This is not a commercial site, which means we depend upon the generosity of people like you to keep the camera on, and this remarkable educational resource available for the world to enjoy. Moreover, donations fund all the other important work we do here at the Audubon Starr Ranch Sanctuary. So if you like the webcam, or anything else at Starr Ranch, please consider helping us out. Any contribution is deeply appreciated. And they are all tax-deductible. We are a 501(c)(3) non profit.
The cam/cavity is located at Audubon California’s Starr Ranch Sanctuary in southern California.
Coordinates are: 33°37’45.90″N,117°33’14.89″W
We don’t have any info on the adults using this cavity prior to 2008. In 2009 the male and female were banded, but we were unable to read the band on the female, so don’t know her history. However, the male was captured that season and fitted with a color band on left leg (black with a white ‘87′). The current female, who raised at least three clutches (a group of eggs laid in a nest at one time) in the cavity, was banded as at least a two-year old on 03/07/07 approximately 300 yards south of the cavity. The current male is at least 9 years old, having been banded as at least a three-year old on 04/07/06, also approximately 300 yards south of the cavity . He sired the chicks in 2010 but is not the same male as 2009 male. (Info as of Jan, 28 2012)
We don’t name these owls for a couple of reasons. 1)These are truly wild birds (not domestic and not pets) so I feel names are probably not appropriate. 2)When we are watching activity, especially of chicks, names are very difficult to keep straight as opposed to #1, #2, etc. (given in the order they hatched). For the adults, “Female” and “Male” work best and “Mrs.” and “Mr.”, etc. also OK.
However, I have no problem if anyone wants to give them names. Just keep in mind that someone new to the site will not know who you’re talking about if you comment using a name whereas “Female”, “Male”, “Chick#X”, etc. leaves no doubt as to which one you are talking about.
The cavity is in a huge Eucalyptus tree where a limb “ripped out” about 20 years ago, pulling some of the inside of the tree with it. It is at least 2 feet deep and 18″ across with more room off to the back left. It is also hollow above (sometimes adults or chicks go up there), but we do not know how far up it goes.
It is about 40 feet up and we have a permanent ladder installed to make frequent climbs efficient. In theory, predators such as snakes or raccoons can enter the cavity, but to date viewers have not seen anything attempt to attack the eggs or chicks. Viewers have seen an occasional hummingbird flutter in.
Cavity location : 33°37’46.18?N,117°33’15.12?W in Google Earth or most other internet mapping sites.
From banding data, wild BNOWs live up to 12-15 years. If you are interested in longevity of other birds check out the Banding Lab’s Longevity Records. But more important, please understand that survival rates of BNOWs offspring (and this applies to all birds in general season to season) is extremely low – perhaps 5-10% at best make it to adulthood and breeding. Here’s why: Unlike humans who produce a few offspring (let’s say 1-6) over the course of their entire life time, birds produce these numbers of offspring numbers EVERY YEAR, many starting at their first year of adulthood which can be 1 year old. In the case of a BNOW pair, who for the sake of example might live ten years, they have the potential to produce 5-10 offspring EVERY YEAR over NINE years. Let’s say they average six/year. This means by the time they die they will have produced 9 X 6 = 42 young to replace the two of them. There is simply not enough room on the planet to accommodate all, especially given that there are millions and millions of birds doing the same thing every single year.
When incubating eggs, the female will stay in the cavity for most of the night, leaving occasionally for reasons not totally clear to us. The male is often out all night hunting and will return with prey. The male may or may not spend the day in the cavity. If not, he will roost in a nearby tree, as many BNOWs do. As chicks hatch and grow, both adults will roost outside of the cavity during the day, and deliver food at night. Once chicks fledge, the cavity may go unused for sometime until this pair, or another pair, decide to use it again for roosting and breeding. However, chicks often use the cavity to roost during the day for several weeks after they fledge.
