Bird Detectives to the max: Part 1

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So as Sweep Commander posted earlier, we definitely have at least one barn owl residing on the island. Over the course of the past month, the owl has been increasingly visible (and vocal!) in the evenings. It has been spotted with regularity by several of the island’s staff, including Sweep Commander and myself: flying over the island, perching on the fence outside of the cellhouse, hanging out in some of the eucalyptus trees on the Agave Trail near the dock.

Unfortunately for us, being a nocturnal animal, it is incredibly hard to photograph. I believe Sweep Commander got some fuzzy video of it sitting in a tree one night, but overall every attempt we’ve made to gather photographic evidence has left us with nothing more than ephemeral images. But what we have been able to gather may be even better.

One day, shortly after we had our first sighting walking up the island in the morning, I decided I was going to try to find evidence in the way of owl pellets. I assume that most of our readers know what these are, but for those that don’t, they’re a mass of regurgitated bones, hair, and other indigestible matter that owls and many other birds expel a few hours after eating. Dissecting owl pellets is a common activity in children’s classrooms, and since I grew up doing this, I decided this would be the best way to definitively show that we do have at least one owl living on the island.

The first place I looked was under the tree we saw it fly out of that morning, but I had no luck there. We both thought that Building 64 would probably be a good place for a barn owl to roost, especially since other employees had told us stories of seeing owls there in previous years and one of our bird biologists had found a dead barn owl in the area behind the building just a week or so prior.

So we headed to the area above a section known as “China Alley”. This part of the building consists of a sort of walkway made of metal grates above a long hallway, with apartments on one side and small rooms on the other.

I took this picture in the same area, standing on the grated walkway.

As we walked up to the second room, I immediately knew we’d found what we were looking for. In the spaces between the grates there were around 8 pellets stuck there. I collected a few to dissect on the island at a later date. We walked into the room and were immediately greeted with several Barn Owl feathers, more pellets, and a large amount of bird guano.

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Looking up, we could see that there was a sort of shaft in the ceiling of the room,

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underneath which all of these things were situated. I walked back outside of the room and looked above the entry way to see a fairly small opening in the brick above the door, the rectangular hole above the plant in the brick here:

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which I can only assume is connected to that shaft in some way and the likely place the owl spends a lot of its time. It also explains the location of the pellets outside of the door.

Further down toward the end of the walkway, we found an area with a few pellets and another small opening, though it did not have nearly as many obvious signs of an owl roost as this place did.

In Part 2, I’ll show you what I found upon dissecting the pellets. Stay tuned!

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