TINY, THE LITTLE SCOPS OWL WITH THE BIG HEART.
Tiny is an African Scops owl (Otus Senegalensis). She was found on the ground as a baby after she had most probably fallen out of the nest and was taken in to Dr. Wood from Nahoon Bird and Animal Clinic in East London. He reared her by hand and then passed her on to me once she was out of danger.
When I saw her for the first time in December 2012, I immediately fell in love with this tiny, fragile little owlet. She was not fully grown yet and was just about to begin to learn to fly. Because of her miniature size, I couldn't put her in the owl room with Uiltjie and the other owls as they would most probably have injured or killed her. (In nature Spotted Eagle owls will actually prey on Scops owls as they are much smaller.) I decided to put her cage in our bedroom and opened her every night so that she could learn how to fly.
It soon became evident that Tiny had a bit of a problem with judging where to land. At first I ascribed it to the fact that she was still learning to fly, but as she grew older, it became evident to me that she really had a problem. She would almost every time land short of, or under the perch where she wanted to land. I personally think that she suffered from concussion, causing some slight brain damage, when she fell out of the nest and that this influenced her judgement of where exactly an object was. It took a couple of months for her to overcome this problem, but she gradually got better and better at judging distances until she could land perfectly. It also became evident to me that she hasn't been able to master the art of "silent flying" as most owls can do so well. As I never had any Scops owls in captivity before, I was not sure whether they were supposed to be able to fly silently, or whether, being predominantly insect eaters, silent flight was less important to them. Now, a bit more than five years later, I'm still not sure whether Scops owls are supposed to fly silently, but it actually seems to me as if it is not that important to them and that they haven't developed it to the same extent as for instance Barn owls and Spotted Eagle owls. All these factors, together with the fact that she had been hand reared by Dr. Wood and was completely imprinted on human beings, as well as the fact that she was so frail, made me realize that I would never be able to return her to the wild.
Uiltjie, my Spotted Eagle owl, soon became obsessed with this little owl that I hid from him in the bedroom and one evening he saw his chance when he came in with a small mouse. I had not yet opened Tiny's cage and left the door between the owl room and our bedroom open. Uiltjie immediately saw the open door and came flying into the room with the little mouse in his beak. He landed with a muffled hoot on her cage and tried to present the mouse to her through the openings of the cage. I knew Uiltjie very well by then and could immediately see that he intended her no harm, so I took her out of the cage and held her, cupped in my hands, so that he could bring the mouse to her.
As could be understood, Tiny was at first very scared of this monstrous owl, but with time she also began to realize that Uiltjie meant her no harm and a special bond formed between the two of them. It became a regular sight to see Uiltjie coming in with the tiniest of mice which he would then present to Tiny. I always played it safe and held her cupped in my hands and took the mouse from Uiltjie, because I was always worried that instinct might kick in and that Uiltjie might hurt her, but my fear was unfound and the two of them became best friends.
As Tiny grew older, the bond between her, Uiltjie and me, grew stronger and stronger. The love that I felt for Tiny was completely different to that what I felt for Uiltjie. The love between me and Uiltjie could be described as almost the same as that between a husband and wife with me of course being the wife in this particular case. (Uiltjie's choice, not mine.) The love between me and Tiny could however at first be described as that between a parent and his child. I felt like I needed to take care of her and protect her against all dangers in this world.
About six months after Tiny came to live with us, she suddenly began to refuse to eat. I tried everything in my power to get her to eat something, but with no luck. She soon began showing signs of dehydration and grew weaker by the day. I took her to the vet, but we couldn't find anything wrong with her. She dropped in body weight from 103 gram to 47 gram and couldn't even sit upright anymore. I had to resort to force feeding her with tiny pieces of meat that I cut into strips about the same size as a mealworm. I soaked the strips in a solution of Darrow's electrolyte, vitamins and calcium, before feeding it to her. Because she was so weak, I could only feed one or two small pieces to her at a time and had to repeat it every two hours, around the clock. I had to keep this up for almost three weeks and it began to look as if I were going to lose her, but then miraculously she began showing signs of getting better. She was still not out of danger, but she began lifting her head when she saw me and a week later began taking small meal worms from my hand.
