Saturday, May 29, 2010

There are 3 new posts today. This one is about 2 nightjars I saw last night!


Cait, with whom I'm staying, as I do part of every year, lives in the Rocky Mountains. Last year she was walking up her substantial dirt driveway, off of the long dirt road she lives on, deep in the forest of the Rockies at 9,000 ft. and, being extremely observant (she would have made a great biologist, but then the world would have been deprived of some of the best Irish fiddling I've ever heard - and that's almost all I listen to anymore), and she noticed something "different" about a chunk of earth on the forest floor. She edged closer and saw her first nightjar - a common (but rarely seen) nighthawk. She could hardly believe her eyes, because are they WEIRD looking! They're so weird looking because they have nearly perfect camouflage.

They are sort of like the "missing link" that isn't missing, between owls and hawks. Some even seem to have a bit of a partial facial disk (to me, at least). A lot of people have never even HEARD of nightjars! They are the Poor-wills and nighthawks. They apparently either nest on the ground or just hang out there. They squint their eyes so that there is even better camo, because you see this long line due to their markings, rather than the round eye that they have. She thought this bird looked so strange it was as if he was from some other dimension, like "of the faerie" (remember, we ARE Irish after all. lol).

She was also surprised at how close he let her get to him. I think the nightjar knew he was so well camouflaged that he must have figured it was better to sit still than to flush. Then she saw him the next night in the same place, and he was a consistent visitor all summer. (I say him because I refuse to refer to an animal as an "it", and we have no gender neutral word for a being; isn't that strange that we don't?).

When first I got here, we didn't see a single insect. There had been a 2 foot snowfall the week before and the aspens weren't even starting to show leaves yet. Within a week it heated up and we started to see huge moths and Cait said, "AH, our nightjars will be back, now that there are so many moths." (see? She would have been a great biologist. So she's a great naturalist instead. We can't make EVERYTHING into a profession, right?). And sure enough, the very next day, the aspens burst forth in tiny leaves, and last night we saw not one, but TWO nightjars!

And they appeared to be hunting moths, with an irregular sort of flight pattern.

I'm willing to bet that a lot of poeple, seeeing a nightjar flitting around at night, think they are seeing large bats. But there really is such a thing as a nighthawk!

Now THAT I would like to see - a webcam on a nighthawk nest.

I don't know that much about them, other than the fact that Barn Owls are closely related to them, more so than other owls are, but I do know it's a huge privilege to even see one in the wild! It made my week/month for sure!

We've also seen a herd of elk, several small herds of deer, bunnies mating, playing, leaping, cavorting, and the black squirrel w/ the ear tufts (I forget the name) that lives in this vicinity, as well as chipmonks and ground squirrels. stellar jays, magpies, little yellow chickadees, a gray fox, and tracks of a lynx or mountain lion.

We were walking on the road when we heard a long, deep, extended growl from just out of view right beside us on the road. We talked loud and walked calmly back to the house, not to linger. There are a lot of mountain lions around here, as well as some lynx and bobcats. (and black bears). There was a bobcat lounging on Cait's pack porch next to the glass kitchen door one morning. And Wendy, who lives further north, chased a Canadian lynx off of her porch one morning! Wendy lost her entire herd of goats to a rogue mountain lion a few years back, which is what led her to develop the Colorado Mountain Dog, of which I have one...

These dogs have a specific purpose and so she lets her dogs have one litter per year, and they're all spoken for before they're even conceived, because ranchers use them instead of poisons and traps to deter predators from killing their livestock. It works, and has for many centuries, since these dogs' main instinct is to protect the animals they live with.

I have one because I needed a dog who would be gentle and protective of my vulnerable hamsters and not try to hunt them like a terrier or herd them like a herding dog, etc. AND I have hopes of doing another owl immersion study if there is an unreleasable barn owl who needs a home and I can get the proper permits, etc. Anyway, my mountain dog is the only one not living on a ranch or among livestock. They're not high energy dogs in the sense that they're perfectly happy to lie around among their animal friends - and they must have animal friends. My dog loves to play w/ her brother for hours on end, though. She's staying w/ her brother right now, in fact.

ANYWAY, we've seen tons of wildlife just this week. Oh, and we have the joy of watching a Blue Heron rookery across a small lake where we can also see muskrats busily making their beaver-like homes in the newly melted water. So, yes, we saw the nesting Blue Herons, too.

It seems like we're in the middle of Africa or something, except the species of animals are different of course, and the trees and other fauna are different. But it seems just as adventurous in its own way.

One day Cait and I walked around the house from the back and there was a big ol' black bear standing next to the car. He ambled away with his substantial bottom bobbing from side to side. It was comical, since he was going AWAY from us and not attacking us. Lol. Our neighbor came home one night, got out of her car and started walking toward the house, only to realize that she was in between two black bears who were having a fight! Not exactly in between, but uncomfortably in the way, shall we say. These bears were so intent on their disagreement, though, that they ignored her, and eventually one chased the other into the forest and she chose that moment to run to the house and lock herself in.

It's a real adventure just living here! I love it here, needless to say! It feels like home to me.

I have yet to see a mountain lion here, other than just the tracks, but according to Jeff Guidry, who raised a captive, unreleasable mountain lion at Sarvey Wildlife Center, he could walk into her enclosure and NOT be able to see her for the life of him. He describes looking at the ground by his feet, and seeing the pebbles and dirt, and slowly the mountain lion began to appear to him. They are THAT good at hiding in plain site. No wonder the Native Americans thought they could shape shift! They have the most awesome ability to see you while you can't see them!

So if you do see them, it's usually when you're driving and they cross the road in front of you. (or you're backpacking alone in the hip deep snow, far, far back in the Sierras, long before the roads to the trails are even open, because you are young and adventurous and an experienced backpacker, but still, you have that innate stupidity that makes young people do things like this....and a mountain lion decides to track you for 3 days and you don't sleep for that entire time, unless you happen to accidentally doze off. When you get back to "civilization", by which you mean your car and then a remote mountain cabin, THEN you feel the fear. "You" meaning ME when I was in my 20s. sigh.).

We drive slowly on these mountain roads for the sake of the animals. None of this racing up a mountain road like you see in commercials! Hello, there could be someone standing on the other side of the curve! (not in the commercials, though, because those are shot on a closed track - but I think those commercials encourage people to cut loose on mountain roads - the evidence of this can be seen on our mountain road - or more accurately, several hundred feet below our road, where lie the remains of many a fatal accident in the form of the wrecked cars. Cait and Richard just lost a friend who "went over" (not his fault - he had a heart attack while driving). Sorry for rambling!

See, if this were a book, I'd have to go and cut out all the rambling! But this is a blog, so ramble I do!

Anyway, if you're a birder, you know how thrilling it is to see a night hawk hunting!

Also, Barn Owls are closely related to nighthawks. They are kind of somewhere between night hawks and the other, strigidae, owls. Barn Owls are their own special kind of owl all to themselves. That makes them even more precious and interesting to me.


Call for pictures and video of branching owlets

On behalf of the Barn Owl Alliance, I would appreciate any information you have on sites with owl box designs or discussions of branching behavior, and most of all, pictures or video of branching owlets - better yet, video or pictures we can USE for our material as we go forth to try to change the way owl boxes are done in the United States, and educate those involved with owl boxes.

IF YOU HAVE BRANCHING OWLETS IN YOUR VICINITY, PLEASE VIDEOTAPE THEM IN THE ACT OF BRANCHING, LEARNING TO FLY, or PHOTOGRAPH THEM! An occasional flash is probably not going to hurt anything, by the way. If you're willing to let us use your footage, we will be eternally grateful, as will the possible millions of owlets who live because of the education and changes these videos can help bring about! We will credit each video and picture with your name, of course.

We are working on our nonprofit status, and once those papers are filed, we can grant you a tax deductible receipt for your "gift in kind". I'm working on this w/ my lawyer currently. In fact, I'm living in his house. (My close friend is his wife, Cait, and I spend part of each year living on their 3rd floor at 9,000 ft (the Rockies, not the 3rd floor by itself) in the Eastern Rockies, up among the trees. What a difference from the noise and light pollution of Huntington Beach!).

We would want you to be willing to license us to use the video and photos, of course.

If you can't do that, and few people do have active branching owlets near them, could you let us know about any links to sites that do have this kind of material on them? We will add those links to the "links" section of our Barn Owl Alliance website, once it's up and running.

THANK YOU! The baby owls who end up having a branching system upon which to branch and learn to fly, rather than plummeting to the ground and dying there, will be grateful, without knowing it, of course. WE will be grateful on their behalf!

Thank you all for caring,

PS: I think even pictures of other species of owl branching can be included, since almost all species of owls do the same exact thing as Barn Owls - they move out onto branches and THEN learn to fly. In fact, Great Horned and Screech Owls and Saw Whet Owls, among others, move out onto branches when they're still balls of fluff.

Other links to owl boxes! (in case you missed them at bottom of last post)

Commenters add so much to this blog! A lot of my entries are responses to questions from commenters. So, if you have an owl behavior related question, or anything owl, please ask in the commenter section! It helps me know what you're curious about and what questions you have. If I don't know, I'll say I don't know. I speak for Barn Owls, mostly. As I've talked about before, biologists can have narrow fields of expertise. It doesn't mean they don't know about other aspects of biology, but they do narrow their field of deep expertise down to one species, one organ (like my professor who spent his entire life studying the ovary of tbe surf perch) Barn Owls are my deepest area of expertise....just so you know. ;-)

OK, here are the links!

nicasio owls, on ustream

the 2 above are about the same age: these owlets are about a week or 2 younger


the female there is starting a second batch, 3 eggs so far

the hatch dates for the schopfuggerli owlets are may 2nd 3rd, 5th, 8th

the 5th hatch was either the 9th or 10th and the 6th hatch was probably between the 12th and 14th

itacri said...
Eveyln, here's another you will enjoy. Tawny Owls in a real wild nest (hollowed out tree). It says 2009 on the page but it isn't, they just didn't change that from last year.