Among other things, banding birds allows us to gain knowledge of how long they live and where they live and/or migrate. Much of data that’s gathered from banded birds can come from band numbers read from birds that are found dead or captured and released. However, the bands on birds the size of these owls can often be read with a spotting scope or, in this case, a zoom camera.
Birdbanding was formally regulated by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but now by the USGS. You must have a permit to band birds and this is also regulated by USGS. Every band has a unique # on it and all bands are tracked in a database managed by USGS. In addition, the proper band sizes are known and, in most cases, every individual of a particular species will wear the same sized band. Last, raptor (birds of prey) chicks grow so rapidly that often by the time they are two weeks old their legs are large enough to comfortably wear and adult sized band
The adult BNOWs currently using the cavity have a US Fish & Wildlife Service aluminum leg band on their right leg. The male also has a “Monel” brand leg band on his left leg. Monel bands normally have the bander’s name and telephone number and a unique number. It has been found that people will tend to more often report a band if there is a name and local telephone # on it. Young BNOWs that hatch in this cavity will get a single aluminum band btw 2-6 weeks of age. They normally fledge around 7.5-8 weeks.
If you find a bird with a band you can report it online or call the 800 # found on more recent bands. In the past reporting was done by mail and you could simply send the info to “Bird Band, Laurel, MD”. By any method, the Bird Banding Lab (BBL) will get back to you with information about when and where the bird was originally banded.
Potential BNOW predators include Great-horned Owls and mammals that include Bobcat, Grey Fox, and Coyote all of which are present at Starr Ranch.
Barn owls produce a variety of vocalizations, although the ‘meaning’ of them is not always clear. For example, you may hear the female ‘rasping’ repeatedly, particularly before she produces and starts incubating eggs, but we do not know what, if anything, is being communicated. BNOWs also hiss and bill-snap when threatened. They do not “hoot”. Search Youtube for examples of BNOW sounds.
BNOWs lay one to up to a dozen or more eggs/year/per clutch (sometimes they have more than one clutch/year). A ‘clutch’ is a group of eggs laid in a nest at one time. Larger clutches sometimes result in not all chicks surviving. Two common reasons for this: 1) Not all the eggs always hatch. 2) When the female lays the first egg she begin incubating it, meaning development begins. It takes her 1.5 to 2 days to lay the next egg. So, for example, if she lays 7 eggs, it may have taken her two weeks to lay them all. They will hatch accordingly, each one after approximately 30 days. This means by the time egg #7 hatches, egg #1 (if it hatched) will already have 2 weeks of development under its belt. BNOW chicks can fly at around 8 weeks, so 2 weeks is a lot of development time and younger chicks are sometimes not strong enough to compete with larger, older siblings for food.
BNOWs ‘cast’ or regurgitate undigested parts of their food as a mass or pellet. A pellet is mostly comprised of fur and bones, and previously cast pellets can often be seen on the floor of the cavity as small, dark lumps. You can also find owl pellets under the trees that they roost in. Analyzing pellets can also tell you what they’ve been eating because you can identify prey species by skulls, bones and/or fur.
Barn owls eat a variety of vertebrates. Here, most are rodents, such as wood rats, mice or pocket gophers. For a list of all mammals found at Starr Ranch, see here. The adult female will bite off parts for the youngest chicks, but within 7-10 days chicks will rip off bits of prey on their own. By two weeks of age, they’ll consume a whole animal, as long as it is a small enough – such as a mouse.
2008 clutches and earlier: This cavity has been in existence for perhaps 20+ years. A large limb fell ripping out the inside of the tree to create it. It is unknown how long BNOWs have used it. However, we have banded chicks from this cavity for at least the last 8-10 years. The first cam went up around 2007 and was simply watched here at Starr Ranch. Webcam viewing began around 2008. In 2008 there were 5 eggs. The first 2 hatched several days ahead of 3, 4,and 5. and 3-5 didn’t make it.
2009: Info coming soon.
