Sunday, May 24, 2009

Barn Owl Nesting Boxes - design

It's nesting season and time to put up Barn Owl nesting boxes. Don't put them on a pole - when the babies fledge they need a place to hop/fly to, ie. branches. So put the nesting box in a tree, properly secured.

The box must be near an owl grocery store, meaning open land where there are mice. They don't hunt in undergrowth and bushes.

The best design I know of, tried and true, can be found at

This organization provides nest boxes all over San Francisco where people have rodent problems. Instead of putting poisons out, they put up a nest box.

The problem w/ rodent poisons is this: Rodent eats poison. Owl or hawk sees dead rodent, thinks "yay! Free meal!" and eats it and feeds it to the entire family and the whole owl/hawk family is killed. Or a cat or dog or raccoon or other animal eats it. It causes a chain reaction rather than just getting rid of the rodent.

So the nest boxes are the best answer. They also provide a safe place for the owls, and you know, they're endangered in some parts of the USA.

Good luck!


MUST READ! Some awesome books:

I just finished reading two books that have been brought back into print because they are such timeless classics. Both are by Sy Montgomery> They are

If you want to read about adventure! If you want to read about amazing relationships between humans and animals then these are your books to find and read! I was so mesmerized by Sy's writing and her adventures and stories that I could not put the books down.

I was introduced to Sy's writing with her bestseller called THE GOOD GOOD PIG, which, if you haven't done so already, you must read. She had a pet pig! Yes, a 750 pound pig named Christopher Hogwood to whom she was devoted. He ate so much that the entire town had to pitch in to keep him fed. Restaurants brought all their scraps to Christopher to eat. Little kids loved to do "Pig Spa" with him, which involved him relaxing while they shampood and groomed him. Such a life he had!

You might recognize Sy's name because she wrote a blurb about my book that's on the cover. Since then I've found that she's just an amazing writer and has had the most mind boggling adventures that most of us would never have the guts to even try. She was chased by a maneating tiger in the Tiger book.

If you're looking for more great animal stories, try "Grayson" by Lynne Cox. This story, like Sy's books, has the quality of a fairy tale except that it's true! Lynne is a world class record setting cold water endurance swimmer. She works out by swimming way out off of the beach in Long Beach. During one of her workouts she was approached by a baby gray whale who had lost his mother. She STAYED WITH HIM and their ensuing adventure is the stuff of legends.



Friday, May 15, 2009

The great Turkey Mystery

I got an email from a friend in Colorado w/ the subject saying "A friend needs a ride to Safeway". I ignored it for awhile, thinking I was just on her mailing list and she was literally trying to get someone a ride into town. When I'm in Colorado I'm staying WAY up in the mountains and it wouldn't be surprising for people to buddy up for going into town. It's not trivial.

But no. It wasn't that. It was that the TURKEY IS BACK!

If you were reading the very early blogs you might remember that when I was in Colorado last summer, we were on our way to the airport for me to go back to California when we were stopped on the road by the spectacle of a wild turkey sitting in the road, panting, while a line of cars were stopped because they couldn't get past it. Then, there was also a guy in a pickup truck striding around w/ a big gun in a holster on his hip. We never did figure out if he was going to try to kill and eat it, but that's illegal to hunt from the road w/ a handgun.

So we stopped, of course, even though we could have passed since the turkey was on the other side of the road. We all agreed that an animal in trouble was more important than getting to my plane.

I went up to the turkey and he didn't move. His eyes looked glazed and he was panting, and he apparently could not stand up. So I grabbed some jeans out of my suitcase and put my arms into them to act as protection for my arms and hands, and I leaned over the bird and felt underneath for the legs, held them, and put my arms around the limp turkey and lifted him up and carried him to the car, got in, put a cloth over his eyes, and we started down the road. Richard called and called all kinds of rehab centers, wildlife people, humane society, ASPCA EVERYONE! They all either had answering machines (and none of them ever did answer our messages!) or they'd say, "A wild turkey? That's poultry. We don't do poultry.,"

Poultry? It's a wild animal in need! Geez, who knew that in Colorado you don't help an animal if it's edible. SHEESH!

The turkey was very weak and panting so we figured we'd have to put it on a large box and take it home and put it in a dark, warm, safe place. I figured I'd have to rig up something to be able to hydrate the turkey if he wouldn't drink. So we went to Safeway to try to find a large box.

