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An Only Barn Owl Chick Named Solo
This is the extraordinary story of an only barn owl chick whose lonely, chequered, life was recorded on cameras hidden inside her nest. Read on for an owl drama that, looked at from a human perspective, spans love, loss, and even murder! Of course as a barn owl, all this is normal!
Live Cameras in my Art Studio
Next to my drawing board sits a bank of TV screens streaming live footage from inside animal nests. On these screens, I can see into the secret lives of owls, kestrels, buzzards, and stoats as I paint and
I often become distracted by the amazing animal antics unfold. But this summer the behaviour of one bird, in particular, had me gripped; paintbrush poised whenever it flickered into view.
Solo: An Only Barn Owl Chick
This was Solo, a barn owl chick that hatched in May. She was the only chick to hatch from a clutch of three eggs and her early days were mesmerising. My cameras even caught the moment she unfolded from her cracking eggshell, all beak and tiny talons like a tiny dinosaur.
Solo Barn Owl Chick Doted on by Parent Owls
This only-chick was doted on by the parent owls. The female would brood day and night whilst the male hunted for food. Watching them parent together was fascinating. Whenever the male brought in a meal, they exchanged gentle chirping sounds by way of a greeting. One time I spotted the adult female gently slide a foot out from under Solo’s sleeping head before heading to the back of the nest for stretch. It was like watching a human mother try not to wake her baby. Click on the image below to watch it.
Solo the Barn Owl Chick Attracts a Fan Club
Visitors to my gallery, where I also stream the live footage, were equally enchanted and many made the trip here to Thixendale to see how Solo was getting on. There followed some magical moments, particularly when the female settled to feed her only, precious, chick.
Solo Barn Owl Chick is Fed in an Unusually Caring Way
She would position Solo so that she was tucked cosily into her breast, facing outwards. Then she would clutch the prey in her talons and patiently reach down to place tiny morsels of food into her chick’s gaping beak.
Solo the Barn Owl Chick is Lonely
The bond between owl and owlet was touching. But then, when Solo was just four-weeks-old, the adult owls began to spend a lot of time in a different nest box in my garden. Their new home was one I had fashioned myself from an old sycamore stump and was also rigged with cameras. This meant I could see the adult birds inside. They would preen each other, dig nest scrapes and mate frequently – all signs that these two were going for a second brood.
Solo’s Owl Parents Start a New Family
This was encouraging to see as barn owls are protected birds and populations can fluctuate when weather conditions are poor – or voles, their favourite food, are in short supply.
I nicknamed this new box the ‘honeymoon suite’.
But I noticed that as the two spent their time in here mating, poor Solo was left alone, save for a few visits a day when her parents delivered food. Watching the isolated owlet, looking glum and bored in the original nest box, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her.
Solo’s Barn Owl Mum Returns
Then things took an unusual turn. The female owl suddenly switched nest boxes. I suspected that the new ‘honeymoon suite’, which lies in full sun, was too warm. The box where Solo was is in a more sheltered, shady spot, and she moved back here. Mostly when birds go on to raise a second brood in the same season, they choose a different site and so I was interested to see what might happen.
To Lay Three More Barn Owl Eggs
Before a barn owl actually starts to lay, it will often spend two or three days sitting on a hollow scrape dug into the bottom of the nest in preparation for the new clutch of eggs.
As the female sat in her scrape, Solo sat beside her. Their bond now re-established, I sometimes spotted them preening one another.
Solo Mimics her a Barn Owl Mum
Before long the female laid a perfect white egg and Solo was curious, peering down at it whenever her mother got up for a stretch. Then I saw the most incredible thing I have ever witnessed in a barn owl nest: Solo, just eight -weeks-old and still covered in downy feathers, actually started to incubate the egg.
Solo Tries to Brood the Barn Owl Eggs
As she sat, she mimicked her mother’s tendency to carefully shred and rearrange the nest floor. I wondered if her behaviour was driven by maternal instinct. Whatever the motive, Solo was determined and the adult owl had to push Solo off her egg to resume control of brooding.
Two more eggs were laid at three-day intervals and it was fascinating to watch a first-brood chick sitting alongside its mother as she laid her second clutch. But as the weeks passed and Solo turned from chick to fledgling, she showed little signs of the usual drive for independence.
Solo the Only Barn Owl Chick Won’t Leave Home
And at 12 weeks, when most owlets are beginning to fend for themselves, she seemed more intent on brooding the eggs. She would wedge herself between the wall of the nest and her sitting mother, then make a show of preening the feathers on her mother’s back, whilst surreptitiously trying to budge her off the eggs.
Solo Is Ousted from the Barn Owl Nest
In spite of this gentle tug of war, the adult female remained tolerant. She even allowed her eldest chick up close to listen to the sound of the chicks chipping through the eggs. The male, however, was less than happy about the arrangement and after the first chick hatched he chased Solo to the back of the nest. Then one day Solo overstepped the mark and picked up a tiny chick by its wing. Shortly after this Solo was ousted from the nest, but she continued to hang about outside.
Solo Attacks her Barn Owl Siblings
Then tragedy struck. Following three solid days of torrential rain, when it was impossible for the owls to hunt without their feathers becoming water-logged, the family were going hungry.
The male brought in a much-needed meal and as the female fed the chicks, Solo burst in on the scene and snatched the food right out of her mother’s beak, swallowing it down in one.
The adult owl barely had time to react before Solo, clearly still ravenous, looked round at the clutch of tiny, squirming, owl chicks.
Instantly, her predatory instincts kicked in and she snatched the largest owl chick and flew out of the nest with it. Inside the nest, the adult female seemed as horrified as I was.
Solo’s Theft Doesn’t Deter This Barn Owl’s Fan Club
It was just at this time that I had developed a way of streaming the action from this nest box live onto YouTube. As I watched Solo emerge from the nest, her helpless sibling dangling from her beak, thousands of viewers from around the world were also watching. But the truth is that when times are hard it is perfectly normal for an older barn owl chick to prey on its younger siblings.
Subscriptions to the Barn Owl Nest LiveStream Soar
Thankfully the viewers on my YouTube Channel seemed to understand this. Subscriptions to the live owl nest camera soared and within a week I had more than 60,000 people from as far afield as Canada and Bahrain tuning in every day to find out what would happen next.
Fans WorldWide Name the Barn Owl Family
These followers even gave the owls names. The male became Barney, the female Gylfie, and the chicks Hans and Grete. I didn’t want to lose another chick so I began to leave food out for Solo, in the hope that if I kept her well-fed she would not try a trick like that again. But the adult owls turned on her and although they stopped short of chasing her away from the territory, they no longer tolerated her near the nest.
Tune in to Watch the Barn Owl Action
It won’t be long before Solo has learned to hunt for herself and begins to think about dispersing. I can’t wait to see how the story will end. And it seems neither can the subscribers to my YouTube live stream.
I update the best of my footage from this barn owl nest onto my Barn Owl Nest Camera blog. Click here to read it:
My nest cameras inform my wildlife paintings. Click here to see the collection:
Author: Robert E Fuller