From Kathlene:

A big shout out to the commenters who provided these, and a big thank you!


PS: And on behalf of the Barn Owl Alliance, I would appreciate any information you have on sites with owl box designs or discussions of branching behavior, and most of all, pictures or video of branching owlets - better yet, video or pictures we can USE for our material as we go forth to try to change the way owl boxes are done in the United States, and educate those involved with owl boxes.

IF YOU HAVE BRANCHING OWLETS IN YOUR VICINITY, PLEASE VIDEOTAPE THEM IN THE ACT OF BRANCHING, LEARNING TO FLY, or PHOTOGRAPH THEM! An occasional flash is probably not going to hurt anything, by the way. If you're willing to let us use your footage, we will be eternally grateful, as will the possible millions of owlets who live because of the education and changes these videos can help bring about! We will credit each video and picture with your name, of course.

We are working on our nonprofit status, and once those papers are filed, we can grant you a tax deductible receipt for your "gift in kind". I'm working on this w/ my lawyer currently. In fact, I'm living in his house. (My close friend is his wife, Cait, and I spend part of each year living on their 3rd floor at 9,000 ft (the Rockies, not the 3rd floor by itself) in the Eastern Rockies, up among the trees. What a difference from the noise and light pollution of Huntington Beach!).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

When does the mother leave the nest, then? - added to

This is in answer to one of the commenters, Evelyn, who noticed that in the webcam boxes she's watched, the mother has left the nest when the babies were around 2-3 weeks old. She wondered if maybe I was mistaken when I stated that in most successful nests that I and the scientists I know have studied, the mother stays with the babies until they are branching and often all the way through until they're independent, with the male continuing to feed the babies and the mother. Why is she not seeing this, then?

I will answer your statement about the owls you've watched on web-cams. First, these are all not entirely wild environments w/ cameras and possible other disturbances. Second, I have never said that it's not possible for the 2 parents to hunt.

I was not mistaken about anything I said, BUT there may be changes at work. Barn Owls are famous for their adaptability and we may be seeing this now. When I say that the mother generally tries to stay w/ the babies all the way through, I'm not speaking just for myself and my own observations, but I'm talking about the collective observations of dozens of barn owl biologists who have dedicated their entire lives to watching barn owls in the wild, not just on webcams. BUT.....

Having said that, however, i will say that I have only studied barn owls in Southern California, up near the Angeles Crest Forest and in Carlsbad and its surrounds. AND, I've been sick for several years, so I have not been out in the "field" like I was before - so perhaps during this time of so much increased urbanization of our empty spaces, a change has been taking place among the barn owls being observed. Evelyn may be on to something here.

Let's start with what I do know or what I have said: I'm aware of other studies that state that barn owl females have been known to go out hunting when the babies have gained enough fluff to stay warm on their own. However, that has not been OUR observation, in general. By that I mean that STATISTICALLY, it was more likely, according to our studies, that the female, IN SUCCESSFUL NESTS, will stay with the babies until well into branching and continue to stay with them until they are hunting on their own.

So, it's important to really parse through the intricacies of what's really being said. English is the best language for science because you can express things in terms of the exact meaning, meaning I can express to you that I'm talking about a statistical probability according to the observations of the people I've worked with and according to my own observations. I am NOT Saying it's impossible for the mother to act as we have seen on a few of these cameras.

In cases where hunting is not as good as it is in a great season, the female may be compelled to help w/ the hunting.

In general, though, she is not eager to leave her babies. The babies are more likely to thrive if the mother stays with them through branching and fledging (that is a statistical probability - so there are going to be successful nests where the mother did leave, such as Molly's nest). But, as you saw with OO nest, the nest was NOT a successful nest (by that we mean all the babies survive to adulthood and independence - ALL the babies).

I know that there are times when I have made a general educated, probability based guess when asked a question on the very fast moving chat, but I don't have time in those situations to explain the caveats, if ands and buts, that go with my "in general" statements.

Then I get misquoted and "people" say "AHA! Scientists were WRONG!".

It can be frustrating when it's not been explained well in our education system, how scientists use statistical probability to inform their "quickie" answers in cases where they're answering questions in "general".

It makes a person not want to answer any questions sometimes! Lol.

So, you're seeing one of the probabilities at work, but you're also seeing a smattering of unsuccessful nests (OO).

But here's the other factor that Evelyn may be pointing out, that needs serious consideration:

I have to wonder if, because of the continual urbanization of our neighborhoods, hunting has gotten worse and worse until now the mothers are more and more compelled to have to go out when the babies are 3 wks old.

This may be a pattern that scientists need to look into! It will be the grad students and post docs who do these studies - it's a perfect subject for someone working on their PhD - to compare data from a particular area from 20+ yrs ago compared to now, when there are less vacant lots, more rodent poisons, less hunting grounds.

Even the La Costa owls no longer nest at this wonderful nesting site I talked about in my book. Why? The nearby fields are all covered w/ cement now, made into a library (don't get me wrong, I love libraries!).

Perhaps we are seeing some behavioral changes due to changes in the environment caused by man - meaning increased urbanization!

This is fascinating to me because Barn Owls are great at adapting to subtle changes in environment, unlike most other species of owl (which is not to say that they adapt quickly to big changes, meaning they would not adapt to having no branches to hop to and suddenly take up flying straight out of the box or nest).

This ability to adapt is why you do find Barn Owls in the suburbs. We've seen some pretty incredible adaptation w/ hawks and falcons, too, with them nesting on tall buildings and hunting pigeons. Who would have predicted this?

There's a famous red tailed hawk who has made his nest on the balcony of a ritzy apartment building for many years, even starting to run into decades, I think. His name is "Pale Ale". He has raised many clutches of babies there, and it's right next to central park, so it's the perfect setup for birders/birdwatchers from all over the world to sit on a bench w/ their cameras and binaculars and watch the raising of the chicks all the way to fledging. There's always a dedicated group of birders at this bench during nesting season.

May 26, 2010 11:58 PM

NOTE! On THIS blog, I use all caps for EMPHASIS ONLY! They do NOT indicate an overexcited state, anger, or anything other than just emphasis. I get lazy and don't want to go up and italicize things. Heck, it took me a year to notice that they had a little doohhicky for italicizing on this blog. LOL.


Evelyn has offered some other links to other barn owl webcams in the comment section of this post, and I'll copy them here so you can all see them:

From Evelyn:

in case you or anyone else is interested, here are some neat barn owl cams.

nicasio owls, on ustream

the 2 above are about the same age: these owlets are about a week or 2 younger


the female there is starting a second batch, 3 eggs so far

the hatch dates for the schopfuggerli owlets are may 2nd 3rd, 5th, 8th

the 5th hatch was either the 9th or 10th and the 6th hatch was probably between the 12th and 14th

itacri said...
Eveyln, here's another you will enjoy. Tawny Owls in a real wild nest (hollowed out tree). It says 2009 on the page but it isn't, they just didn't change that from last year.

From Kathlene:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How it works: Regulations and education

I thought I'd take a little time and try to explain how changing regulations works to educate the entire wildlife community, and why this is so important:

First, let me adamantly point out that we must continue our efforts to educate our communities about owlboxes - that they are more than just a method of rodent control! These are living, sentient, emotional, ENDANGERED beings, and it's not enough for them to serve us by hunting rodents - we must serve them in return by making sure that the owlets they're working so hard to feed (while they clean up our rodent problem) survive!

I am certain that most people w/ owlboxes on their land have no idea anything is wrong. And many of these owlboxes are on very large parcels of land where the owner doesn't see the day to day operation of the owls and their behavior and needs. Nor will the owner see when the owlets fall and are dragged off by other wild animals.

So we do need to educate! And we will do that through the owl alliance and through individual efforts of likeminded people. We hope to put together both a website and a brochure that can clearly outline the issues and solutions.

So why the need to change the law and regulations?

Note that one of our commenters went to a wildlife rehab center and noticed that there were perches for the birds of prey, and that they all had astroturf on them (usually held on tightly by those plastic zip ties).

They are all like that because that's a regulation.

When wildlife centers put together a cage for a particular animal, they refer to a big notebook that has all the regulations for all the caging needs of each type of animal spelled out in great detail. The dimensions, materials used, perches, EVERYTHING.

By reading this notebook, the wildlife people are instantly educated as to the needs of the species they are working with. Even if they don't know the reasons for all the regulations, the outcome is that they do build the right setup for that species so that it will thrive.

It's instant, top-down education.

The same goes for wildlife regulators. They know what they know largely by having to read and know the regulations. They don't have to be specialists in every species out there - they just have to know the laws that they are to enforce, and they do enforce them.

So if we manage to get it put into the current willdlife code that all owl boxes must have branching systems, must be installed in shade, must have a door with the bottom at least 8-10 inches above the floor, and must have a way for the owlets to climb back up (and all of these will be defined specifically with measuremets and materials and installation requirements), then that wildlife agent suddenly knows what is needed and necessary. He or she does not have to know every intimate detail about barn owl branching or how they learn to fly. He/she just knows that this is what they need and makes sure that's what they get.

The wildlife agent does come to understand the reasoning, though, and is able to explain that to whoever owns the land upon which the box sits.

Regulations, then, DO serve to instantly educate all the people who are working closely with the animals involved, and that is passed on to the people who put up the owlboxes, and passed on to the builders of owlboxes.

It's a very effective way to spread the word and solve the problem all at the same time!

We are currently filing papers for the Barn Owl Alliance to be a 501(c)3, meaning a nonprofit organization. We're pulling together all kinds of information from all over the place, and we're working on putting up a website to contain this information and be a go to site for all things owlbox and barn owl (eventually). The wheels are turning.