(Laying, Hatching, Band#)
Egg 1 – 01/02/2010 11:00, Hatch 02/03/2010 06:15, 907-04043 #1
Egg 2 – 01/04/2010 10:30, Hatch 02/04/2010 09:30, 907-04040 #2
Egg 3 – 01/06/2010 15:30, Hatch 02/07/2010 03:00, 907-04044 #3
Egg 4 – 01/09/2010 06:30, Hatch 02/09/2010 03:15, 907-04041 #4
Egg 5 – 01/11/2010 11:00, Hatch 02/12/2010 16:30, 907-04042 #5
These two did not survive:
Egg 6 – 01/13/2010, 17:30, Hatch 02/13/2010 08:30
Egg 7 – 01/16/2010, 11:00, Hatch 02/16/2010 01:45
Other 5 chicks all fledged.
Egg 1 05/21/2010 08:00
Egg 2 05/23/2010 09:00
Egg 3 05/25/2010 01:00
Egg 4 05/28/2010 04:00
Three eggs hatched and all three chicks fledged in August. [top]
Egg#1 01/07/11 ~7:30AM Hatched ~12:30AM 02/07/11
Egg#2 01/09/11 ~7:30AM Seen ~ 2:00AM 02/09/11
Egg#3 01/11/11 ~8:40AM Hatched ~ 2:20AM 02/11/11
Egg#4 01/13/11 ~7:20AM
Egg#5 01/15/11 ~8:05AM
Egg#6 01/17/11 ~8:10AM
Egg#7 01/19/11 ~11:00AM
The ants commonly found in and around the cavity are velvety tree ants, which viewers may see crawling on the fixed camera at the entrance to the cavity. These ants are normally harmless to the owls and perhaps play an important role in eating unused and rotting prey items that often accumulate. .
European honeybees are commonly found on Starr Ranch. Although they were harder to find over the last several years, more recently they have become quite common again and hives are found in many natural cavities all over Starr Ranch. The comings and goings of the bees at this cavity are not a threat to the owls and occur from time to time. The bees are not in an aggressive mode – they are not defending a hive – and there’s not a lot exposed area on the owls that’s “stingable” anyway. They may “annoy” the owls, but that’s about the extent of it.
However, if the bees decide to start a hive in the cavity, then we will get to watch them build it and the owls will find a new spot. I make no apologies for saying upfront that I will not intervene should bees decide to take over the cavity. For one thing, there is not much I can do to prevent the bees from checking out the cavity. And if they do decide to build I’ve already learned that it is almost impossible to find a beekeeper willing to come out and move the hive to another location – especially one 40 feet up in a tree. And I will not exterminate them.
If you hear voices, vehicles, etc., it is because this cavity is in the heart of our headquarters (see photo below; cavity at top of ladder). Children, adults, volunteers and researchers are frequently nearby participating in the entire range of activities offered at Starr Ranch. In any case, the owls are used to all this.
Current fixed cam (left view) is a Supercircuits PC185 IR (infrared), but I think this model is discontinued. Closest replacement might be PC177RHR-4 (Not in SC online catalog – call them). Keep in mind that at short distance you don’t need a lot of IR range. The connection is hardwired using VT-1 transceivers (Not in SC online catalog – call them) on RG-6 coax cable. Pan/Tilt/Zoom cam (right view) is a PC407PTZ. It also uses a VT-1 connection on RG-6 which is paired with Cat 5E to provide two leads for RS485 control of P/T/Z. I am currently using PTZ Controller software.
Cameras stream one A/V signal each via a PC using PCI analog to digital cards or USB analog to digital connections via Microsoft Windows Media Encoder software (free). Any PC with a decent processor will do. Video streams go to a server that can support hundreds of simultaneous users.
Posting pictures (by Trish): I use Fraps to capture images from the owl cam, although there are other programs available. You can download and use the program for free at http://www.fraps.com. It is very easy to use.
