The following is the first of a three part log on my observation at a pygmy owl nest. To be honest, there were a lot of hours spent just sitting, waiting for the soft double "toot" that would always signal the male owls arival. During the down time, I would often watch mountain goats climbing the cliffs in the distance. Some days black bears would enter the meadow to graze the lush vegetation. Once a coyote moused within a dozen yards of me, never realizing I was watching.
It was spring so the air was filled with sounds. Grouse drumming, songbirds chirping and the gentle rustling of wind through aspen leaves. One would be completely lost in thought when suddenly"toot, toot". and the male would appear like magic on a branch near the cavity, proudly holding his catch. A few moments would pass as the little male would continue to call, then the females head would appear at the hole. She would finally emerge and receive the food as the little male flew off to continue hunting. So it went morning after morning for two months as the female incubated, hatched and eventually fledged her chicks.
I hope you enjoy these glimpses into the lives of a pygmy owl pairs struggle to raise a family in a little isolated aspen grove high on the side of a mountain.
March 16 I was snowshoeing to an area where I'd heard a boreal owl calling the night before. Out of the forest far above me came the two note call of a pygmy owl.
March 20 I decided to try and locate the pygmy owl I'd heard four days earlier. Amazingly, I quickly located the little owl perched low in an aspen. How I spotted him, I'll never know, I was simply snowshoeing through a cluster of aspens, looked up and there he was. While he dozed off and on, I mapped all the cavities in the immediate area. I found ten.
April 28 Cindy and I hiked up to the aspen grove and began checking the cavities. At the eighth hole, (also the one I'd least expect), out popped the females head. We had a pygmy owl nest! My first one in fourteen years!
May 3 My first time at the nest. I arrived at 7:30 a.m. Light hit the meadow at 8:00 a.m. I heard the male do a single whistle at 8:30, but then all was quiet until 9:15. The male arrived with a vole making his two note call and perched near the cavity. Almost instantly a robin knocked him to the ground. Ten minutes later he was back, perched three feet from the cavity. The female flew out of the hole and both owls flew up to a thick stand of pines where they handed off the prey. The female flew deeper into the branches to feed while the male stayed put and preened. I noticed he kept a constant eye on the nesting cavity. Ten minuted later the female re-entered the hole. I left at 10:00a.m.
May 5th Arrived at 7:15a.m. The male was already perched below the cavity with a mouse. He called off and on then gave up and flew up into the pines. Fifteen minuted later he was back. This time he took the mouse into the cavity. A minute and he re-emerged and flew away. The female then appeared at the entrance and flew out carrying the mouse. She landed up in the pines, (this seems to be the feeding spot, or dining area). There she fed for ten minutes before returning to the cavity. I left at 8:15 a.m.
May 6 Arrived at 7:15a.m. At 7:45 the male called to my left. He was holding a finch. He called and called but the female didn't appear. Finally the male plucked and fed on his catch. A large black bear appeared just behind me and was still grazing when I left at 9:30a.m.
May 10th Arrived at 7:15a.m At 9:00a.m the male arrived with a mouse. He perched near the cavity and called until the female emerged and then both flew up to their usual spot in the pines. Once again she fed while the male watched the nesting hole. The female returned to the cavity fifteen minuted later. I left at 9:30a.m.
May 13 Male was delivering a tiny mouse to the cavity as I arrived at 7:00a.m. He took the mouse into the hole then re-emerged. The female didn't come out. I figured the mouse was so small she simply ate it inside.
May 14 Arrived at 7:00a.m. Male appeared with a vole and perched by the cavity calling. The female didn't come out so the male took his catch and tucked it away in the thick pines.
May 18 Arrived at 7:00a.m. Male appeared with a mouse at 8:00a.m. and perched near the cavity calling. Female emerged and they flew up to their usual dining area. Female returned to the cavity after feeding. Male flew off to hunt. Male was back at 10:30a.m. clutching a vole. The female emerged from the cavity and they flew up to the dining area. After the hand off, the male flew down to the cavity and went inside. A couple of minutes and he came out to fly away. The female returned to the cavity soon after. I left at 10:45a.m.
May 19 I awoke with a swollen ankle. Two days later my knee was swelled up and I was forced to use crutches. As the days passed, my frustration of not being able to visit not only the pygmy nest, but also the great grays and boreal nests mounted. It reminded me of third grade when the whole class got to go to the circus, but I got whopping cough that week and couldn't go. I never have been to a circus. Would I ever get back to my nests?