And it can be done by working directly with the Dept of Fish and Game and the Dept of Fish and Wildlife. Fines for non-compliance help to fund the enforcement of these laws. For example, the fine for harrassing a nest of wild owls, or taking one for oneselfl without a permit, or shooting one, is $25,000 and minimum 6 months in jail.

This is serious stuff!

Twenty five THOUSAND dollars minimum, per offence, and a minimum of 6 months in jail!

I'm not saying this would be the fine for an improperly installed owlbox, I'm saying that under current law, this is what happens if you harrass a nest of owls or take one for yourself w/o a permit, or shoot one, or injure one. The severity of the mandatory sentence tells you how seriously the Dept of Fish and Wildlife and Dept of Fish and Game take this issue! And they learned about the importance of these things from the research done by biologists.

So we aim to fill the gap that is allowing so many owlets to perish after their parents have been lured to an inadequate box. The more of these inadequate boxes that are put up, the lower will be the survival rate of baby owls, and the more endangered they will become unless we do something to change the way owlboxes are installed and built. That is why we are doing this.

It's very exciting to be able to help change the outcome for so many, many of these beloved, smart, sassy, emotional, curious, empathetic, lovely, sincere, loyal, earnest, innocent beings with whom we share this sweet earth! It's an honor and a huge privilege to be their voice, to be protectors of their futures.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Successful branching and continuing to discredit 'scientists'

Thank GOD for all of you who continued to put the pressure on Carlos to put up a branching system. He did it all the while screaming about how it was just toys for owls, it was to appease "worry warts", it was akin to putting in pools and tennis courts...
And at every opportunity, making every effort in the world to discredit scientists, meaning me, I suppose, since I'm the only scientist who's been continuously advising people about this box and answering questions about barn owl behavior.

There was yet another Union Tribune article about Carlos and "his" owls and in it, Carlos made injurious and disingenuous statements about "owl scientists" and claimed to have "discovered" new things and "proven scientists wrong"...sigh. I've been asked to address this, so I will. But it's wearying, truly. For a scientist to continually have to address the lies spread by a total nonscientist is kind of a waste of time, except that this person has the ear of a huge number of people for whatever reason, goes. My reluctant addressing of these statements...

First, this whole thing makes me sad and discouraged for the owls themselves and for the scientists who've put their lives and hearts and souls and LOVE into understanding the owls and trying to help others understand these precious, precious beings. That it should descend so far into the murky depths of human psychological issues, hype, grandstanding, vaudeville, is wearying and just very, very sad.

So..Ok..about his claim that he has "proven the scientists wrong" about how "owls don't eat the entrails" my book, which he ought to try reading before he continues to claim that he alone has trumped all of the decades of owl scientists' work...I say that "the mouse, the whole mouse, and just the mouse" is needed. Now, I did NOT say that they can ONLY eat mice, but in context, I said that when people keep owls and try to feed them slices of meat rolled in calcium, the owls develop a terrible metabolic bone disease, or glass bone cripples them for life and is terribly painful, w/ bones constantly breaking.

So, in talking about how people w/ captive owls must feed them the WHOLE mouse, I discussed how the entrails are important to the owl because it contains all kinds of enzymes and the food the mice has eaten. But they do not prefer it. Wesley, who is not the only example - I've studied nearly 100 wild owl nests - but Wesley would carefully dissect out the entrails and fling the against the wall, on the floor, wherever, SOMETIMES!


He ALSO ate the mouse whole, a LOT of the time. I even included a picture of him eating a mouse whole. I'm not sure which versions have which pictures so please don't say "My book doesn't have it" if it doesn't. There are many versions:
The UK Version
Chinesee (Mandarin AND Cantonese)
German - Readers' Digest Condensed Book

As far as I know. There is also the large print edition and the auditory CDs, which I doubt have pictures.

I am amazed at the continual attempts to publicly discredit and misquote me or other scientists. No scientist anywhere said they do not eat entrails! Of COURSE THEY DO!

Ok, now what are the other new slanders against the good reputation of the Caltech owl scientists and other hard working field and lab scientists around the world who have been studying barn owls for well over 100 years?

Oh..that Branching is just a "made up word"....well, so is Ustream, Astronaut, Freeway, Astroturf, Mall, Suburb, how far back need we go?
Cannon, rifle, gun, gunpowder, pennicillin, Gorilla (not known to be a real animal until about 1910), hominid, Cat Scan, DNA, genome, microscope...

But that is an "old" accusation. Lemme check what the new ones are for a second here....AH YES!

That owls won't fly in the rain.

No scientist, including me, ever said that. It's a deliberate twisting of scientists saying that a completely waterlogged owl can't fly. COMPLETELY WATERLOGGED. And that owls are not waterproof IN THE WAY THAT OTHER BIRDS ARE. That does not mean that they are completely grounded if it rains, for pete's sake. or if it snows. Some water runs off the flight feathers.

In fact, didn't I say earlier that as long as they are not completely waterlogged underneath, that they are fine? When we were discussing how Molly would come in slightly wet, I said that she wasn't deeply wet. Just the tips of her feathers were wet but the deep part of her feathers were completely dry.

Well, I guess it's time for people to start writing letters to the editor of the San Diego Union Tribune, eh?

Can't have them misquoting scientists or lauding Carlos as being better than all scientists because of his one time observation of one set of barn owls w/ one clutch. Even then, he refused to understand or accept some of the most well known and documented facts about owls, such as BRANCHING.

In answer to other questions - NO THEY ARE NOT HIS OWLS! All owls belong to the US Government because they are a protected species. It matters NOT whose property they are on, nor how famous that person thinks he is because of aforementioned owls.

ALL OWLS Are The Property Of the U.S. Government - Regulated by the Dept of Fish and Wildlife federally, and the Dept of Fish and Game in California.

I think the flashing is excessive enough to possibly damage the retina of the baby owls. An occasional flash, maybe But not this continual barrage whenever one makes a move. And the point one commenter made about how it may get them used to flashing lights to the point where they may be more likely to fly into car lights, thinking they're harmless, is well made. We do not know how our messing w/ nature might affect it in the future, which is why it is against the law to harrass a nest of barn owls in any way. It's up to the officers of Fish and Game to decide how much flashing becomes harrassment. But they might decide it's too much.

Also, there are SO MANY AMAZING wildlife photographers who've taken much more compelling pictures IN THE WILD that I would be surprised if National Geographic were to choose an owlbox for an article, unless it was for a cautionary article against the way people are exploiting sensitive barn owls and how clumsy the average human is when they try to mess with wildlife about which they know very little. THAT, they might do.

I'm not angry, by the way. I'm saddened at how easily misinformation is gobbled up and printed by the media and by individual people. If someone is not an expert in their field, take what they say w/ a grain of salt!

If they're obviously desperate for attention and limelight to the point where their neediness is like a flashing sign, then take their word with another grain of salt. Use the uncommon, common sense.

Might I also point out that if one is sooo weary of this full time 24/7 "job", why spend time at a ustream convention? Why continue to exhaust oneself? It makes a cute ending to a news story to say one can't wait for this to be over, but I've been to a lot of these online webcam things, and this is the ONLY one where the owner of the webcam keeps putting himself in front of the camera and going on and on about himself and his life and how he got recognized at the Mexican restaurant. The others just keep the cam on the birds and that's it.

What I'm saying is, it does not HAVE to be a 24 hour job. If one truly doesn't want it to be, then one needn't do it!

ANYWAY, it's a sad world we live in when someone has to discredit EVERYONE ELSE to feel like they have any kind of place in this world. Most of the people I know who are true experts do not spend their time trying to discredit each other. They cooperate with each other, share data, have dinner w/ each other, that sort of thing.

Imagine if I came on here and said, "Don't read Farley Mowat's book! Don't read Sy Montgomery! Don't read Marc Bekoff! Don't read Jane Goodall! And for God's sake, don't even think about reading Berndt Heinrich! Ignore the wonderful new book out by Jeff Guidry - An Eagle Named Freedom! It's waaay too inspiring! Fugetaboutit! ONLY READ MY BOOK! OVEr and over and over. NO OTHER BOOKS ALLOWED!"

HAHAH! Now I'll be quoted as having said that. Sigh.

But seriously, those are great authors and I will RECOMMEND THEM TO YOU rather than try to diss them or put them down or be threatened by them! It's aLL GOOD! Read them ALL! They're my favorite authors too! Good for them! They've worked their entire lives on what they're writing about - not a couple of months!

Anyway, It's time for someone to start writing letters to the editor at San Diego Union Tribune.

I probably won't. If it gets too out of hand I may ask them to retract some of their statements and put in an error correction saying that these are not true statements. But I'm too busy doing other stuff that I think is more important, like the Barn Owl Alliance - trying to educate and bring change to the way owlboxes are installed and built in this country. The English have been through all this and their laws reflect it. We need to learn from them about how to properly care for our precious wild ones with whom we share this earth.


ps: i just got up but I feel tired already and need a nap. This is all just very sad to me.

Friday, May 21, 2010

See the owlets use the branches! Branch, owlets, Branch!

THANK GOD Carlos put in all three of those branches - the perch right on the box, the "branch" slightly lower but still parallel to the entrance of the box, and the platform that the owlets are using extensively, and that they must use in order to get to the top of the box (until they learn the in-air flip-turn, much like a swimmer's turn).


And did the owlets use those branches? YOU BET THEY DID! much as it's been frustrating, all the outcry DID have the desired outcome! Carlos DID (albeit reluctantly, and to get the banned worry warts off his back) BUILD THE NEEDED BRANCHING SYSTEM! And the owlets did not fall to their injury or death.

THAT, my friends, was what I've been trying to explain these many weeks. The owlet ventures out, then hop-flies to a branch right in front of the opening of the box (or, if it's a tree, uses his talons and bats his wings, holding onto the bark, to position himself to hop-fly to a nearby branch)

In the case of owlboxes there has to be a branch within 1-2 feet of the entrance (to be conservative. Maybe 3 feet is ok, but let's be conservative), then another one - the platform, some feet from there...

