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Are tawny owls the most devoted parents in nature?
The tawny owls that feed in my garden each night have been bringing their chicks to the bird table and this week there were eight all balancing on the branch outside my living room window! It has been fantastic watching them at such close quarters, they are such characters. The way they bob up and down when they spot something new is so funny.
I’ve been putting food out for tawny owls to encourage them into the garden for some years now. I use them as models for my paintings and many of the pictures of tawny owls that hang in my gallery are portraits of this particular family. The adult pair returns each year to nest in a line of sycamore trees just below my gallery. Some years ago I hoisted a hollowed-out stump into one of the trees and encouraged them to use that to nest in.
I wanted to use this nest box solely because it made an attractive prop for the backdrop of my paintings. This year has been really remarkable. The adult pair had four chicks of their own and are surrogate parents to four more after I was given an extra four by Ryedale Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. So far all eight are thriving; despite the fact that they fledged during a week of torrential rain and got their feathers so wet they couldn’t fly back up to the safety of the nest. I couldn’t help myself when I saw the fledglings soaked to their skins, their feathers stuck fast to their bodies. I scooped them up and brought them inside to dry them off before popping them carefully back into nest.
But tawny owls are adventurous birds and once they’ve decided to explore the world outside the nest there’s no stopping them. Sometimes they will venture out before they have learned to fly. I had to rescue the fledglings two more times that week! Now of course they are much stronger birds and are almost ready to start fending for themselves. It’s lovely to watch the parent birds take them out and show them how to hunt.
Tawny owls are devoted parents and unlike most birds continue to look after their chicks until they are almost grown. These two will look after their chicks at least until September. But come October they turn quite suddenly on the chicks and shoo them off their territory. It can be a noisy time as you hear them sending the chicks off. It seems cruel but it’s all part of growing up and perfectly natural. These chicks will need to find their own territory with enough food to sustain them if they are to survive, and the parents know that.
I will miss them when they go though. This month I held a number of owl safaris and invited customers to come and see the tawny owls. I felt as though they must have known they were on show because all 10 owls, including the parents, made an appearance. It was such fun watching the tawny owls bobbing up and down in unison as they sat on the branch outside the living room!
My owl safaris run each year in July. For details and to book on click this link.Author: Robert E Fuller