Saturday, May 8, 2010

hoo's hoo...the science that is Val's method

My friend and fellow Eastern Screech Owl lover Vicki asked a very good question. With both my adult owls being the red phase, how have I determined who is Missus and who is Mister? These little owls occur in two color phases or "morphs", red and gray. Often there will be one of each in a pair making it easy to tell them apart. There is little recognizable difference in the male and female ESO. The female is slightly, I mean a TINY BIT larger and the males voice is a little lower in pitch. When I decided to hang the nest box and dive in to the ESO watching I searched for literature on this particular species. So far I've only found one book dedicated solely to them by Frederick Gehlbach. I did my best to read it cover to cover. It's definitely a technical writing with lots of scientific terms and graphs.

So, Vicki, here's your answer. Our adult owls roost in our big pine tree that houses the nest box. From what I've learned through reading, the female remains in the nest almost all of the time during laying and incubating and I have observed this. Once the owlets hatch she will leave the nest more often and help the male with hunting and feeding. From the beginning of breeding season, the one I refer to as Mr. Spock roosts in the very same branch every day while Missus stays in the nest box often sticking her head out for a little fresh air. Later in the season I observe the Missus leaving the nest and roosting in a branch opposite of Mr. Spock. I've observed her coming and going from the nest to the exact spot on the same branch time after time. The only time I've seen one of them roost in that spot is after the eggs would have hatched. Because of this I'm fairly certain that as long as they are at their roosting spots I know hoo's hoo. Usually, when I take a photo and refer to the subject as Missus or Mister, they are at their roosting spot or I've observed them moving to or from their roosts. Here is an example of how hard it is. I took the pictures in this post at the same time. I snapped her in her spot, then turned and snapped him. Had they been side by side I would not have been able to tell!

The ESO will assume different postures making them appear different depending on the circumstance. When confronted by an intruder they will stretch tall and thin like this in order to appear more like a tree branch.

When resting they appear to be more stubby and round like this.

Both of these photos are of the same owl, Mr. Spock. I think. According to my scientific method! I had to come to some sort of conclusion to keep from losing my mind and now you know.

I am not a real ornithologist but I play on on TV. The TV inside my head that is.


phonelady said...

Love the photos of the owls my dear god bless and please keep taking care of the owls .

amarkonmywall said...

Sounds precisely right. We have the two different morphs as a mated pair so it's easy to tell- also Stretch is the one who dive bombs my head regularly while Wheezer nests! But lot's of times it's hard to tell- I should have known you had this down to a fine art by now! Fledging photos? I'm hitting the road with a truck to Asheville today but will check in within the next couple.