An Old Nest in New Again

If you followed our Great Gray nest-cam last year or read our newsletter, you know that it was a tough season: one chick was taken by a Great Horned Owl, the second egg had no development, food seemed sparse, and and finally, the entire snag-tree tipped over. Now that we are on the verge of Great Gray nesting season, here are some updates about this live-cam:

First, the property where the JP cam is located has new owners and they have been entirely accommodating regarding the cam. This is a huge relief and they have been just wonderful to work with. A great way to ring in the New Year and we are so grateful to them!

While this is great, the problem of ‘no nest’ has remained. We located another snag with good potential on the property and did some work recently to make it more functional and appealing. A couple other snags looked promising from the ground, although when inspected with a ladder, probably aren’t suitable for the Great Grays after all. But at least we know there is one snag with good potential.

Part of our Great Gray study focuses on nesting requirements. All of the nests we find – their measurements and characteristics – become part of our study. In light of this, and with the collapse of the original JP nest, we started thinking about a man-made nest. Success rates with Great Grays and man-made nests are good and could provide some interesting asides to our growing natural-nest findings. After much debate and ethical questions about ‘farming’ owls, we decided to go for it!

While our first plan was to build a nest from scratch, when we visited the property and looked closely at the old snag, now on the ground, we wondered about using it again. The fall had broken-off some of the ‘rails,’ but the bowl and all of the back walls remain in-tact. We decided, if we could possibly remount it, that we wanted to go this route, rather than an entirely constructed nest. So that’s what we did (and by ‘we’ I really mean Matt and Denver!). Here’s exactly what they did:

Cut the top – the nest portion – off the old snag.

Built a platform between two sturdy trees. These are probably only about 20 feet from the original nest. They set the platform at the same height as the original nest.

Hauled the tree-top up a ladder via a sled in a 100% non-OSHA compliant maneuver.

Secured the tree-top with screws through the platform, into the bottom of the snag.

Painted the lumber to blend into the surroundings. We considered trying to conceal the platform with branches, but ultimately decided to leave it as-is because these materials would be unstable. Additionally, if they do choose to nest here, the platform slats will be a pretty great spot for the chicks to perch as well.

The cam is just coming back on live-feed now and we will - with the dedicated help of our Great Gray cam community - be watching for signs and listening for calls. We’ll also keep checking the area and, if it looks like they are going to nest in the other snag – the camera will be moved at this time. They may not choose either nest, although we feel really good about these two options. The pair remain in the area and are regularly seen by the landowners, neighbors, and us. They are just as glorious as ever!

We know it will take some adjustment getting used to the new nest and all of its apparatus – but if it can provide a home to our magnificent pair, I think we will settle into it very easily!

Of course, all of this doesn’t mean we’ve given up any hope for the original nest either! At the time of this update (I'm editing this post on Feb. 10), there has been no activity at all. Last year a Great Gray was first seen at the nest on Feb. 6.

PS. The photos loosely document the process and final result and the female Great Gray on the snag-nest, April 2018.

Live coverage of both these nests can be seen at explore.org. Special thanks to local construction company RMC Services for their help getting the nest hoisted and secured! :)

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