End of the owl story

Mar 16, 2012 By Carolyn B. Tyler

Two years ago I wrote frequently in this column about a real-time webcam I was watching of an owl box in San Marcos, Calif.

The host, Carlos Royal, wife Donna and their grandson, Austin, eventually had 11 cameras on-site and reached more than 7 million viewers.

In the first clutch of a mated-for-life common barn owl pair they called Mollie and McGee, four eggs grew to adult owls and left the nest. We then watched the second clutch of two more owlets. Carlos and Austin took us, via webcam, into the owls' hunting fields, and then came the third clutch of four owlets.

The Royals went on vacation last fall, and the site was active to Molly and McGee's daily life only intermittently until a few weeks ago, when they reported there were four new eggs in the owl box. Those of us dubbed MODS (suffering from Mollie Obsessive Disorder) were excited that once again we were going to be treated to Molly sitting on the eggs as McGee brought food, first for her and then another brood of common barn owls.

But on Tuesday of this week, anticipation turned to sadness, when Carlos posted the following:

"It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we are reporting that we have not seen McGee (for three days), the day DeeDee hatched. We think he is gone. Last night, since McGee had not returned, Molly made the decision to go hunt for food, leaving DeeDee and the three remaining eggs to fend for themselves. We were expecting the second egg to hatch any time, in fact we thought we could hear peeping. Molly returned with a small mouse after about 45 minutes. All appeared well as Molly snuggled down on the eggs and began to feed DeeDee. We turned in for the night.

"When we got up this morning the second egg was over in the corner away from DeeDee and the remaining eggs. Molly was not in the box. We could detect no movement in DeeDee as she lay on top of the two remaining eggs. It appeared that DeeDee and the two remaining eggs had gone cold while Molly went searching for more food.

"When Molly returned with food she quickly placed the gopher in the pantry and checked on DeeDee. DeeDee showed no signs of life, so Molly gently lifted DeeDee and placed her away from the eggs. It was a very moving moment. She then lightly touched the eggs with the palm of her claw searching for the warmth of life. We could tell there was none as she rolled the eggs over and over continually touching them, not wanting to give up.

"Tears came to our eyes as we realized that Molly is the only survivor of the fourth clutch.

"Happiness and sorrow are part of the 'Cycle of Life.' The 'Way of the Owls' tells us each day is precious. It also gives us the statistic that barn owls in the wild only live, on average, about two years, and their young often don't survive. Sadly, we have seen this statistic proven true many times this year with the Starr Ranch male, the Rancho Bernardino male and now McGee and the fourth clutch.

"Donna and I will always remember McGee; what a magnificent barn owl he was. We have his photo in our living room with all our other family photos.

"After the sadness, but before darkness had gone away, Donna and I walked outside. When we looked up there were two owls in the sky circling the owl box. We think they must have known. More than likely they were owlets from the previous clutches...or at least we like to think so.

"Carlos, Donna and Austin"

Within 24-hours, 550 followers of the owl box had posted tributes to McGee and thanks to the family who shared the drama of their back yard with us.

A friend who watched me watch the owl box over the two years remarked, "I feel like a friend has died."

And another Riverton friend who logs into various bird cams said, "This is the tough part about watching these nests."

Nature has its unique beauty.

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