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Natural Treasures | Three Precious Tawny Owlets
I’ve been up late most nights finishing off new original paintings for an exhibition at my gallery in Thixendale. It’s been hard to concentrate because of a particularly raucous pair of tawny owls outside. It is ironic since paintings of these birds rank among the ‘natural treasures’ I have on display. Click here for more information about my exhibition: Natural Treasures
The tawny owls live in the valley below my gallery and their nightly chorus of shrieks, hoots and ‘kee-wicks’ is the sound of them chasing away young birds that dare enter their territory – including their own chicks. It seems an aggressive way for parents to greet returning offspring, but tawny owls suffer no prisoners when it comes to defending territory.
They turn with sudden malice from devoted, attentive parents to aggressors. They shriek at their young, flying straight at them to chase them out of their territory. I have seen one juvenile so badly battered he was cut from his face to his feet. Ordinarily, I am not perturbed by the noises of nature, but this commotion is particularly worrying to listen to now since this year’s chicks were lucky to survive at all.
Two of them were actually foundling chicks that I added to the nest in the hope the adult owls would raise them as their own. Click here to learn more about how I do this. Thankfully, they did. The third was also the pair’s only chick to survive after the adult female owl fell dangerously ill in the spring.
Natural Treasure: A Near Disaster
She was due to lay when I first noticed her lying motionless on the nest floor, her head facing out of the nest entrance. I wondered if she was egg bound. I had seen her labouring as if to try to push out an egg, and this seemed the most plausible explanation. When she continued to lie on the floor of the nest day after day, I feared the worst. It was very distressing to watch. I could see her via cameras hidden inside her nest box, a large construction made from an old beech stump.
The male kept returning to the nest wearing a quizzical expression as if wondering where their clutch was. Over the years this tawny owl pair has raised generations of chicks in my garden as well as fostering a number of foundling owlets and I was very sad at the prospect of losing one. Then one night she stood up, unsteadily, in the nest. The following day, she wasn’t in the box. I went off looking for her, expecting to find her on the ground, too weak to fly.
I located her in another nest box, this one made from an old ash stump and also rigged up with hidden cameras. I could see her on-screen opening and closing her beak as if gasping for air. This behaviour suggested that, rather than being egg-bound, she was possibly suffering from Frounce, a yeast infection of the digestive tract. This debilitating condition is transmitted by eating infected birds and initially manifests itself by white spots around the mouth or crop.
Natural Treasure: One Precious Chick Hatches
At this, I abandoned any hope of the tawny owls breeding this year and was doubtful whether the female would survive at all. But then, to my amazement, the female returned to her original nest box, Beech Stump, having seemingly made a full recovery. And when, three weeks later, she went on to lay her first egg, I felt a surge of pride to see her stand up tall and majestically fluff out her feathers to reveal her precious white egg.
When her mate came into the nest, she swiveled her head towards him before coyly lifting up to reveal the egg. She filled her throat pouch with air, threw her head back and let out a heart-warming, choked-up screech, as if to say ‘look, we’ve done it!’ So when she went on to lay another two eggs, it felt like a miracle had taken place. She incubated all three eggs for a total of 32 days, but sadly only one hatched.
When it became apparent that this precious chick was going to be the only owlet in the nest, I noticed the female become quite protective. She rarely left the nest and over the following few days remained very guarded over her solitary chick, spending most of her time brooding it. As a result, I only got very short glimpses of the newly-hatched chick. It was quite funny when she eventually lifted off because the tiny chick immediately tumbled backwards without the support of its mother’s body. But in time the adult female began to spend more time away from the nest and I got to see this special little tawny owl chick, with its fluffy downy feathers.
One of the reasons tawny owls are so successful is that they have such a varied diet. During this period the parent birds brought in mice, voles and young rats. The female even brought in a young frog one wet evening. As the tawny owlet grew close to the point of fledging, I was handed two foundling tawny chicks by a local rehabilitation centre, a charity I work closely alongside to help release animals and birds back into the wild.
I placed them gently into the nest next to the astonished, chick. The two foundlings were also just at the point of fledging and flew out of the nest to a nearby branch that very evening. Thankfully the adult birds cannot count and when the male returned with some food for its chick it responded to the calls from the foundlings and simply fed all three. It seems fitting that this pair originally laid three eggs and ended up caring for three chicks after all.
And for me, it felt like a miracle that the adult female survived her ordeal and went on to care for a new brood. I was privileged to watch all three chicks grew to maturity, enjoying special moments when the adult pair brought them to my garden bird table and fed each precious chick in turn.
So to hear them turn on these young treasures now is particularly difficult. It is natural, of course, but I hope these young chicks find their own territories soon and can stay out of harm’s way.
My Tawny Owl Paintings
Tawny Owl Art Prints
Below is my collection of tawny owl paintings inspired by watching the owls in my garden.
The Owl Art Collection
I also paint barn owls and little owls.
You may also be interested in my owl art gifts, a collection of beautiful homeware and gifts featuring my best-selling owl art prints.
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