Richard came back w/ the biggest box they could find, which wasn't nearly large enough, but I got out of the SUV w/ the turkey and tried to set him in the box.

Suddenly he became all power and pazzaz and shoved out of my arms and ran like a roadrunner across the parking lot. Huh?

I've never seen an "injured" bird recover so quickly in my LIFE!

I tried to corner him and take him back to the car but then he flew effortlessly to the top of the Safeway and eyed me with complete distain and disgust. Luckily, the Safeway was w/in flapping distance of the wilderness from which we'd just come and he made his way back toward the wilderness.

We were flummoxed.

Why had this turkey been hanging around on the road as if injured, not moving when people came right up to himj, but suddenly he reverted to being a wild thing once we left the area?

The only theory we could come up with was that he had figured out that going out on the road was a way to avoid predators. There must have been something in those bushes that was more frightening to him than the people. If he had been someone's pet, then why was he SOOO stressed and why did he run from me as soon as he could? Why did he allow me to handle him without a struggle in the first location?

If there had been a fox or other predator in the bushes (we see foxes all the time there), then it would have been a great strategy. The guy w/ the gun said the turkey had been hanging around the road for 3 days.

Had someonoe dumped him off?

Unbelievably, I still made my flight!

We thought the saga of the mystery turkey was over with. Until last week when he (or another turkey) showed up in the SAME PLACE, miles away from town, on the SAME ROAD! how can this be? And he's hanging around the road again!

What is going on here?

I would LOVE to hear theories from others about this, especially people who know something about turkeys. Do they have the intelligence to come up w/ a survival strategy like this? I think wild turkeys are MUCH more intelligent than domestic turkeys. There's a book called ILLUMINATION IN THE FLATWOOD that's a great study of wild turkeys and they seem to be pretty complex animals.

Comments anyone?


Monday, May 11, 2009

Trip to Danville

The trip to Danville was amazing. I don't think I've ever been on a more beautiful flight, for one thing. The air was crystal clear as was the ocean, so I could see the contours of the ocean floor like never before, and the mountains and waves, the cliffs along the California coastline, especially Northern California. It's always heartening to see the amount of empty space that still does exist, even along the rugged coastline. It makes me think of hawks/eagles/owls, coyotes, mountain lions, sea lions, otters, tidepools...hope! Hope that there is still a place for these other intelligences that we share the earth with. Each of them with their unique personalities, desires, and little dramas.

I couldn't see the Santa Barbara fire, although there was one wierd, spooky black cloud that was completely flat, compressed, just sitting in the sky with no other clouds anywhere to be seen. I've never seen that before and it looked like a black flying saucer, only it was a cloud. Yikes.

There were a lot of blue lakes and the Sierras in the distance were heavy with snow. Good. We need that.

Did I ever mention that I went on a solo backpacking trip in hip deep (and deeper off the trail) snow in the Sierras for a week? I did. I was tracked by a mountain lion for much of that time. He didn't bother me (obviously) but I was plenty spooked. I remember hiking over a pass and quietly congratulating myself for how calm I felt, given the circumstances. Then a rabbit shot out of a low bush and I screamed and fell backward, pinned down by my pack like a turtle on its back. Oh THAT's clever, Stacey. A real survivalist, are we? If it had been a mountain lion I would have been in a bad position. So stupid! But I learned from that little episode. I was also young. I'm not recommending that ANYONE try this, by the way,. I had had a lot of mountain and survival experience by then and it was still probably stupid.

But I had been hanging around with rangers, female, who spent almost all their time alone deep in the backcountry and that was my frame of reference at the time. And I knew a lot of climbers, etc..and they all knew where I was and where I was going. I didn't even see another human footprint the whole time I was on the trip, and even the road to the trailhead was closed.

Anyway, one day I'll tell the whole story of that trip. Seeing the Sierrras this time of year, covered with snow, brought the whole thing back. It was this week many years ago that I took that trip. I almost moved to Mammoth Lakes that summer and Wesley almost ended up living in a teeny tiny cabin w/ a little wood burning stove where you could literally touch the walls while standing in the kitchen and I could touch the ceiling (I'm only 5 feet tall).


Danville is the best kept secret, like many smallish towns. It's sweet, quaint in the best possible way with no big industry stores, just unique ones. It has a local theatre and is big on the arts and literature. On another night they had Lemony Snicket there.

