Powerful Owl NestCAM - you MUST read the first post before commenting

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DavidB
DavidB's picture
Powerful Owl NestCAM - you MUST read the first post before commenting

Hi all, I'm the Powerful Owl project officer and we have got a nest camera up and running, Yah!! It is not live though (so you don't have to watch in the middle of the night) but I will be uploading weekly edits of the weeks best footage (generally on a friday).

This topic has been created so that you can all discuss what is happening and ask questions. I will attempt to be on the forum every monday to answer questions, others are more than welcome to provide answers too.

IMPORTANT - this is NOT a place to advertise accurate nesting locations. This is against the licence conditions for this project and a good way to cause signiificant disturbance to nesting owls. Any such postings will be deleted straight away. Discussions of 'parks', 'reserves' or broad general locations is acceptable. Please do not ask for the location of the nest camera.

I know there will be questions as to the disturbance created by the camera and myself. We have gone to great lengths to manage this, with regular visits to the site with the (camouflaged) equipment beginning many months ago for the owls to become used to the disturbance. Visits are undertaken by a single person in the middle of the day with particular attention given to the behaviour of the owls. If at any stage the owls look agitated during visits or footage to that effect is collected, the nest camera will be removed.

To see the nestCAM, visit: http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/Powerful-Owl-NestCAM

Lets keep our fingers crossed for some exciting footage and successful breeding!!

Happy owling :)

Holly
Holly's picture

Take advantage of having Dave around and ask him lots of questions - he is fast becoming an owl guru smiley

 

Great care has gone into ensuring the safety of this pair whilst still providing you all with some amazing insights into these birds.

 

Woko
Woko's picture

Terrific! And another demonstration of how critical it is to preserve old native trees.

rawshorty
rawshorty's picture

I wish you the best with your study, David. It looks like the cam should have little impact on the owls (at least your not putting cattle tags on there wingswinkSorry could not resist) I am looking forward to more footage and the little ones to come. I agree with Woko 100%, too many people see a dead tree as firewood but they are critical for many of our native wildlife. In Canberra with all new suburbs there is a large area set aside as a reserve, perhaps your footage could be used to make this a standard across the country.

Shorty......Canon gear

Canberra

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rawshorty/ 

Araminta
Araminta's picture

I am so very fortunate to have some Powerful Owls in my area. I have heard them and the trilling of their young for many years. I have heard them very close by in my trees last year, and the years before. But so far not.

If David could please tell me what time of the year I should expect to hear them again? I'm getting very worried. The DSE has done some burning (Grrrrrrrrrr), and also a lot of tree felling, for reasons I don't understand.

I live next to the Bunyip State Park in Victoria.

M-L

GregL
GregL's picture

I really don't think this sort of thing should be encouraged. This technology is freely available, the idea that it is ok to invade birds' nests it's more for entertainment than anything else. How many of these things will be set up by birders without authorisation? It is worse than feeding birds, I remember that collecting eggs was once a popular childhood hobby.

Leave wild animals alone, they need less human contact, not more.

Holly
Holly's picture

We absolutely understand your concerns but the camera will not be coming down unless, as Dave said, they become agitated by its presence. Observations over the long lead up period have not indicated that yet. I am sure Dave will elaborate when he is next online but we have taken every effort to ensure minimal disturbance for these birds (in consultation with other experts) and every other pair that are monitored as a part of the Powerful Owl project. These are urban birds - they are breeding in remnant habitat (and in some cases backyards) within the urban landscape. Even so, we have strict protocols in place for visitation and approaching the site.

The camera will not only give us insights that we can't make otherwise but is also a useful education tool - people don't protect  nature unless they care about it. We will have some notes put on the camera page that outlines that we don't encourage people to do this themselves etc though just to make it clear. Of course we don't want people trampling all over powerful owl breeding sites (hence all nest and territory locations are not made public - even amongst volunteers working on the project). This opportunity allows us to educate people about the magnificent birds that are around them and link that to key messages - such as the need to retain large trees with hollows.

 

---
---'s picture

How does having a small camera near a birds habitat affect them? You go there,put up the camera,leave,and they will forget about that soon and then what? There's a tiny camera on a branch near them,not affecting them,scaring them,hurting them,not even moving. I don't see how that is "invading" birds' nests at all. It benefits us by allowing us to get a view we would not be able to get otherwise.

