By Karla Bloem
Houston Nature Center
Pandora, Patrick and Patience, three young great horned owls hatched in captivity this spring, met the big, wild world on Friday evening. Rusty and Iris, proud parents of the owlets and both blind in one eye, are in permanent captivity in rural Houston as part of the International Owl Center’s research on Great Horned Owl vocalizations.
The owlets, known as “the 3 P’s” by chatters who watch their live video feed online, have been teaching the world about how owls develop their hoots. Before these owlets, it was unknown at what age hooting began, if the owlets had to practice to get it right and when they developed mature hoots. For this reason the owlets needed to remain in captivity until they reached the final level: territorial hoots indistinguishable from adults.
Surprising the scientific world, these owlets produced their first hoots at two to five weeks of age. The owlets’ hoots were the proper rhythm and in the proper context from the very beginning, although their little bodies could only make squeaky sounds.
When the owlets turned into teenagers and started harassing their parents at five months of age they were separated from their parents, something that would happen naturally in the wild. Immediately the owlets began hooting again, this time sounding like teenage boys.
Gradually, by seven months of age all three owlets developed mature, low-pitched adult hoots indistinguishable from adult hoots. Now semi-accomplished rat hunters, the time arrived for release.
Bob Anderson and Amy Ries of the Raptor Resource Project, the folks who run the Decorah Eagle Cam, made the trip to Houston on Tuesday to affix radio transmitters to the tails of the owlets so they can be tracked for a year after their release.
On Nov. 8 at about 7 p.m. the door to the big, wild world was opened at the end of the owlets’ 60-foot flight pen. The owlets will be free to return, and food will still be provided in their pen so they can mooch until they are ready to be self sufficient.
Karla Bloem, the researcher in charge of this project says, “I hope Victor takes a liking to Pandora or Patience. He’s the wild male on the territory next door and he’s been single for over a year. Perhaps he’s looking for a hot, young babe.”
To watch the release online, for more information, or to make a donation go to www.InternationalOwlCenter.org.