And these owlets used all three, plus the top of the owlbox.

They had a fly-hop system back and forth, so they could get back in to the box, also.

As one of our commenters pointed out, it's not JUST laws that work. In this case, persuasion, pressure, education, outcry did end up working just in time for the owls.

But we still have a lot of work to do. There are a lot of owlboxes sitting out on huge farms and remote properties where there is no large international audience watching every move and putting pressure on the box owner. In fact, I suspect that the box owners themselves do not know for sure the fate of any babies raised in those boxes, because they are there for "rodent control", not intense, all night observation.

But this has been a victory and let's not overlook it! If you drink chanpagne, open a bottle for heaven't sake! If you prefer sparkline apple cider, Open a bottle, for heaven't sake! Hot chocolate? YES! Perfect!

Whatever you do for celebration - DANCE! WHOOP! HOLLER! SING! These owls were provided with a branching system and IT WORKED!

So we know that the branch in front of the box is super-important. Essential. That should be in the code put together for the wildlife people to enforce, insist upon.

A second one, and I do like these platforms, should be another 3-4 feet out, for them to be able to fly a little further. Plus, notice how there were more than one owlet on that platform at a time. Also, notice how the owlets watched each other and gathered courage from each other.

Note the absence of parents luring them out with food?

This has NOTHING WHATSOEVER to do with luring, or with food.

If there was bad hunting for a few nights, there was just bad hunting. Yes, perhaps the constant flashing put off the parents. I've noticed that they leave when it flashes or turn around.

I, too, have been concerned about the flashes that happen right when a baby is in a precarious position and needs his eyes like never before. OF COURSE it temporariily blinds them, just like it does with us, and messes up their night vision. They generally turn away and let their night vision come back, or if it's a baby in the doorway, they back up, back into the box.

I think this is the reason they didn't come out right away. At first, it seemed that every time a baby started to look out curiously, the flash went off. But maybe that being a little late out of the box ended up being in their favor, not that this is a technique that should be used!

But, being out of the box a little late means their wings are a little more developed and they're a little less awkward than if they had been able to come out the first time they wanted to.

Let me lay to rest this rumor that the parents have to entice the babies out. Not at ALL. These babies are very curious and are starting to explore their world. You probably noticed that within the box, during the day, the babies had become mucm more active and curious about every little thing. They'd focus on a pellet and gyrate their head, and pounce on things that they paid no attention to several weeks ago. Their brains are growing and their curiosity was taking over. They're more like kittens now than ever in their lives. And in the same way that kittens focus on something, pounce, try thing like jumping and racing and using the new strength in their bodies, owls do the same.

And let me lay another rumor to rest: Barn owl fathers never withhold food deliberately. They are the most sincere, concerned creatures on this earth, and with all earnestness, hunt as hard as they can to get as much food to those babies as they possibly can. I don't think they are even capable of withholding food from babies (unlike humans, sorry to say).

As you know, a male barn owl will foster dozens and dozens of baby owls all at once in a rehab situation where hundreds of baby barn owls are brought in due to falling injuries, many of those from owl boxes (surprise, surprise). And if you put all those babies in a great big owlbox, and put a male barn owl in the enclosure, and put a huge pile of mice somewhere in that same enclosure, he will personally feed every baby until each one is satisfied.

Does he get weary? Yes, but that does not stop him from being compelled to feed every baby. And, after they can tear up and swallow the food themselves, he still delivers it, one mouse at a time, from the big piile you provide, and he's literally their foster parent!

When it's time to fledge he does not stop delivering food.

Now, I'm thinking I should not use this example, lest it lead to more accusations of scientists having never studied wild owls, so let me hasten to add that wild fathers (the owls in rehab ARE Wild owls with a temporary need to be helped, by the way), but in a wild situation, the father behaves the same way. He will hunt like crazy to the point of being ragged and exhuasted and a little addled.

This is why I found myself out in the middle of the night hurling dead mice into the air one July. The father was soo exhuausted and the babies were sooo rowdy and demanding. They were all branching and they mobbed him when he landed, so he just dropped the food onto them (they were standing on the roof of a building about 3 feet from their own nesting place).

I took pity on him and got a big bag of dead mice out of my freezer, defrosted them, and went back to this owl family and tried to get the food to them. If you've read the book, you know the rest of the story - how I was surrounded by scary looking skinhead types, who were not as menacing as I had first thought - or maybe they were more interested in what I was doing than in causing harm. Anyway, they had very strong arms and they hurled the mice up to the family with great accuracy and enthusiasm. I doubt any of us had had quite such an experience before that.

Anyway, the owls were all full and sleepy, including the papa.

So, no, the father and mother do not deliberately withhold the food. Some of the cases we've seen might have been where the parent was a little overwhelmed by the crowd in the box - or the crowding at the doorway, or the parent was hungry, too.

There are species of raptor that do lure their babies out. It's just that each species is completely separate in their behavior. They might hunt or fly similarly, but their social habits might be completely foreign to each other. It's not a case of "if you've seen one bird of prey, you've seen them all". It's not even entirely true withiin a species, since each owl has his own personality. But within barn owls, the parents do not use luring to get the babies to come out.

As you could see in the "pouncing practice" video, the owlets were inspired by their brothers and sisters and by intense curiosity.

All's well that ends well in this case! But if there had been no branches??? We won't even think about that.

I'm SO GLAD this worked out because it shows us that certain criteria are needed, particularly that there must be a branch near to the entrance and parallel to it, so they babies can easily hop-fly to it and grab ahold of it w/ their talons.


By the way, I've been travelling to Colorado, FINALLY. It was a little hairy since just as we were about to take off, there was a tornado warning in Denver! And their WAS A tornado, it apparently just didn't touch down. Also, I had two hamsters come up sick (three actually, but two needed urgent treatment) and missed my original flight, so I missed meeting for lunch on the first day w/ Sy Montgomery. But we all met for dinner the next day and that was fun to finally meet everyone in person.

I've missed a lot while I was travelling!

I'm really surprised that they're only showing the outside of the box because Carlos and family are taking some time off. If they're taking time off right as the babies fledge, were they going to just be "unaware" if something happened to a baby? And if they're gone, taking time off, who is taking all the flash pictures? I'm confused. Maybe someone can explain it to me.

Maybe their son is minding the babies, ready to call the wildlife people if anything happens. I can't imagine not wanting to be there while the babies are branching, fledging, learning to fly, and finally, learning to hunt. Oh well, I missed it as well, having to travel and meet people, etc.

But I caught most of it on video.

All the best to everyone, and THANK YOU to all of you who cajoled, agitated, talked about branching, asked why it wasn't being done pointed it out, got banned because of it - it was all worth it for those babies, who now have a branching system which they have used extensively to...BRANCH!

And, you know, it IS a made up word! It was made up about 170 years ago to describe the way in which owls branch before they fledge.

The word "DNA" is a made up word, as is "spaceship" or "rocket" or "Quantum Mechanics" or "calculus" or "microscope" or any myriad of words used to describe the discoveries of scientists over the past couple hundred years. heh heh.

Congratulations everybody! You've shown that it does work - to modify the box to allow branching, and educating the world about the needs of owlets raised in boxes!



Tuesday, May 18, 2010

If you're in or near Denver today/this evening DO NOT MISS!!!!

Sy Montgomery - who is an extremely inspirational person, who has been in just about every jungle on this earth, plus just about every mountain range, who has studied the pink dolphin in the Amazon, the man eating tigers in the Sudarbans, the Snow Leopard in the Himalayas, apes in Africa, Kokapos in New Zealand, Cassowarys in New Guinea, and who wrote The Good Good Pig about her pet pig closer to home - the woman I call "Indiana Jane" is SPEAKING in Denver tonight and, I assume, signing books.

Does Denver know how lucky it is?

Run, don't walk. Get some of her books and have them signed. If you have kids who need someone to look up to, take them to meet Sy Montgomery.

She'll be at the Tattered Cover as follows:

She's at the Tattered Cover on Tuesday at 7:30 pm.
2526 EastColfax Ave. in Denver

Her current book is Birdology, which is a wonderful, delightful book

When i say "studied" I don't mean as a biologist, but more as a naturalist, as someone who wanted to get up close and personal - and DID! a person CAN become a semi-expert about something in nature without having to get a degree in that thing!


PS: As mentioned earlier, she's in Boulder the following evening at the Boulder Bookstore on Pearl Street.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I'll be speaking in Palos Verdes on June 27 (Los Angeles Area)

Many people have asked me when am I going to be speaking in LA? It's kind of strange - I've only spoken in the LA area 3 times - Once at Vroman's in Pasadena (GREAT BOOKSTORE! IF you don't have an independent bookstore near you, try ordering from Vroman's and having it mailed to you:

And once at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum, which was a thrill because we used to go there ALL the time as kids. We took turns choosing what the Saturday field trip/family trip/activity was going to be. I almost always chose the Natural History Museum. Love that place!

And once at a writers' conference by the Southwest Manuscripters' - but that was about writing, not as much about Wesley.

That's not a lot of speaking in such a large area so close to my home.

So I'm thrilled to be able to speak in the "LA Area" again (note that the "LA Area" includes a huge conglomerate of smaller "cities" that are all swallowed up in what we call "LA").

Enough trivia..

I'll be at the Palos Verdes BORDERS BOOKS in Rolling Hills Estates on Saturday, June 27, at 2:00pm.
This Borders is in a mall called "Promenade on the Penninsula" at 550 Deep Valley Drive, 90274

I hope you can make it! I'll be speaking, answering questions, and signing books. I'd love to meet you if you're in the area and can come!