Holly
Holly's picture

Happy to answer your questions shirley smiley

 

By urban birds - I am simply referring to birds that live in urban areas with us - birds that live in towns and cities etc. That is not to say they are not wild birds by any stretch, they absolutely are - and that also isn't saying that they wouldn't prefer to live in natural habitats where there is no disturbance. We often classify birds by the habitat they are in (though there are other options). BIBY focusses on the birds that live where people live. Research shows that some birds are now more common in urban areas than their natural habitats (magpies, currawongs, rainbow lorikeets etc), some tolerate urban areas (though some are less common than they used to be) and many many birds don't live with us - they require natural bushland to survive. Whilst BIBY focusses on the birds in urban/regional areas - conservation of natural habitat should be our no. 1 priority to protect birds (and other BirdLife Australia projects tackle that issue). 

 

There are also a whole suite of ways to educate people (both the general public and professionals/farmers, land managers etc) - different techniques work for different groups and we (environmental educators and ecologists/researchers) need to tailor our message for these different audiences.

 

We will word any changes to the web page careful, I will be discussing it with Dave on Monday.

 

Just a final note - of course not everyone is going to care about birds - we don't all like/appreciate the same things. I do, however, feel very passionately about the fact that more people can and will, and BIBY is one way that we can educate people and help conserve birds. My role at BIBY is one that I take very seriously, it is my passion as well as my job and I strongly believe in what I do and how I can help.

Araminta
Araminta's picture

Here is what I can add to this. I have Powerful Owls and Barking Owls living close to me. I have been hearing them for years as I said. I can hear them in the tree just outside my house at night and early in the mornings, and the trilling of the young begging. I can hear them land on the roof just above my room, they use the roof to sit on and hunt from. I have a fair idea (!) where they are nesting, but I wouldn’t tell anyone for reasons Shirley and Greg mention, I just want the birds to be left alone. I simply stay in bed and listen to them. Yes I’m tempted, but I resist the urge to go outside and “bother” them.

  There was an article in a local paper some weeks ago, someone had heard some weird screams in the trees. Some people suspected it might be a Barking Owl. The reporter was going to write a follow up the next week. It took a lot of talking to convince him to just let it go, and not report about it anymore, For the benefit of the Owl. And he didn’t, I must have been convincing.

As I said above, I haven’t heard “my Owls” for a while, I hope they are fine? Just would like to know what time of the year I can expect to hear the Powerful Owls around my house (near the Bunyip State Park Vic)? So far they are quiet, and that worries me.

M-L

GregL
GregL's picture

My objection is not to any particular case but the principle involved, also to piblicising this sort of activity. There has to be a limit to this sort of thing and I think the limit should be zero. I am sure it is possible to disguise the camera, but that does not justify the action. These birds are not there for our entertainment, I am quite happy if education confines itself to filming from a distance. Every little action like this erodes the concept that these are wild birds, in our minds they start to become domesticated.

DavidB
DavidB's picture

Hi all, there are lots of issues that have been raised here and valid in many contexts and there are always going to be differences of opinions about this sort of thing. Healthy debate is critical in all aspects of life/society I believe.

I feel I should respond to the many points raised from my view point and that of the Powerful Owl Project (be warned - long reply...), although Holly has covered them well and I will not reiterate her points too much

In addition it is worth noting that I have already been contacted by other owl experts who have already been able to observe new behaviours previously unknown in the species.

