. It will also give us a better view of fledging should we be so lucky this spring.