It took another two months before she was strong enough to sit upright and fly again, but it seemed as if she would make a full recovery. Before she became ill, she loved to eat things like small rodents and large crickets, but now she bluntly refused to take any other food than meal worms and dried cat food that I soaked in water for her. She would occasionally take the odd cricket or two if it was dead and not too big, but it seemed as if she was scared of any larger food. Except for this, she made a full recovery, but now was completely imprinted on me.
All this happened at the same time that Uiltjie disappeared and I began wondering whether she was not maybe mourning his disappearance. I know that owls would sometimes stop eating when they lose their partners, but was it possible that Tiny could miss Uiltjie so much that she was mourning so much over him that she refused to eat and did not want to go on living. It's not as if they were partners, but I know that there was a very special bond between them. I guess maybe it's just co-incidence, but apart from that I have absolutely no explanation or reason for Tiny's refusal to eat.
Anyhow, Tiny completely recovered from her illness, except for her strange eating disorder, and a bond, even deeper than the one between me and Uiltjie, formed between us. Tiny began to see me as her male partner, and for the second time in my life, I found myself kind of married to an owl. Fortunately this time I was the male and not the female.
And then one morning, a few months after her recovery, I found Tiny lying motionless on the bottom of her cage. My heart skipped a few beats and tears whelmed up in my eyes. At first glance it looked as if she was dead, her wings and legs pointed into the air, almost as if rigor mortise has already set in. Just as I wanted to open the cage to pick her up, I suddenly saw her one leg twitch and then her eyes opened slowly. She had no clue as to where she was or as to what has happened and I immediately realised that she must have had something like an epileptic seizure.
It took almost an hour before she could sit upright again and for the rest of the day she looked as if she was in a trance. Needless to say, I was a relieved, but very worried husband and hoped that it was an isolated incident and that it wouldn't happen again. I observed her closely for the next couple of weeks, but to my relief she had no more seizures and I came to the conclusion that her earlier illness might have been the cause of the seizure.
Life went on and Tiny became an integral part of my life. For her, our bedroom was her world. When Uiltjie got injured and I had to keep him inside the house, he would sometimes sit in front of the window and one could see that he longed to be outside. Tiny however knew no other world than the inside of the house. I took her outside on nice days, but one could see that, although she enjoyed the sunshine and the trees, she wanted to go back inside where she felt safe and comfortable.
At that stage I had to help a little Barn owl out of an egg as it was too weak to hatch by itself. It was about two weeks younger than the youngest of the other siblings and was so weak that I couldn't put it back with its much stronger siblings. I had to hand feed it every few hours, so I decided to keep it in a temperature controlled box next to my bed at night to make it easier for me to feed it during the night. At first Tiny was not very happy with this little intruder in her domain, but as the days went by, she became more and more curious about this little white, downy critter that constantly called for food. She began to come and watch when I was feeding the little owlet and then one evening, after I had fed the little one, I went to take a nice hot bath and when I returned I couldn't see or find Tiny anywhere. I called her and then I heard her little chirp coming from inside the nest box in answer to my call. When I opened the box, there she was, trying to cover the little owlet with her tiny wings. By now the owlet was already as big as what she was, although it was only about 12 to 15 days old.
Tiny began feeding the little owlet with meal worms and much to my surprise he took it from her as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Obviously the little meal worms that she fed him could not fulfil his needs, so I had to still feed him with the right food, but all of a sudden the little orphan had a real owl mother, though very small, and Tiny had a (big) little baby to care for. I would never have let something like this happen on purpose, but if they both were happy, who was I to separate them. I knew that I would have to do so eventually, as the growing Barn owlet would soon become too big for her to handle, but if they comforted each other, why not allow it for as long as possible.
The little owlet grew by the day and eventually not only outgrew his mother, but his nest box as well.
Much to my surprise, Tiny still kept on feeding him and caring for him as though it was her own baby. She actually developed a system whereby she taught him, what I would like to call "table manners." If the little owlet was too greedy, she would refuse to give the worm to him and would turn her back on him. She would then wait until he calmed down and then present the worm to him again. If he was still too eager, she would turn her back to him again, until he took it in a decent and well behaved manner. By doing this, she managed to turn him into the best behaved little Barn owlet that I've ever seen.
