Molly the Barn Owl

Image of a barn owl, similiar to Molly

Molly the Barn Owl is a real-life nature lesson, a rare opportunity to watch motherhood in the wild.  Molly, a female barn owl nesting in San Marcos California, has laid six eggs (two of which hatched) and enjoyed numerous meals — all broadcast live on USTREAM!  Since her debut in February, nearly 2 million people have tuned in to see what she’s up to!

I think this very cool — people are REALLY interested in what the barn owl is doing.  Even if they are enjoying nature through their computer screens, they are still witnessing real, live natural events without any editing, buffering or mass-media infiltration.  This may be as close to a real owl as some folks might ever get.  You can even see her on Youtube eating a whole rabbit!

Watching Molly reminds me of an experience I had about 10 years ago at The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, NJ.  As an education intern, I spent my days teaching kids (ages 7-10) about the marsh, ocean and forests in this ecologically rich region of southern New Jersey.  When I wasn’t teaching, I was helping with the various research programs at the Institute, one of which was a Peregrine Falcon nesting project.

Several nesting stands were constructed and scattered around the marsh abutting the Institute, encouraging these falcons, once endangered by the wide-spread use of DDT and other pesticides, to nest in this safe-haven.  One stand had a pair of falcon which returned to the marsh year-after-year.  Peregrine falcons mate for life, so we were pretty sure they would continue to come back time and time again!  Given this predictability, we set up a video camera on the stand and connected it to a TV in the center (pretty low-tech compared to Molly’s USTREAM channel!).

The pair nested, laid eggs…and then, they hatched.  It was very early in the morning (especially for a group of college interns), but we all gathered around the TV and watched with great interest as each egg hatched and the cycle of motherhood began.  It was awesome — watching nature take its course and witnessing life beginning.   Not the typically thing you see college kids crowded around a TV screen for!

Peregrine Falcon Chick

Over the next several weeks we watched the chicks grow into their adult bodies (31-47in wingspan) and act like clumsy teenagers.  The days they spent learning to fly were the most exciting and humorous.  There were more than a few ‘crash-landings’ into the nest!  The Peregrine Falcon is often stated to be the fastest animal on the planet in its hunting dive, which must be a tough skill to learn.

At the end of the summer, it was time to tag the new falcons before they officially left the nest.  Since it was so late in the summer, most of the other interns had packed their bags — but since summer-camp was still running, I was there.  The team of bird-taggers needed another person to help out…so…I eagerly volunteered!

We set up a huge ladder to reach the tall nest (peregrines typically like to nest on tall cliffs and can be found in cities nesting on sky-scrappers).  We carried some canvas duffel bags, which I was a bit concerned about, not knowing the procedure.  Peregrines are BIG birds of prey with BIG talons and BIG beaks.  I was more than a bit apprehensive about what kind of damage one might do to me.

As we climbed the ladder, the other researchers calmed by nerves, telling me that the adult falcons fly off at the sight of an intruder.  The fledglings ‘play dead,’ even slowing their heart-rate to mimic their ‘dead’ state.  The adults stay far away until the intruders have gone, and then return to the next to check on their young.

So, we approached the nest and this exact thing happened.  We put each fledgling into a bag, carried them down the ladder, measured, weighed and tagged them (all with the birds completely limp with no audible heartbeat), then returned them to the nest.  Like clock-work, the adults returned to find their nest fully intact.

Coming back to Molly — I simply encourage you to watch, learn and enjoy this unique look into motherhood in the wild.  It’s a rare and wonderful glimpse into a bird’s life.  Enjoy!

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