A woman from the local rehab center brought her barn owl! He was amazing, of course. He's still in the process of being tamed so he got pretty nervous after about 20 min and she put him back in his dark and cozy crate. But it does my heart so much good to see a barn owl, his mannerisms so familiar they're written in the deepest part of me.

She had an interesting perspective. She said that, having been a rehabber for 15 years, when she first had to tame an unreseasable owl, it went against everything she had ever been trained to do. It's true. When you're rehabbing an animal for the wild, you never want him to see you at all. You NEVER want the animal to associate the human form or voice with food! The animal MUST see itself as truly wild and must never look to humans for food or it will get itself killed flying right up to humans!

So, TAMING such an animal is absolutely considered blasphemous.....unless that animal can never go into the wild again.

So she had to rethink everything she'd ever been taught and re-tool her brain for a completely different mindset. Much easier said than done!

She said she read my book over and over again to try to understand my perspective because it was so against everything she was trained to do, but finally, she understood, and used some of that to work with this owl and 2 others who were unreleasable.

I was lucky in that my permit was a research permit. In that case, we were allowed to take only unreleasable owls. An earlier permit had allowed trapping I THINK but I'm not sure. By early I mean the 1960s or some such. Anyway, we got our birds from the department of fish and game and we already knew that they were unreleasable. Wesley's wing clearly drooped in an unnatural way. Sometimes it was pulled up normally, but if he got the least bit tired, it drooped. That's how he ended up getting his talon stuck in that wing as I described in the book.

The owl at the Danville program had the same exact problem, only in the left wing. he looked a lot like Wesley too!

Our research permit was so that we could get as close as possible to the owls in order to study their behavior. The kind of study I did with Wesley is officially called an "Immersion Study", pioneered by Konrad Lorenz with Graylag Geese. He deliberately allowed the geese to imprint on him so that he was part of the flock. I deliberately allowed Wesley to imprint on me, knowing he would never be released.

For an owl like this, by far the best enrichment is physical affection. In the wild they get a LOT of nearly constant physical affection from their mate. It's called allopreening and it releases all kinds of good feelings into the body, much like a masssage. Without this, they suffer psychologically in captivity. So, if you have an education permit and the owl cannot be released, I recommend physical affection. Of course, it takes a lot of slow patience. Moving slowly, talking softly, letting the owl set the pace. It's worth it.

None of this means the owl is a pet! The owl is a wild animal for life and the person is partnering with the animal, not dominant to the animal! Mates are mutually cooperative and to the extent that the human can, they ought to try to make that as close to what their relationship is with the owl as possible.

One of the great things about travelling and talking about Wesley is meeting rehabbers who have education owls! It fills a void in my heart, if only temporarily.

And, of course, meeting the amazing readers! You guys inspire me! You love animals and are so thoughful with your questions. You really "get it"! It does my heart good to know that there are people like you out there who really do care about the animals we live side by side with, even the wild ones! And you kids with your amazing reading abilities and deep questions! Wow! We have a marvelous generation coming up here and it's a privilege to meet you!


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

May 6 event in Danville, California

Hi! I will be in Danville tonight as follows:

7:00PM Contra Costa County Annual Reading Festival—Author event and signing
Danville Village Theatre at 233 Front Street / Danville, California

I'm really looking forward to it. Turns out my vet, Dr. Douglass Coward, grew up in the area around there and has told me about it and I'm very much going to enjoy visiting! I hope you can come!

To answer a couple of questions in the contact me you can go to my website,
and on the home page click on "contact". It will give you Andy Dodds' email. You can send it to him (tell him it's for me) and he'll forward it to me.

As for an adult Wesley plushie, we are definitely planning to do one! Wendy eventually wants to do an entire series of owls, but Wesley is her passion. Wendy is my friend who lived w/ Wesley for his first 4 years and knew him intimately. She also is an award winning artist and soft sculpture is one of her fortes. How perfect was it for her to design baby Wesley? It was perfect! So that's how it all started.

I'm glad you like having him! I sleep w/ mine and then set him up durinig the daytime. It's a comfort to me to have a representation of him. It's like having a photo of him, it so well captures his essence. I think only Wendy could have done that.

Well, I'm off to pack and go to Danville!