ALSO, Sy Montgomery, who I've referred to as "Indiana Jane" in previous posts, who has lived some of the most hair raising adventures of anyone I've ever met, will be speaking in Boulder, Colorado as follows:
Sy Montgomery on tour for the book "Birdology: Lessons Learned from a Pack of Hens, a Peck of Pigeons, Cantankerous Crows, Fierce Falcons, Hip Hop Parrots, Baby Hummingbirds, and One Murderously Big Cassowary"
When: Wednesday, May 19 2010, 07:30 PM
Where: Boulder Book Store, 1107 Pearl Street

She's also the author of the bestseller, "The Good Good Pig", and has written a myriad of books for grade school kids in the ongoing series about Scientists in the Field. I recommend you go see her if you're in the area!

Another great book to read

This is a dog book. It's called Merle's Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog, by Ted Kerasote.

I like how the author interweaves fascinating information about wolves vs. domesticated dogs into the story. The story (nonfiction) is about a dog who chooses the man, and how they live not as dog and master, but as equals. That's where the door comes in - Merle (the dog) has his own doggie door and comes and goes as he pleases, which is helped greatly by the fact that his human lives far from civilization and roads, so Merle is relatively safe running around outside. This would never work in most cases, but it's a great read, and it's fascinating how it can be if both dog and man are equals. Great book, and you'll know a lot more about wolves and dogs when you're done, and will have enjoyed learning it!


Sunday, May 16, 2010

My response to comments in previous post

I wrote these two comments in the "comments" section, in response to Kate and Chipmonk and their experiences after trying to converse w/ the journalist who wrote the article, who said that he may have played down the dangers, and also said that this is "nature, after all", and after trying to email Tom to ask politely if she could talk to him, and having her own email simply emailed back to her as a response...these were my comments about that. And now, apparently, Carlos is announcing to his very large audience that " 'branching' is a made up word."

Stacey O'Brien said...

I've seen a proliferation of anti-science, anti-truth points of view surrounding this whole thing. The "journalist" who dismisses fact, supplanting that with his own uninformed assumptions and the statement that "this is nature after all". Nature? A box on a pole is nature? We really have a problem if we've got a generation of people who truly think that THAT is nature! I feel sorry for them!

Next thing you know they'll be thinking their swimming pool is a natural lake with all the ecosystems you'd find in a real lake - never mind all that chlorine... Suddenly you'll see signs in front yards advertising that you can go "bass fishing" in their backyards...magical thinking will rule the world! "But sir, the bass can't survive in the chlorine!"...
"Well,'s nature's way!"


May 16, 2010 9:07 PM

Stacey O'Brien said...

Those of you who have tried to talk to Tom, know that you are not alone! Over a period of years, many wildlife experts, workers, rehabbers, and fish and game agents have tried to talk to Tom about his design and have explained to him about branching and how the box is horribly designed and how to improve it, and they've all gotten the same brush off that you got.

Let it be well known that HE KNOWS all about what the problems are. He just doesn't want to hear about it or do anything about it.

That's why the only recourse is to enact laws that can be enforced. When people throw away the moral decency, the desire to do the right thing, the desire to do no harm, then all we have left is the law.

When the greed of man runs amuck and no one cares for the lives of the innocent, we must turn to the law, for these people have no internal law by which to measure themselves - no conscience tugging at them. They do not understand the laws of integrity, so we must give them the laws of the courts, the laws that they themselves live by - force.

But since we do live with a conscience, with our own internal laws of integrity, that force must be contained and bound by the law. So it is to the law that we now turn, to make change on behalf of the innocent.

And we will stand and speak for these lovely, innocent, sentient, intelligent beings with whom we share this earth. We are stewards of the earth and of the lives of those less powerful than ourselves who have no voice with which to speak.

There has always been evil, there has always been greed, but there have also been those who are willing to stand up against that evil and greed and say, "enough is enough".

We've come to love these creatures, these little owls, and we can never go back to not knowing that love, so now we'll defend those we've come to love. Love is stronger than evil and stronger than greed.


Note: THREE new posts today plus ONE post RE-EDITED substantially...This is exactly the hop-fly I'm talking about when they branch

These are some kind of cliff nesting eagle owls, but their body language is the same as barn owls in the way they hop-fly, rather awkwardly, and test out their wings. Plus it's just super cute to watch:


Another link: This Youtuber - LNcello - has an amazing number of Barn Owl clips - plus clips of other birds such as Kestrals.

All these are from HeyNicePlanet. THANK YOU HeyNicePlanet!


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Union Tribune Article: a section quoted

msg sent this quote from the article in the union Tribune:

"Maybe the owlets will fly a bit after first leaving home, but it’s more likely that they’ll just flutter to the ground or to nearby perches for more practice. Those prospects are not without their perils, but San Diego’s Project Wildlife is keeping tabs on developments.

“We’ve been in contact with Carlos and have been offering guidance,” said Kristen Pressler, development director at the rehabilitation and rescue organization. “We’ve actually notified our raptor team. They are on alert to step in if anything happens.”

Pressler said the 15-foot drop from the box is not an issue and that the owls are probably safer in the Royal’s backyard than in the wild. “They are going to be just fine,” she said

Here's the link to the rest of the article

This is a new development. I wonder if they have looked over the situation there? Maybe they do feel that he has made enough improvements for the owlets to make it through the branching and fledging. He HAS added quite a few improvements, mainly the platform and a place to land right outside the door (the lanai, or porch), and even the ladders might be usable by the owlets. I don't know if there's any traction on that platform or not. Once on the ground, they could get up the tree and to that platform.

As I said a while ago, it's a heck of a lot better than it was!

I'm surprised that he's working w/ Project Wildlife, that he hasn't said so in any of his many "fireside chats". Has he said that? Does anyone know if Project Wildlife has been there? I had heard that OO box people were working w/ project wildlife, too, and their setup is MUCH more what i would expect from someone who has worked directly w/ wildlife people because of the design and the carpeting.

Could our liason, Charlotte, please bring this to the attention of Nancy Conney and ask her if she knows about this and if it can be confirmed?

If he is now saying that project wildlife is standing by and will sweep in if anything happens, I would want that confirmed because of the strength of his previous resistance to doing anything like that. I would like to know how closely he is working with them. As close as he's working w/ the media? In other words, have they been to his property the way the media has?

If so, then we can all pat ourselves on the back for appying pressure and public opinion to the situation so that he's gone from saying he wouldn't interfere if a baby got injured and was lying on the ground to saying that project wildlife is standing by, ready to sweep in!

Let's watch and see what really happens here. I can hardly believe it's true, but if it is, I rejoice!

Perhaps we have reached Carlos, even though many of us have been banned in the process. HOWEVER, the article ALSO says:

" publicity also has been good for owl box builder Air Superiority of Ramona by raising awareness about nesting boxes as a pest-control strategy.

“This is the time of the year when my sales are best,” owner Tom Stephan said. “And it’s the best time to be putting up boxes.”
Again, it's about pest control, not about the survivability of owlets. We still have to get the right design and the new laws into place to stop this proliferation of badly designed and badly placed deathtrap "rodent control" boxes...

Because we can't fight to educate each and every box owner, after the fact. We won't even know about most of them. This was a great opportunity to educate the public and to educate a very public figure, but it's not enough to change the nature of the box makers and the industry they're in.

pest-control strategy indeed!

How about pest control AND barn owl survival strategy combined? Now THAT would work for me.


The additions to Owlivia and Owlberts' box

Can't remember if the male is called "Owlbert" or what. I know i named my SUV "Truckbert" so maybe I'm mixing things up. Yes, I have an SUV - most people who work w/ animals and wildlife do. It's needed for transporting animals. I've had injured wild creatures in my truck (once, a loose injured possum who, thank god, didn't ruin anything), have packed 23 hamster cages into it, and regularly take my Colorado Mountain Dog on trips - she sleeps in her huge (maximum size?) airline carrying case for safety's sake. If there were an accident I wouldn't want her flying around loose.

Is this what the blog is about? NO! Is this written with the kind of skill you'd expect in a book? NOT AT ALL! But it's a blog, so I can do stream of consciousness, right? Well, at least once in awhile.


I think they must have consulted w/ someone who knew a thing or two about branching owlets, because there IS a platform very near the door, and if the owlets just hopped from the platform to the doorway and back, or from platform to platform and back, they' have the opportunity to strengthen their wings and learn how to use them. See, they literally have to figure out how to use their wings. At first they have the equipment but have no idea how to use it!

There's a video of branching owlets whose wings are fully devloped who can't fly worth anything and drop like stones when they fall off of something.

Here's an example of fully formed barn owl babies who still can't fly. They can hop-fly, but they still drop like stones if they fall:

This is such an important video in so many ways. It shows that even a box in a tree is inadequate if there is no branch right directly in front of the entrance hole!

Why would they not have this same problem in a hollow tree? You can see in this video how they hook their talons into the bark of the tree and pull themselves up, flapping to help themselves along. So in the case of a hollow tree, they can pull themselves up into the hole from a lower branch. They can't do that on a slick owl box. You can see them trying over and over again to get into the box, then falling like stones. Luckily they are caught by lower, springy branches and climb back up. But still can't get back in, and are reduced to standing outside begging. Then, when parents attempt to bring them food, if they get the food at all, they are very likely to drop it on the ground and not be able to go after it, or to be knocked off the branch by the parent, as we see in this video.

In the case of the O&O box, they have put a platform directly in front of the entrance to the box, and another platform further away. The thing that makes these platforms SO DIFFERENT from what we've seen on other boxes, is that the pole they are on does not end at the top in the middle of the platform. The pole leads to the SIDE of the platform, so the babies can pull themselves back onto it. The other KEY difference, and this makes ALL the difference, is that both the pole and the platform are carpeted w/ wall to wall carpeting - which is better than berber or something that they'd get their talons stuck in.

So, if they were to fall, God forbid, and if they weren't injured by the fall, they could either go to that tree nearby and climb it and hide there within the branches, or they could climb the pole w/ the carpet on it and end up on top of one of the platforms and hop-fly their way back into the entrance of the box. I do wish there was a pathway from the tree over to the box entrance in the form of similar platforms, but still, they've taken a lot of important things into account, such as how the babies would get back up onto the platforms.

