As a human imprint, Alice the Great Horned Owl thinks I'm her mate. She directs many of her vocalizations toward me and expects me to respond appropriately. Since no one has written a book titled "How to Be a Male Great Horned Owl," nor has ever studied their vocalizations, I took on the task. I record both Alice and wild owls, but realized I needed a captive breeding pair to record all of the vocalizations and vocal development starting while they are still in the egg.
I received permits from the state and federal government to breed a pair of Great Horned Owls who are blind in their right eyes, Rusty and Iris. They live in a 1000+ square foot breeding and release training complex outfitted with six security cameras and microphones so they can be observed without knowing it.
Although the audio and video from all the cameras is archived for 4 days, it is impossible for me to review it all. To solve this problem I broadcast live video feeds of two of the cameras to our website and ask viewers to help with observations by filling out online observation forms when certain vocalizations and behaviors are seen. I have gotten FANTASTIC observations that I could never have made by myself.
This Citizen Science project is excellent for the viewers too. People from around the world watch at all times of day. Many of these people do not have many friends, are ill, or otherwise don't have much of a social life. Our online chat room provides a place for them to make friends (and many of them have now come to our International Festival of Owls and have met in person.) But it also gives them a sense of importance because they are not merely watching cute little owls, they are actually making meaningful contributions to research.
It has been great to see how the people in chat have responded to my questions, and to see their own scientific curiosity sparked. They want to learn more! I also use the opportunity to teach them how to live in more owl-friendly ways.
Funded by Awesome Without Borders (June 2013)