San Marco’s Famous Barn Owl
Thursday, March 25, 2010
A new internet star is born! A San Marcos couple set up a owl barn with an attached 24hour webcam and waited. Soon an owl they named Molly set up house and laid six eggs, two of which hatched on camera. Molly's daily life is being broadcast over the internet, with over 2 million viewers from around the world. We'll talk with Molly's owner, Carlos Royal.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. It’s a real life nature lesson, a glimpse into motherhood in the wild and an absolutely hypnotic internet experience. I’m talking about the live stream of the San Marcos barn owl, Molly. Day by day, the eggs she’s laid are hatching into little pink baby owls. Since Molly made her Ustream debut last month, there have been more than 2 million views of her channel, the owl box. Joining us is the owner of the owl box, Carlos Royal of San Marcos, and, Carlos, welcome to These Days. Thanks for talking with us.
CARLOS ROYAL (Owner, The Owl Box Channel): Well, thank you.
CAVANAUGH: I’m wondering, what is Molly doing today?
ROYAL: Right now, she’s just protecting her little babies. She’s got – keeping them warm and she’s feeding them, constantly feeding them and she feeds them raw meat and so we got this view and we expect that we’ll have a third little owlet by maybe this evening.
CAVANAUGH: Wow. So, you know, Carlos, you’ve got to admit part of Molly’s attraction is that she is really beautiful. Could you just describe what she looks like to us.
ROYAL: Well, she’s a barn owl. She’s kind of a rufous color, which is an orange. She has these beautiful spots. And the thing about the spots is they have done some studies and the more spots they have, the healthier the female is. The male doesn’t have those spots on their chest like the female does, and she has a lot of spots. She has kind of a heart-shaped face. And she’s just a wonderful mother. I mean, we got really lucky. I mean, she is a wonderful mother. She just is so gentle, just takes care of these – I call them little guys but, you know, we don’t know what the sex of the little owlets are.
CAVANAUGH: Right, the little guys are – they’re looking a little pink and straggly.
ROYAL: Right, right. They’re very small. In fact, if you want to know how small they are when they’re born, if you just hold your thumb up and look at your thumb to about the first knuckle…
ROYAL: …and that’s about the size they are when they’re born. And they come out, and owls have 14 bones in their neck where we have 7 and they can’t hold their head up. So every…
ROYAL: …their head just falls down on the floor and their little wings are up and they’re trying, like, okay, can I get up? And they can’t. And then she’ll take a little piece of meat and she’ll drag it right across their beak and they’ll open their mouth and she’s feeding them. And, now, Max, which is the first one to be born…
ROYAL: …and he was born on Sunday and he’s probably grown – doubled in size since he was born. And every now and then she’ll stand up and give us a peak at them and it’s just amazing how fast birds mature because they’ll go from birth to flying in 30 days.
CAVANAUGH: Wow. Now I have to ask you, Carlos, did you know anything about owls before Molly decided to take up residence in your owl barn?
ROYAL: Absolutely nothing. I didn’t even know what kind of owls were – lived around here. We actually put up an owl box two years ago and then we waited, and we waited, and then finally when we had that big windstorm, it blew my fence down. And my neighbor actually told me, he said, did you hear all the racket out there last night? And I’m thinking he’s talking about the windstorm, and he goes, no, there was two owls on your owl box. Well, then I went – I mean, I got really excited, I ran in and I plugged the camera back into the TV—I’d totally disconnected them. I mean, after two years you think, well, they’re never going to show up. And I plugged it in and there was Molly.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Carlos, do we know who the father is?
ROYAL: Oh, yes. Yes, we do. That’s McGee. And now the difference between Molly and McGee is McGee, he only shows up at night and he is absolutely snow white. That’s the reason sometimes they call these owls ghost owls. Is he has no spots, he’s just absolutely white in the front, on his face and his chest, where she’s more camouflaged. And then he’ll come in about every hour on the hour, check on her, and bring her what we call treats, which would be a gopher, a vole, a rabbit, any type of rodent.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, you have had some really sort of graphic depictions of owls eating on your webstream, haven’t you?