Finally, the platforms themselves are not slippery! When the babies branch, if they can't wrap their talons around something like a carpet or astroturf covered branch, and if they have to land on a surface, they will slide right across and tumble over the other side unless there's something to grab onto. The carpet ought to be sufficient for them to grab onto it. At least I hope it is!

I can't see if up close, of course, but one can only hope that the carpet is enough for them to grab onto, and that they'll first only hop from the first platform back into the box, and that they can grab the carpet and flap their wings and gain strength. It's a lot better than anything else i've seen lately anyway!


Friday, May 14, 2010

What you can do if you're concerned:

If you're concerned about the shoddy owl boxes being put up on poles all over America with no consideration for the survival of the babies....

We've decided to do something about this, because the problem is so rampant and does not take into account the survival of the babies! It's JUST for humans to get rodent control out of these innocent owls who are lured into these owlboxes only to have their babies die, over and over again. The lucky ones get rescued and taken to wildlife rescue centers, which are slammed every year with hundreds of babies to raise, teach to hunt, and condition for flying.

So we have formed an alliance to get the laws changed or added to the existing Fish and Game regulations, to require that all owl boxes have certain features and are installed in a certain way.

We'd be happy for you to join us! We're just forming and are brainstorming and working on various things just to get up and running.

Go to yahoo groups and you can's the link:


EDITED/Ammended: The goal is to mimic nature, not prevent all aspects of nature

Some of the commenters objected to creating a way for owlets to climb back up andonto a branch, because a predator could use the same contraption to climb up and get to the owlets.

This does happen in nature, occasionally, but remember, we aren't trying to outdo nature, but rather, to imitate it.

I think the question of predation is not an issue. If we are trying to make it as close to a natural situation, which is the hollow tree, then predation is a NATURAL problem to have.

BUT, having thought the matter over further, why shouldn't we try to figure out a way to reduce predation, so as to offset the tremendous damage being done by the "rodent control" boxes (maybe we shouldn't even call them owl boxes, eh?).

You know how there are natural scents that you can buy in gardening catalogs and such, to repel deer from your roses (garlic?) or repel rodents (mint? they hate mint)..I wonder if there is a strong scent that can be put on the posts or trees where there are owl boxes that say to the predator, say to a raccoon, "EEEWWW! Don't climb THIS tree! THIS tree is totally undesireable." It's a good idea! At first, I thought, "well that's pretty normal to face predation in a tree and there's nothing we can do about that." but then thought, "Hey, why not try? So many owls get killed by unnatural forces such as cars and poisons and people's dogs, that it couldn't hurt for us to try to balance that by discouraging unneccesary predation". It's not as if raccoons rely upon owls for their daily bread. They get along just fine w/o killing owls, as do other predators...

So I think our commenter is on to something. Does anyone know of such a substance or where to find out about such a thing? I'd say if we could discourage raccoons and cats we'd have done a lot to help the owlets in the trees.

--------Here's what I said before, when I was thinking there was nothing we could do about it anyway --------

The number of owlets who fall to their deaths and are not able to fledge and go on to reproduce themselves is massive, compared to the small number of owlets who would be found and killed by predators. What we're trying to do is imitate nature so that they can branch and fledge, not prevent every possible scenario that they WOULD face in nature.

Better to have a way to climb up than to have no way, and for them to have to just sit on the ground to wait for a predator to find them. The more the owlets can climb up and move into their box when they feel exposed, the more likely they'll be able to avoid predators.

Lying on the ground w/ a broken wing, or even being down but unable to climb up all but guarantees death by predator.

The way to keep predators from discovering the owlets has more to do with not putting the human scent all over everything, which might cause a predator to climb up out of curiosity.

All this to say, we are not trying to prevent actual acts of nature, but we are trying to prevent unnatural and all but guaranteed death caused by these careless setups for babies.

But I now disagree w/ myself and think that we can probably come up with a way to discourage predators from coming up the trees, and still allow the owlets to be able to climb them, and hopefully, that could be done through scent. It's worth a try! Thanks for bringing this question up!


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is there a link between extensive use of owl boxes and endangered status of Barn Owls?

As I've been looking into this issue more, the more I've started to see a trend. First, I had no idea how extensive the use of Barn Owl boxes really was, but it's extreme. Add to that the loss of traditional wood barns with plenty of ventilation holes in the hay loft, and lots of beams and a big hayloft within which to hop and learn to fly, and the additional loss of hollow trees nationwide, and you have a population of owls that has become highly dependent upon the use of inadequate owl boxes.

They are heavily used in farmlands, orchards, grapevine areas, many of which either have no trees at all, or the trees (in the case of orchards) are too far away from the boxes or too flimsy to be of any good whatsoever to baby owls that need to branch, then fledge.

The owlbox situation has been viewed as successful only because it is viewed entirely from the human perspective.
If you ask the farmer, "How are the owl boxes working out for you?", he's more htan likely to say, "Oh, it couldn't be better!" And he's right - for HIM it's great! The owls made a nest, had babies, and hunted like crazy, keeping the promise of rodent control. Then, when the babies went to try to branch and fledge, they fell from the box and were killed by predators or died slowly on their own, but that's of no concern to the farmer, who probably does't even know it happened.

Then the parents lay more eggs, have more babies, and continue to hunt like crazy, keeping the rodent population in check. Sometimes the parents go on like this for as long as a decade and the farmer is thrilled with the efficacy of the owl box.

In some areas, owls use boxes for 70% of all nests. Seventy percent!

If owls are using boxes on poles that much for their reproduction, then we could be losing he majority of the next generation. And, suddenly we have an endangered owl where we once had many of them. If your next generation has almost no chance of survival.

There may just be a direct link between the extensive use of "box on a pole" owl boxes, and places where the owls are becoming endangered. These owl boxes might just be the main factor contributing to endangerment of Barn Owls, and it wa there all along, right in front of our faces, and we just didn't havethe knowledge about how there is no way for the owlets to branch, then fledge, so there's been dirth of barn owl surviveability,

What to you want to bet that these owlboxes are directly related to the way these owls are disappearing in some areas?
I think the boxes might be a main reason for the endangered status of barn owls. I bet a study of this issue would be mind blowing! PhD candidates and post docs, take note! This could be a good study to take on.


Pertinent links so you don't have to search blog for them;

Barn Owl Alliance yahoo group:

YouTube video of me talking about Wes w/ footage of him and me together:

YouTube video of me speaking to a writers' conference about the experience w/ Wesley and the writing of the book):

Wesley the Owl website:

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A book recommendation + owl behavior links

I mentioned this a long time ago, but if you missed it, I'm going to mention it again!

There's a magical book by Lynne Cox called "Grayson"

It's destined to be a classic, and you'd even think it was mythological had it not happened in front of a myriad of witnesses right off the coast here near Long Beach! Lynne is a world champion cold water swimmer - having swum the bering strait in a BIKINI, for example, dodging the floating ice all the way. She's done the English channel and held the title for the youngest and fastest. She has the record for swimming from Catalina to the mainland and even swam the Cape of Good Hope while a white shark came at her to attack her, and one of the divers there to protect her fought the shark off. YIKES!

So she was doing her morning workout, which is so far beyond what any of us could even imagine doing. She'd swim all the way to the oil platforms and back. One morning a baby gray whale came up to her and grunted and made other sounds. He was lost! He couldn't find his mother! She stayed with him for hours while trying to help him find his mother. You HAVE to read this. It's really short but it's one of those books you think about for a long time afterward.

Her other book, "Swimming to Antarctica" is so inspiring you'll wonder why you ever got discouraged or ever gave up on anything. This woman just does not give up. Period. If it takes 12 years of constant letter writing to get through to some politician(in this case Gorbachov himself) so that you can swim the bering strait during the cold war, you keep at it!

I think for us in the Barn Owl Alliance, her story can be particularly inspiring, since she just never seemed to even consider giving up no matter how difficult the way was going to be. And she seems to have won every time - it was her persistence and patience and how she never gave up, long after most people would have.

This book will give you some perspective and make you want to just dig in and work on this thing and FIX it, by gosh. And we will, but it may take a long time and a lot of patience. And if it does, the patience of Lynne Cox might be just the thing to think about if we get impatient and discouraged!

So...get Grayson, and "Swimming to Antarctica" by Lynne Cox! You won't regret it!

And Grayson in particular makes a lovely gift for just about any age group.

I still haven't flown to Colorado due to an ongoing migaine! Whew! I want to get this thing over with and go see my friends in Colorado! But I, too, must be patient!


PS: Here are some links of owl behaviors:

BarnOwlVideos – properly placed barn owl boxes in Suffolk County

Barn owl swallowing a mouse whole:

Hunting great grey (?) catches mouse under snow:

Rehabbers handling/feeding baby barn owl:

baby barn owl hiss/scream (fear):

baby owls branching (not barnies):

properly set up owlbox w/ branching owlets:

A branching owl, sitting on branch:

short clip of branching owl hopping to another branch:

Barn owl flying to music:

Barred Owl vocals:

Watching baby barn owls

This is possibly the best time to watch the personality of the baby barn owls blossom. If you're watching one of the boxes, and I still think the audio and video on the Molly owl box is by far the best for watching - hey you don't have to chat. What I do when I want to watch is I maximize the video feed screen so it fills my entire screen. Then I sit back and ENJOY! I have the sound on so I can hear the new twitters and little comments the owls make, as well as the not-so-little sounds. lol.

They are very active during the day, now, because they have so much work to do on their feathers. The feathers are growing in so fast - these adult feathers that grow in through a keratin shaft.