  1. The camera is endorsed through the NSW animal ethics committee, made up of well respected scientists, vets and ethicists. This committee evaluates the methods proposed and likely benefits to the species against potential disturbance and other negative impacts. I agree with comments above and should emphsise the need for this approval on the camera page and that this activity is not endorsed without critical evaluation - these changes will be made ASAP.
  2. In regards to the 'urban birds' and the 'getting used to humans'. This nest is within 50m of houses (plus kids, dogs etc..) in Sydney and above a public walkway. I believe these owls very much know what a human is, what level of threat they are (being a hollow dependant species, in terms of predation - zero threat). These considerations have formed part of the process in determining what nest to use for the camera.
  3. Leaving birds alone is great and it would be fantastic if we could. However taking this attitude will not allow us to learn about particular behaviours that may (although also may not) provide us with better information on how to manage the species. Leaving them alone (as has been the dominant status quo for most of Australia's history) will continue the current declining trend of the majority of our native wildlife - out of sight means out of mind in our society and nothing will be achieved this way. Like it or not all of our natural areas have been modified and are all managed to some degree and we need to take a proactive approach to this management, reactionary (when things go wrong) wildlife management has been seen time and time again to be far less effective.
  4. What is the value of education? Is a child or a developer or a politician more likely to want to conserve an owl or hollow-bearing tree they have just been told about, or to want to act based on seeing footage of an owl in its native habitat, utilising a tree hollow that previously they had had to imagine (particularly if personal circumstances do not allow them to access natural areas)? Is a small amount of disturbance to a single pair of owls a larger issue than the potential use of footage showing a species in its natural environment (& an intimate part of their behaviour) that can be freely shared and benefit the species as a whole through many avenues? These questions are very much open to debate but from my long experience in wildlife management I firmly sit on one side of the fence.
  5. There was a question regarding the owls facing away from the camera. This is normal behaviour for the owls to face 'into' the hollow during this time of courting and hollow preparation. Also a factor of the 'perch' orientation.
  6. Also a question on the importance of observing owls in all times of the year and not just during the breeding period. This nest camera forms a very small part of the whole project. Other aspects include monitoring breeding success in many urban territories (not using cameras), distribution of owls throughout the year, monitoring of prey abundance, landscape/vegetation characteristics, threat management (fire, ferals, car-strike), impacts of disturbance, education (communities, schools, land managers) - the list goes on.
  7. It is mentioned that 'filming from a distance' is OK. This is exactly what we are doing here - with even less disturbance than a regular camera. David Attenborough has made a career out of turning wildife into entertainment and in my opinion achieved amazing success in bringing wildlife into peoples lounge rooms and creating an awareness of the natural world with the general public that is unsurpased in any realm (not comparing my self to him though!!!).
  8. I agree that there is a degree of risk in publicising this type of activity, but in a forum such as BIBY, I think the benefits out weight the negatives through those points described above.
  9. Araminta -the owlets should start trilling sometime in August (the date willl vary between nests)

A few thoughts and no doubt more debate to be had. However, I would like this forum to be used to discuss the owls, the behaviours observed, potential opportunities to use the footage wisely & discussions on owl conservation. I would like this forum to be positive and proactive about owl conservation and management.

rawshorty
rawshorty's picture

Thanks, David. I was about to write my thoughts on the discussion so far but you have just written almost everything i was going to say.

I think that by allowing people to see your footage is a good thing (and just a by-product of your study), if someone wants to see what owls do they can see it from the comfort of there homes and not add extra pressure on the owls by having every Tom, Dick and Harry going out and disturbing them.

Shorty......Canon gear

Canberra

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rawshorty/ 

GregL
GregL's picture

I really don't see the value of this for the owls. Education, research etc etc, this is all for the benefit of humans. At least be honest about it.

rawshorty
rawshorty's picture

Hi, Greg. I feel you are very passionate about this.

Can i assume that you don't live in a house? as the building materials used in the construction of a house have a huge impact on wildlife. Deforestation, clearing of land for the building block,clearing of land for the transportation of such goods etc. And the footprint the home takes up.

Can i also assume you don't have a car? spewing toxic gas into the air for the wildlife to breath. Clearing more land for you to drive on?

I can see you have your pc on using power, maybe lights and a heater..........more contribution to the impact on the wildlife.

The list can go on..........in short, unless you are creating no adverse effects on wildlife you can not be judgemental on people doing things that are not cruel to wildlife.

My 2c

Ps Thanks BrushTurkey for your last post, it took me 10min to clean the coffee off my monitorcheeky

Shorty......Canon gear

Canberra

http://www.flickr.com/photos/rawshorty/ 

dna1972
dna1972's picture

I can clearly see a problem with people making so many negative commentary. How much reading have you two done? Not the Readers' Digest kind of stuff, but the real juicy, (not) boring, scientific research papers etc? Of course, you can say anything you like online, it's easy to make an impression. I am sure if we spoke in person your lack of understanding of owl behaviour and biology would be obvious.

