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Sad news from Strix and Aluco

Over the last few weeks, many of us have been logged onto Aluco in her nest box, incubating her eggs. Tawny incubation is 30 days. We had only a week or so to go until hatch date. There has been something rather lovely about having this beautiful tawny owl gracing our screens, even if she was just generally sleeping! Night time brought visits in from Strix as he would deliver a snack to Aluco.

On the 20th, when Aluco left the box, I noticed another dimple in one of the two remaining eggs. After losing the first egg to what looked like a very thin shell, I was dismayed to see this, as it would mean the egg was unlikely to hatch. I was slightly consoled by the fact we still had one egg that, as far as I could see, was ok.

To have lost two eggs to cracking, it is clear there is some kind of problem and it is very difficult to determine what this might be.

Generally, the average lifespan of a tawny is 4-6yrs. I have been filming Aluco for 5 years. Could it be that, as she is ageing, she is less likely to produce healthy eggs? Is is a dietary deficiency? It is almost impossible to say.

Sadly, when I woke this morning, there were a barrage of emails and messages informing me that there were no eggs in the nest box.

Sadly, a Microsoft update had shut down the PC at YewView, meaning that the recordings had stopped. I had no access to the camera from home either. I had to rely on the screenshots that people had saved as they watched, for me to piece together what I think happened. The dimpled egg must have broken first I think. Aluco ate the egg and its contents. We were only just over a week from hatch date, yet there seemed no evidence of an embryo, so this egg could have been infertile. At some point, the final egg must have also broken and was eaten. This left an empty nest box this morning.

Aluco has remained in the box today, either sitting in the entrance or inside the box. With no eggs, her urge to remain in the box will pass and I think she will leave. This is a better scenario than her sitting on infertile eggs. I have filmed this in the past. As long as there are eggs there, they stay incubating, even way after the 30 days has passed.

For many years, she has actually not laid her first egg until early March. This year's clutch were very early. There is a very slim chance, she may try again, and I really hope she does. I am very sad not to have this family to follow again. What we always need to remember when watching wildlife is that success is never guaranteed. At any point, something can happen; predation, weather conditions, illness, lack of prey.... so many variables that stack against wild creatures.

Do owls grieve? It is very hard to say whether they feel a loss at this stage? Incubation is an instinctive behaviour and when the trigger (the eggs) is removed, then the instinctive behaviour goes. I do not think that she 'thinks' about the life that could have been or grieves in the same way as we might, but it certainly must be a confusing time for her.

We have to be thankful for every moment we get to share their lives and take every set-back as a learning opportunity.

Thankfully, as we move toward March, activity in the other nest boxes will start to increase and we should have some other exciting families to watch very soon.

I will finish this blog post with a more uplifting video.... one of my more novel camera set-ups.... may be these blue tits will take up residence!


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