I've explained this on the chat and in my book, but in case you missed it, the way these feathers grow in is amazing. First, a keratin shaft begins to grow up out of the skin. Keratin is what's in our hair and fingernails. Inside is a living organ, the pinfeather, which has nerves and blood vessels and which is creating the feather. It's one of the more miraculous processes in nature.

As the pinfeather grows to the length that the feather will be, it starts to finish the job of making the feather, and the blood and nerves start to recede, leaving in their place a perfect barn owl feather (in this case) at the tip. Once the feather is perfected, and the blood and nerves are receding slowly, the part that's done can be released by pulling off the keratin sheath. The way you know it's done is that it becomes white and waxy. So the barn owl pulls the white, waxy part at the tip of each feather off, and out springs a perfect end of a feather. But he can't go too far down, because further down is the dark part- and that's the blood filled, nerve filled part that's still making a feather.

If you're grooming an owl and you are pinching the waxy white part, it sort of breaks up under your fingers and you either brush it away or gently pull it off. But if you pinch too far down, on the dark part, it's extremely painful and the owl will scream! You do NOT want to pinch or push on a pinfeather that's living, because they're soo soo sensitive.

One has to be very careful in how one picks up a baby owl full of pinfeathers, too! If one were to just put ones hands around him and pick him up, it would be like he'd been skewered by a thousand red hot icepicks. So, when they're that young, they must be picked up from the feet, very gently and slowly.

The barn owls we've been watching on the Molly box, and soon on the Owlivia box, are very busy pulling the ends of their pinfeathers off and arranging the new flight feathers, grooming themselves. They look like maybe they're itchy and worrying over bugs, but in my experience it's rare to find an owl with bugs on him. Only if they have a very compromised immune system do you see any kind of mites or lice on them.

So they're working hard on their feathers.

If you look at the flight feathers under a microscope you can see that the edges have tiny little barbs and hooks that literally zip together! So when an owl does a long groom through his beak - he takes a long feather and runs it through his mouth from base to tip - he's literally zipping the side together so it'll be more effective for flying!

These guys cannot fly at all. Even if they beat their wings, they can't fly. It's a combination of still being too heavy, and the fact that the wings have to be in a certain position in order to catch the air and produce flight. The owls have to learn this through practice, practice, practice. And they fall quite easily.

Watching them in the box during the day, you see their personalities forming. Often you can see them getting playful and pouncing on any little thing in the box. They'll focus on something small like a pellet, then pounce on it and worry it w/ their feet and beak, then pounce again. They're playing! They scratch at the stuff on the floor just in general playfulness. They can be easily compared to kittens at this age. You know how kittens will suddenly get playful and focus on the silliest, tiniest thing as the object of their play. It's more about feeling playful than it is about the object.

It's just fun to watch their facial expressions at this age, too. They are waking up to the world around them. They're becoming curious and playful and fascinated with everything. It's a most endearing age for an owlet.

So don't forget to just enjoy the owls for who they are, and not let human behavior surrounding the owls ruin that for you. This is still an amazing experience that few will ever have in their lives, and you'll continue to learn a lot about owl behavior, just by watching.

I'm amazed at how much everyone has learned just through watching. Many people can even distinguish the owls based on their individual behavior, which is really quite an accomplishment!


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hey! Anyone in the U.K. who has been involved in the process of regulation and is involved w/ the regulatory process there want to advise us about what works and what doesn't? Even what design is best, the pluses and minuses of various designs and setups?

This is the text from a UK page. Note how the boxes are all monitored by conservationists? And they have a picture of the design, from above. I am a big fan of the design w/ the separate entrance that protects the owls from direct wind and weather - with the hallway they have to go through to get to the entrance. It solves a myriad of problems. This design, however, needs work. It needs an 8 or 10 inch drop from the doorway into the box itself so the babies won't easily fall out, and won't be able to get to the door until they are at least strong enough and coordinated enough to climb up to it. It also has a perch just 6 or so inches outside the door, which is a place to start and hold on, while contemplating other branches to hop to. It's a start.

We ought to be looking at other box designs and coming up with what we think is idea. There's no need to rush to judgement on this. I think a circumspect, careful survey of what's out there and what works is needed before we make recommendations for a regulation box in the US. But this is a place to start, anyway.

I don't think I can load the picture, which is worth a thousand words, so here is the link that shows the interior design of the box, with 2 owlets posing in there for good measure, although since the top is off the box I imagine these are rehabbing birds...

To see the picture, go to:

This is a U.K. Program;
Adopt a Box
Adopt a Box: wild birds of prey need places to nest
Adopt a Box with the Hawk and Owl Trust
Adopting a nestbox through the Hawk and Owl Trust is fun.You'll be kept up to date with what's going on in your adopted box.You can also learn more about barn owls and the other birds that use the special nestboxes put up and monitored.
Shortage of homes
Loss of old hollow trees and conversion of barns for housing has dramatically reduced the supply of traditional nesting sites for species such as owls. It is estimated that four in every five barn owls now use nestboxes, demonstrating how important boxes are for this species.
Tawny owls, little owls and kestrels are also benefiting from nestboxes, which are put up in carefully selected areas with suitable feeding habitat.
How you can help
Adopt a Box yourself or as a present for a friend - it is a worthwhile way to help owls and other birds of prey. There are nestboxes in many parts of the country and you can Adopt a Box in one of seven regions.

During the breeding season specially trained and licensed conservationists monitor the boxes. Each year you will receive news of the birds that may have used the box allocated to you.You might be lucky enough to hear that eggs were laid and young reared. Most of the boxes are designed for barn owls but other species which might use them are tawny or little owls, kestrel or jackdaw.

Protecting the breeding birds
In the interest of conservation we cannot tell you exactly where your box is. The nests of all birds of prey are protected and barn owls have additional legal protection. It is vital that the birds are not disturbed while rearing their young. Furthermore other adopters may share your box.


Saturday, May 8, 2010


I have mentioned Marc Bekoff several times in this blog, and recently, when talking about him and his work and his books, I have said he was a co-founder of the Jane Goodall Institute. He sent me an email correcting me. I apologize profusely for getting that wrong! I don't know where I heard that, but I never checked because I assumed it was true, which was stupid of me. He does work with Jane Goodall on projects and has been on some documentaries with her.

His work is great, his books are absolute MUST READs if you care about animals and what's being learned about them and their emotional lives and sentience. He has so much to say and says it so well! He's another one of my "modern day heroes". I have never actually met him, but have been trying to do so since he wrote a very kind blurb for me about Wesley the Owl and has been so supportive of a new author coming out of nowhere, in spite of how busy he is.

If you haven't read Marc Bekoff, get his books and start!

I'll find where I misrepresented him and make the corrections.

Again, I apologize profusely!


One small correction from way back when - but please read the post AFTER this, which is my REAL post for today ;-)

I've been wanting to explain a small thing that isn't all that important, but I do NOT want it to detract from the post I wrote today, that's below this one! So please, don't think that the post below this is old! It's new! I wish I knew how to insert this one after the one I just wrote earlier. Sigh.

But here's the smallish thing I wanted to explain. A long time ago, someone on the chat asked me, "Do you think Molly will stay w/ the babies until they fledge, or do you think she'll start hunting and leaving the nest?"

I answered according to what I thought, and it has been used over and over again, since then, to say, "See? Biologists don't know about these things and they are wrong! We discovered that they're wrong!"

Now, I'm fine w/ being wrong. You have to be wrong in order to go through the learning process - you have to be wrong before you can be right, you know?

But in this case, there were subtleties...I said something to the effect of, "In most of the successful nests I've observed, the mother stays with the babies until they start to fledge/branch, and the father hunts to feed both the mother and the clutch of babies, if there is good hunting and the mother isn't forced to look for additional food."

At that time, McGee was providing plenty of food.

But the subtlety is that I have ONLY studied WILD NESTS that were NATURAL, ironically! haha! I had not studied artificial homes like this box. And the word "successful" in describing the nests is a crucial one that has been eliminated from discussions of what I said.

And it's still true - in most successful nests (to me that means all the babies survived to fledge successfully), the mother did stay for a long time.

By doing that, she prevented the weakening and possible death of the youngest owlet, who has to compete w/ his bigger, stronger, more aggressive clutch-mates for every morself of food. The baby is less mobile, less coordinated, and weaker. As you saw, w/ the mother in the nest she can still feed the youngest, ensuring that he gets a good meal, rather than allowing the older ones to just eat and eat until they're totally stuffed while the youngest goes hungry.

But as we saw, after I said that, the porch went up and Molly left for a day, and she never went back to hanging out w/ the babies in a serious way, so youngest baby Wesley was now in a position where he had to compete for food. From then on, you could hear him scream in outrage occasionally during the scuffle that resulted from a food drop. I've seen, in many cases where the baby screams in outrage, where even if he somehow gets ahold of the food first, an older baby will snatch it right out of his beak and he can't do much about it. Yet he is actually more hungry than the older baby who snatched it from him!

While this nest may end up being successful, as we saw, Wesley had a hard time and was weakened, probably by lack of food. And food also means fluids, as you can see. ALL their fluids come from prey, not from water itself.

I hope he has rallied now and is going to make it! I'm actually praying he will! Hey, why not?

And w/ the Owlivia box, she lost her two youngest babies, apparently from starvation related reasons. The reason I concluded that is that Owlivia wasn't poisoned, so it is logical to conclude that the babies were not poisoned also, since they shared food, and she "took care of" the dead babies in a way that ensures that she wouldn't have two rotting corpses in the box to cause maggots, ants, or draw scavengers, or make the box more nasty than needed for the other owls. A dried skin or strip of stray meat is one thing. Two decaying corpses would have been too much. So, since that happened and she didn't die, I have to conclude it was not a poisoning.

As you may know, Owlivia was leaving the box to hunt, also. This may have been driven by the lack of food, however, and may have been a no-win situation. If she had stayed in the box, it looked to me like Owlbert wasn't finding enough food on his own and they may have all been inadequately fed.