I am very closely involved with the lead scientists in this project and can assure any concerned parties that every move that is made in relation to the monitoring (whether in person, or via camera) is being closely scrutinized, documented and the welfare of the birds is of paramount importance to all parties participating. Urban owls seem to accept humans in many instances. As Dave said, some nests are ridiculously close to people's back yards etc. The owls are smart (far smarter than many humans I've had the displeasure of meeting) and adapt to the urban environment. In fact, in urban areas, a lot of their prey comes from people's back yards in the form of Common Brushtail and Common Ringtail Possums. Especially brushies, that tend to be very common along urban fringes.

The videos show a lot of perfectly normal owl behaviour as Dave also suggested. The study, which is a great initiative, is very useful to maintain the conservation efforts for urban bushlands where the owls can be found living/nesting. If people are not aware, they will fail to care. Most people don't have a clue what lives next door to their house, some may know or have heard the odd hoot. These people, many of them, once they become aware of the beautiful wildlife (not just owls) living beside their houses will be far more likely to put pressure (or aid initiatives aimed at protecting bushland) on the right areas of local governments etc.

Knowledge IS power as far as I am concerned. And the biggest threat facing these large forest owls (as well as Masked and Sooty Owls) is deforestation, land clearing, that is the removal of large, hollow-bearing, trees that are used for nesting. With the availability of suitable hollows decreasing consistently, these owls, and many other hollow-dependent wildlife, face increasing pressures to survive long term.

To say it's a project promoting self-interest for the benefit of humans is just well, how can I say it diplomatically? DAFT!

bloozsooz
bloozsooz's picture

For what it's worth, this project has just stopped me encouraging my husband to help a couple of dead trees fall over at our place.  And it appears to me that the project has not upset the birds in the slightest!  I look forward to the next episodes.  Thanks!

BloozSooz

Woko
Woko's picture

You & your husband are total heroes, boozsooz. We need to save every old native tree with hollows we possibly can.

Araminta
Araminta's picture

Yes Woko &bloozsooz, we have a dead tree standing very close to the house. Visitors will say, that tree is going to fall on the house soon. No, it just drops branches, and where they brake off, I can see holes . It's only been dead for 10 years, so it'll take many more before any Owls can move in. My husband and I look at it thinking, we won't live that long? And even more sad , the next owners of the house will cut it down as soon as they move in? I might hang a sign on the tree to explain the value of it, but I fear that won't save it.

M-L

GregL
GregL's picture

We get dieback round here, there are plenty of dead trees around. With global warming, lots of forests are dying it is the live trees you should be worried about. The proportion of really old trees is much lower than it should be, old trees provide dead branches and hollows for birds to nest in. I use dead trees for firewood but plant new trees every year and allow lots of regeneration.

bloozsooz
bloozsooz's picture

I have lots of dead trees ... we back onto Mt Buffalo NP - during fires in 2006 the DSE bulldozed what I termed a 4-lane highway directly around our perimeter which, at the time, I was quite pleased about.  They didn't knock any big trees down, but the big gums have since died anyway due to root disturbance and drought.  Sigh.  We have had a few fall onto our property which were fine as we used them for firewood.  There are LOTS of dead trees around our boundary fence now though, one of which could wipe out a water tank and/or other infrastructure when it falls.  I am now peering at this tree with a different perspective though ... it has lots of hollows ...

BloozSooz

DavidB
DavidB's picture

Agree with Woko - Bloozsooz well done on your decision to keep the dead tree, also your comments Araminta - so important to keep our dead trees.

In terms of hollows, sure the Powerful Owls don't like dead trees so much but many of our other owls species like, and even prefer, hollows in dead trees. In addition, hollows, cracks and flaking bark on dead trees is critical for many of our microchirpteran bat (micro bat) species, so many of them threatened. These little guys will use cracks/holes so small you would think they barely could squeeze even part of themselves in. Encouragingly many of these microbats survive in our cities too, so hollows of any size in your back yard whether in a live tree or dead tree is of value.

GregL - I take your point on the importance of live trees, don't think any one would disagree with your sentiments there, critical to have that age structure in our forests that we are so sorely missing at the moment.

Another point to remember about the importance of dead trees - once they fall they provide valuable habitat on the ground for small mammals, reptiles and foraging for many birds on the insects they attract. They then are slowly decomposed and the carbon they have taken out of the atmosphere to grow is locked into the soils and forests, along with some nutrients. Cutting a dead tree down to burn as firewood removes it from this habitat cycle and also releases all that carbon back into the atmosphere - negating to some degree the carbon they removed during growth (GregL - not a go at you, I realise you plant as well and that the majority of people with a conservation mindset learn how to balance these things well on their own land).