Once you install it, open the program. You’ll want to do a little configuration. I created a folder on my desktop called Owl Shots and that’s where I told Fraps to store my screen shots and videos. By default it stores them at C:\Fraps. You can change the location by clicking on the Change button, and browsing to the folder of your choice. I just find it easier to have them on my desktop.
On the Screenshots tab, my configuration is hotkey F4 (the default is F10), and both boxes are unchecked. In the free version, your only choice is .BMP and that should be okay, except if you take full screen images they will be large files. To capture an image, simply press your selected capture key.
Remember, you can only post images that are about 4 inches max or they will be cut off on the message board. So if you make a full screen capture, you will have to crop it, or shrink it. I use Paint for that. You figure that one out on your own. I suggest just taking captures off the page in regular size, so no hassles, and no more lessons here.
Once you have the image captured that you want to post, you have to upload it to a “host site”. Many host sites are free. I use http://s101.photobucket.com but there are others you can use.
How to Use PHOTOBUCKET (Borrowed from Chil forum, edited by Trish)
Once you’re registered, create your album. I named mine owls. Upload your image by pressing the green UPLOAD button, browse for your image, the click open.
If you want to select multiple images, hold down the Ctrl button while you select them all. It will then ask if you want to tag your images. I usually just skip this by clicking on my image. Once you’ve tagged, or skipped tagging, and gone back to the main album page, select the image your want and click on it. Select the direct link box, click in it and either right click and select copy, or use keyboard shortcut ctrl + C. Do not use the other links, they won’t post right.
Go back to the owlcam page, and enter your info in the box to add a comment.
Then click in the comment box, and enter your info. Then select Click here right below the comment box and the dialogue shown will open. Paste your URL of the image your copied from Photobucket in the box and click OK. Your link should show up something like the one shown. Then enter the captcha and click on submit button. Your image should post on the message board.
Bandwidth is the capacity of any given internet connection to handle X amount of data flow in both directions. For example (and I’ll use the term “units” instead of megabits, megabytes, etc.) a typical business might have/pay for 1500 units of upload capacity (to send email, etc.) and 1500 units of download capacity (to view web pages, streaming video, and get email) When I stream a cam I use about 200 units of our available upload capacity to send the stream to a server. Think of the receiving server as being one person watching the cam, i.e. a continuous download of my upload video. In turn, this server is connected to the internet and can have, say, 200,000 units of upload and download capacity.
This server is where you and anyone in the world accesses the Starr Ranch cams, because EVERY viewer uses 200 units to see the cam on their computer So, in the example, the server that receives my single, 200 unit stream can handle 1,000 users at one time (200 X 1,000= 200,000). Remember that my capacity is 1500. If I tried to provide the stream directly, 8 users (200 X 8 = 1600) would quickly overload my capacity.
So if all the above makes sense, how does timing out the feed save bandwidth? Using a server like I described above is not free, but it is necessary in most cases because most situations (like us) don’t have their own servers and access to high capacity bandwidth . So we have to pay for bandwidth. Usually there are flat rates for X amount of capacity and then surcharges as you go over or “burst” to higher capacity use. Here’s an example. Audubon had a cam on an eagle nest in FL last year. It was getting some modest attention – maybe 100 viewers at a time – and cost about $1,500/ month for the server company to provide the capacity for this many users. THEN there was a media piece on the cam (maybe was TV spot) and the # of people accessing the cam skyrocketed. And so did the expense because more and more capacity (bandwidth) was needed. At one point the monthly bill went up to $15,000!!
So, if I don’t have the cam time out, what’s to keep any user from clicking on the barn owl cam and then walking away from their PC and coming back in an hour or two, or maybe just leaving it streaming 24/7? Nothing. But the problem is that every second that the page is open it is using bandwidth. And we have to pay for this bandwidth, whether users are watching or not. Put another way, it’s like leaving the lights on when you leave a room. Only difference is that we have to pay the light bill…
It’s approximately 30 days.