Some people asked if the father "with-holds" food to try to lure the mother out to hunt. NEVER!

An owl does not see prey and say, "No, even with hungry babies at home, I am going to let that one pass so that my mate will be compelled to come out and help me! Nope, it's her problem. If she wants food, let her get her lazy butt out here and hunt. It's not fair for me to do all the hunting, after all!"

NO! He hunts with all his heart, urgently, in great earnestness and sincerity, and races the food back to the nest as fast as he can, occasionally stopping to eat the heads off the prey, for as you know, the head is by far the most delicious part of the prey and is very nutritious for him. Hence the delivery of headless rodents to the mother.

But they don't manipulate like people do.

All this to clarify that what I had said was that in successful nests, the father ISI able to bring in enough prey ( a good example is the nest I was watchinig in La Costa at the La Costa Coffee Roasters. Even w/ the babies all branched and learning to fly, the mom stayed w/ them full time. The babies were wildly successful and all made it to adulthood. The father nearly drove himself into the ground hunting, yet the female did not go out to hunt. His obvious exhaustion is what caused me to decide to help him one night, and I found myself flinging dead mice from my own stash into the air at 3am....the rest of that story is in the book.

So it's not as if I've never seen a mother going out to hunt. But when I have seen that, often the nest is not 100% successful in providing for ALL the babies to survive.

I wanted to clarify this because it has been dragged up so many times as an example of how scientists "don't know anything", and that is all based upon a misunderstanding of what I said.

on that fast moving chat, I was reading one question while trying to answer another in a short, to the point way. I never said it was impossible for Molly or Owlivia to decide to go out of the nest and hunt. That box is also too small and hot and was getting ncomfortable for the adult owls.

I love the idea of putting owl boxes inside an outbuilding that has a hole for the owls to go into, mimicking a barn. If the outbuilding had the perches up like the rafters of a barn, it would provide shade and shelter from the elements. There is an example of this in the Barn Owl Trust in England, although there are also examples of bad boxes and the resulting broken and dead babies below the box. So even inside an outbuilding, the babies need a place to hop from and to.

And that's what we're going to change.

The post below this one is the mosr important post by far! This one is about behavior and about this little misunderstanding, but the one below is about us organizing into a group to ensure the best chances of survival for the baby ban owls of the future!

Love and peace to you all and to all the wild ones!

The official YAHOO group for the Barn Owl Alliance:

If you signed up and then the group disappeared, fear not! All that's happened is the name has been changed and the eaddress. The new e-address is:

I've created an alliance account for barn owl Alliance discussions ONLY! :

Personal email from readers can be sent to me at:

(NOTE: If the mail is about planning an event, please don't use the address, because it gets mixed up in reader mail and I may not get to it in the timely way it needs to be attended to. For event planning, please go to my website and click on the contact button there.)

I agree that we ought to be trying to push for a certain standard in all owl box design, something like:

All barn owl boxes must have:
This perching system
That climbing back up system
This depth from the door to the floor
That level of ventilation
This amount of perpetual shade
Be free from obstacles that could fall on it
These dimensions
The following approved design

Then anyone could build it and continue their business as owl box builders, only this time, they'd have to not only adhere to design standards, but would have to get a permit - which needs to be EASY TO GET and NOT COSTLY so that people can make a living putting these up, and so that nonprofit organizations such as aren't stressed by fees.

Enforcement should be put into the existing code that's already enforceable by the dept of fish and game statewide, and the Federal Dept of Fish and Wildlife.

They already enforce all KINDS of laws about raptors and owls, and already have in place a police force that does such things as seizures of owls in homes that have no permit for the owl, making sure rehab centers don't have unpermitted, unreleasable owls. EVERY owl in captivity has a permit and is regulated.

Also, they catch and prosecute anyone who has shot an owl or tried to mess w/ a wild nest in a harrassing way...they issue permits to biologists for things like going in and banding, and regulate how that's done..

So we already have the structure in place and don't have to reinvent the wheel. All we have to do is push for new regulations on owl boxes! Thank God we don't have to come up with a police force and a way to pay for it! It's paid for by hunting and fishing permits, which kind of creates a bit of a conflict of interest - ie. they are more interested in helping hunters and fisherpeople...but they do have officers just for wildlife interests beyond game, and those people are very dedicated, like the federal officer who's been wringing her hands over the owl boxes in San Diego for years, but has no law by which she could DO anything about it!

So the officers themselves would welcome a reason to be able to intervene! We are here to untie their hands!

I'm going to be offline for a couple of days, I think, and back on on Monday. It's because I'm moving over to my Colorado home away from home and it takes relocating my dog and all of my hamsters (imagine finding a place for all those hamsters for over a month!)...packing, and there's a lot more than regular packing because I'm also packing for projects to be done while in Colorado.

While there, I'll be meeting w/ Sy Montgomery, the "Indiana Jane" I referred to in other posts, who has travelled extensively in the Amazon, in Borneo and New Guinea, and the Sudarbans where the man eating tigers live. Not just travelled, but immersed herself and studied elusive creatures such as the Amazonian pink dolphin, the man eating tigers, the cassowary in New Guinea, and I think the Snow Leopard in the Himalayas.

She and I have developed a great friendship over the phone and internet but have never met in person! I also hope to connect w/ Marc Bekoff if he's in town. If possible, will no doubt pick both of their brains (that is such a gross expression. I always picture it visually, unfortunately) about what we're trying to accomplish, and ask for any suggestions or guidance.

The Jane Goodall Institute has fought many battles that were far more contentious than what we are trying to do, with the bushmeat and poaching going on all over Africa. They are swimming upstream against a deeply entrenched, continental cultural issue that is so enormous it's hard to even wrap your head around it (another rather odd visual image!).

So I'm sure they've learned a lot of lessons about what works and what doesn't! Since Marc Bekoff has done work w/ Jane Goodall, maybe he has some ideas for us. I don't even know if I'll actually be able to connect with him, but I'll try.

If you want to call it the Stacey O'Brien Barn Owl Alliance, as has been suggested, it might give it a bit of a punch, I don't know. I'll let you guys decide about that. I will continue to write about owls, as in the next book, and the book is doing well in many languages and countries, so it might give recognition internationally. But I DO NOT need the ego gratification of having it called that, and I realize that this is not MY organization. It is OUR organization. In fact, all I'm doing is writing. It's you guys who are coming up with action and self-assigning different jobs. It will take a lot of different kinds of skills to do this - people w/ legal knowledge and abilities for the 501(3)c and a website if someone is able to pull that off, logo - if someone can do that,...

About using a wild barn owl - I think that's a great idea. There are a lot of "stock" photos of wild barn owls. I wish I remembered where I got it, but for a long time I had a free stock photo of a barn owl flying low over a field - a close up - as my screen saver.

There are a lot of free photos we could use.

As for using pics off of my website, they just need to say "" on them in a watermark, or be attributed as such. The pictures that look like the cover of the book are mostly shot by Wendy Francisco. The others are pretty much taken by me. If the pics are put into a book or flyer or newspaper, they should have a tiny line as you see in other photos that say "photo by Stacey O'Brien" or "Photo by Wendy Francisco". If there's confusion as to which is which, the attribution is better than none at all. Most photos that have me in them were taken by Ann Baker.

Wendy licenses the use of the pictures she took for the book covers, worldwide, and is paid a small royalty on that based on book sales. So in cases where the pictures are being used by a publisher, they might want to take that into consideration.

Once we decide on the full name of the organization, I'll ask Wendy (who owns and operates my website) to put a link up on the site in a prominent place so that other people who are interested can join!

As mentioned above, I've got an email address now just for the Alliance:

My other, unlisted email is so inundated w/ business concerns (I have something like 9 separate publishers, each with their own people, around the world, plus people I need to talk to about events and journalists I need to communicate w/) that it overflows and bounces mail even from my poor longsuffering editor and the people at Simon and Schuster. I don't know how big authors do it, truly. I only have one book in 9 languages. How do people with many books in 50 languages do it? Maybe they have assistants? Anyway...

I will try to stay on top of this new email...

please use this ONLY for the alliance business.

Regular reader email can be addressed to

I am painfully slow at responding to reader email but I do get to it eventually!

I hope people will respect the intended use of these email addresses. On the alliance email, I'll only respond to email that relates directly to what we're trying to accomplish, to try to keep it from getting full and overwhelmed by email that isn't about what we're trying to do here. It should be an email dedicated to the business at hand as we communicate w/ each other in forming our group and establishing our goals and how to accomplish them.

Thanks, everyone, for the work you've already done and the great ideas you've already put out there!

If anyone is wondering what I'm talking about, a lot of planning is going on in the "comments" sections after my blog entries, so please read those to see what people are doing and how we are organising.

We do need to switch much of this over to the yahoo group, which is more conducive to discussion than the blog.

I also do think the chat option on the group ought to be activated. I don't want to have to moderate it, but I sure don't want it to descend into a place to put spam, either. Does anyone know how to do that?

Maybe we ought to schedule our meetings on the chat, so we all know when to go there.

As has been pointed out, it needs to be a time that's good for both West and East coasters.

A lot of people are working until at least 6pm, but that makes it 9pm in the East, which is some people's bedtime...

I am, personally, much more functional in the evenings. In Colorado, I'm not available Sat-Tues nights, which leaves Wed, Thurs and Fri nights, if we want to do an evening group meeting.

On the other hand, I'll be back from Colorado in June, and will be more free - BUT I do tend to travel, If I'm travelling, on weekends, for events.

That's my schedule. The rest of the time I'm sleeping, so I can set an alarm and be up for meetings.

It doesn't have to be evening, by any means. I'm just letting you guys know when I'm personally available but that doesn't keep you guys from picking another time of day or week. If you pick mornings or early afternoon, for example, I'll adjust! ;-)

The most important thing to me is that all the people who are actually working on some aspect of this can get together at one time to compare notes, for now.


Love and Peace,