Araminta
Araminta's picture

I live in a similar location as you, we are surrounded by State Park and crown land. The crown land is the problem here. It is looked after (as they call it) by the DSE and leased by the Scout movement. A very sad combination for the forest. There is constant slashing , bulldozing, and burning. All to “protect us from bushfires” . Well, I can tell you, in a large fire like the one that came up (5minutes) behind us (Black Saturday, strangely enough in the bush behind us, it had burned for a few days already), felling old trees and slashing a break, is not going to stop a fire. Strong winds will make it jump across. The trees are sacrificed to calm people down. When the big fire was still more than 5km (as the crow flies) away, burning ambers landed in our garden. Slashing breaks is not preventing that, neither is felling trees. You have to make your house as fire safe as you can.

(BTW, grass fires burn houses down. No tree anywhere, it's what is around your house that will catch on fire )

In my opinion, we are sacrificing nature , to give us a false sense of security.

M-L

Woko
Woko's picture

I like your analysis, Araminta. In the Mt Lofty Ranges thousands of people have moved in & now there is a terrible move on to burn, burn, burn the bush before summer in order to protect the over-population. It's all about politics & calming people down, as you say. In fact, the exercise has become self-defeating as a significant proportion of controlled burn-offs have become uncontrolled, catastrophic conflagrations.

As for firebreaks, in my opinion they're a great way to encourage bushfires. The soil disturbance in creating them provides a fine environment for annual weeds to grow. In addition, the increase in light due to the canopy removal encourages these weeds to grow. When they dry off in summer they provide a wonderful fuel load for fires. And the weeds invade the high quality bushland which makes it more vulnerable to fire. It seems to me we're very much stuck in a Eurocentric way of living not with but against the Australian bush & this is after over 200 years of settlement!

gollum0
gollum0's picture

Having not known anything about Powerful Owls until moving into a new house near bushland 18 months ago, I would like to thank Birds in Backyards for making me aware of Powerful Owls and their need for a specific habitat in order for them to be able to breed successfully. I was fascinated to hear them while lying in bed at night and so did some googling which led me to Dave and the Powerful Owl Project. I was amazed to discover how large these bird are and how they therefore need large hollows in very old huge eucalypts and angophoras in order to set up a nest which will accomodate them and their babies. Up until this time the large holes in the sides of gums always seemed to me to mean the tree was diseased and I'm sure others may think the same.

By showing this great footage not only are we able to learn about Powerful Owl behaviour but also the great importance of preserving trees "with holes in them" which I now know are hollows and which I discovered through Bird in Backyards, are caused as a result of these trees naturally dropping large limbs. These trees are not diseased and the footage shows the importance of the hollows so clearly.

How many trees are lopped and removed with little or no attention being given to these "holes" and people not understanding their value?

Thank you David - I am loving the footage. Fantastic smooching at the nest entrance and love the tweeting babies - the owls don't seem at all worried by the camera! They are also not phased by our ex Guide dogs nor our comings and goings when the owls are hooting around our house. Maybe they are not learning anything from us but obviously from the forum discussions and the Owl Cam, lots of us humans are learning about how to keep their environment a little safer since we live in a country which has the ominous reputation for such a huge number of now extinct species of flora and fauna. Educating "us" to look out for our wildlife is so important and I again thank you.

Dot
Dot's picture

How often do powerful owls eat? I assume they don't need to catch a possum a day

DavidB
DavidB's picture

Dot, Powerful Owls eat basically everyday - like most birds with high metabolic rates they need regular food. Estimates are between 250-300 prey items a year. Makes you think how many ringtails etc.. disappear nightly!!!

However, one possum may feed both the male, female and young - so you are right, definitely not one possum per owl per night

Woko
Woko's picture

David, it also makes me aware of how important retention, indeed restoration, of habitats is.

DavidB
DavidB's picture

Definitely, and also the connectivity across the landscape -where retention and restoration can become so important. Birds are highly mobile (particularly big birds) but we all know that the small birds and many of our mammal/reptile/amphibian species require areas of habitat to be connected to allow movement, migration, gene flow, foraging etc..

Woko
Woko's picture

Right on, David. Even backyards can be part of wildlife corridors if neighbours are wildlife-friendly. Something for local governments to promote I would have thought.

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