I observed them very closely, because I was always worried that the owlet might hurt her. I knew that he would not do so intentionally, but he was so much larger than her, that I feared that he might hurt her unintentionally. Tiny however had the situation well under control and managed to feed him until he was big enough to begin to fly. Knowing young Barn owlets, I decided that it was in her interest to separate them at that stage, because young Barn owls will develop their hunting skills by pouncing on their siblings and parents in a playful way. This behaviour won't hurt another Barn owl, but it might have proved fatal to a little Scops owl like Tiny. Fortunately by then, Tiny also began realising that the owlet has outgrown his baby shoes, so when I took him away from her, she most probably thought that he had left the nest to go and fend for himself.
A couple of weeks after this, I received two more Barn owl orphans that had fallen out of the nest. The nest was too high to put them back and the people brought them to me to take care of. How they survived the fall I don't know, because they were only about eight to ten days old. Anyhow, I once again put them in the temperature controlled box in my bedroom as I had to feed them every couple of hours during the night. The first night Tiny watched me intently every time that I fed them and the second night she entered the box while I was feeding the one. When I put the second one back, she tried to cover both of them, her feet dangling in the air. The two were so big that her feet couldn't touch the ground.
Tiny decided that these two babies needed a full time mom and she moved permanently into the box with them, only leaving it to stretch her wings and to relieve herself. She now expected me, as her husband, to bring food to her and the babies in the nest as any good owl "hubby" would do and of course I had no choice, but to give in to the demands of my "owl" wife.
Tiny, and of course the two babies, were now completely dependent on me for bringing their food to the nest and for the next couple of weeks I had very little sleep as I had to feed about sixty to eighty meal worms to Tiny during the night. Now it might sound quite a simple task to take sixty meal worms out of a box and feed it to an owl, but please don't forget that Tiny didn't eat all sixty at once; no I had to feed her a few worms every half an hour, around the clock.
As the babies grew bigger and bigger, Tiny began leaving the nest for longer and longer periods. At first I was worried that the two grotesque babies, compared to her of course, would be too much for her to handle, but Tiny once again showed her skill in teaching these two gluttons some table manners and managed them quite well, despite their size.
Tiny took care of them until they began to fly, at which stage I once again thought it best to take them away from her in fear that they might hurt her unintentionally. Tiny seemed to understand and except the fact that I had to take them away, most probably quietly thanking me for doing so, because they became quite demanding.
With the babies gone, things returned to normal again and I think Tiny enjoyed having a bit of slack time on her hands after the demanding task of taking care of two babies about four times her own size, but then all of a sudden, out of the blue, she had another epileptic seizure. This time she took longer to recover and the next day she had two more seizures, each one more severe than the previous one. I feared for her life and consulted Dr. Wood from "Nahoon Bird and Animal Clinic" and together we came to the conclusion that the attacks might be caused or aggravated by a calcium deficiency, the result of her unhealthy appetite of only wanting to eat meal worms. He suggested that we add some calcium powder to the food of the meal worms which would hopefully in turn increase her intake of calcium as well. Tiny had two more seizures and then, touch wood, she had no more attacks. It seemed as if the enriched calcium diet has solved the problem and needless to say, I was a relieved husband.
Since then Tiny has not suffered from any more attacks and has made it her task to adopt all Barn owl babies that I brought into the house. She even adopted and successfully reared 4 Grass owlets, a larger cousin of the Barn owl.
Up to date Tiny has adopted and successfully reared no less than 14 Barn owlets and 4 Grass owlets, quite an amazing task for such a little owl and I think she has proven that she is more than worthy of sharing the title "The Caring Owl" with Uiltjie my Spotted Eagle owl.
I call her "The Little Owl With The Big Heart" and my wish for her is that one day she will be able to rear her own babies, just like Uiltjie. I currently do have a young male Scops owl, but Tiny is so heavily imprinted on me that she wants nothing to do with him at this stage. Hopefully, just like with Uiltjie, she will one day realise that she's an owl and not a human being and will accept him or another male and mate and have her own babies. If that happens, I will die a happy man.