Victoria birdwatchers turn virtual eye on window box owlets

There’s suspense, sibling rivalry and even — if you’re a rat — death.

The everyday lives of three young great horned owlets, growing up in a planter outside the fourth-floor window of an office building on West Burnside Road, are fascinating bird-lovers all over the world.

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The owlets have three real-time Hancock Wildlife Foundation webcams watching their every move and the drama is now increasing as they stretch their wings and prepare to “branch.”

(Click HERE to see the live feed)

“They clamber around and sometimes they fall from the nest,” said Jeff Krieger of Alternative Wildlife Solutions.

“They can’t fly, but they can climb and they usually climb up another tree and the parents feed them there.” That could be tricky when there is cement, not a soft forest floor, under the nest and when home is four storeys up, but Krieger is not unduly worried.

The owlets, who are spending much of their time stretching their wings, do have the ability to glide and appear to be built to fall, he said.

“And these owlets are being watched 24-7, so if anything happens, I can be out there to pick it up and put it back,” he said.

That didn’t stop avid owl-watchers from worrying as winds picked up Wednesday and one owlet stood looking into the abyss.

It will be about three weeks before the owlets fledge, Krieger said.

“But the big one is getting to the point where he might put in a trial flight.”

Since the cameras became operational on Feb. 13, a day before the eggs hatched, the group’s website has been viewed more than 41,660 times.

The height of the action comes when the parents, named Ollie and Ouellette on the Hancock discussion site, bring a rat or, on special occasions, a squirrel into the makeshift nest and the owlets practise pulling it apart.

Krieger was initially called to look at the female owl in January after office workers called B.C. SPCA’s Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre wondering whether the bird sitting motionless in their window box planter was injured. Then Krieger noticed the owl was sitting on eggs.

Great horned owls are opportunistic nesters, choosing not to build their own nests, but it is unusual for them to nest in a planter, especially one about a metre away from office workers, Krieger said.

“They are very close to human activity,” he said.

Krieger had previously worked with the non-profit Hancock Wildlife Foundation and suggested it would be a perfect opportunity to watch the owl couple raise their family.

“Now there are a ton of people watching from all over the world,” he said.

Great horned owls, which have prominent ear tufts and wingspans of up to 1.4 metres, are relatively common on southern Vancouver Island and have no major predators.

(Click HERE to see the live feed)

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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