ROYAL: Oh, I mean you get – you’re looking at nature. And people have asked me, well, if something happens will we interfere and the answer is no, just like we don’t protect the bunnies, you know…
CAVANAUGH: Right, yeah.
ROYAL: …from McGee. Yeah, there’s – they can go out to YouTube and actually look up “Molly Swallows A Bunny Whole.” It’s amazing. But she’ll actually – in the – during the courtship and while she’s laying and in the brooding process, she’ll actually eat these rodents and they start with head first, down they go, and you go there’s no way, where does she put it? And she’ll actually stuff a whole rabbit down her gullet and then what’ll happen is the juices will dissolve all the protein and then she’ll cough up the fur and what’s left of the bones and then she’ll let that kind of dry out and she’ll fluff it up and that’s what all the nesting material is.
ROYAL: They don’t bring anything in other than the rodents and their fur, so she has this little furry nest inside. And when she showed up, that was just an absolute blank piece of wood.
CAVANAUGH: We have to keep the Easter bunny away from Molly.
ROYAL: Right, yeah, if you’ve got an Easter bunny, you don’t want it out and running around too close to where McGee’s going to be flying.
CAVANAUGH: Carlos, you told us about Max. Tell us about the other little owlet.
ROYAL: Well, we – the other owlet is Pattison and the reason we named that one Pattison is the first school that I contact – actually, they contacted me and wanted to ask me some questions so I did this kind of like just a show on the Ustream and the kids would ask me questions and I would answer them and then we developed this technology, kind of a combination between Skype and Ustream where they could ask the questions and I’d open the mike and you could hear their voice. And people went nuts, they just thought it was fabulous. And I would answer questions so I got to know all these little kids, fifth graders in Mrs. Harvey’s class in Milford, Ohio and now we’ve done classes – we got thousands of classrooms that are following us. We’re going to do one Monday in Florida. There’s 120 kids will be attending just to do this. I mean, it’s like, oh, my gosh. They go, oh, no, everybody, all the kindergarten, first grade, second grade, will all be in the auditorium and they’ve got their questions for you. And so…
CAVANAUGH: Now, how…
ROYAL: …this is truly are you smarter than a third grader.
CAVANAUGH: Now have you done a crash course on the internet, just the way you’ve done a crash course on owls?
ROYAL: On the – Let me tell you. I started out, I didn’t know anything about Facebook, nothing about Twitter, nothing about U – I had never heard of Ustream. And my grandson comes over and he says, this is what it is. And then I started doing the research, reading everything, and two days later we’re streaming live and everything is done live so if I make a mistake, everybody sees it.
CAVANAUGH: I know the feeling.
ROYAL: You know, and so – so I go out there and sometimes – I mean, like I was up one morning, I’m sitting there in my pajamas, right?
ROYAL: And I pushed the wrong button and the camera – I can control three cameras. When I started out, I had one that I could control at a time, and now we’ve got it up to three. Well, I’m turning around and I look and I’m streaming me out live, you know, to 9,000 people and my hair, you know, is like – I don’t have much hair anyway but it’s all standing up all over the place. I got bed hair. And I go, whoops, let me – let’s get rid of that, you know.
CAVANAUGH: Carlos, I have one last question for you. What do we expect next? Is there an egg that’s just about to hatch?
ROYAL: There’s an egg that’s – we’re ready to hatch. We expect – They actually – The difference between barn owls and chickens, for instance, is chickens will take – lay a clutch of eggs.
ROYAL: And then they won’t sit on them or start brooding them until they get all their eggs together and then they’ll start sitting on them and they’ll hatch them all at the same time. The barn owl takes and when she lays her first egg, she starts sitting on it and then she lays the second egg and includes that in her clutch, so they actually hatch in the order that they were laid. So if they were – if you look at the schedule, they were laid about two days apart so every two days we’re going to have a little owlet. So we’re projecting that this evening the third one is going to show up.
CAVANAUGH: Carlos, we’ll be watching. Thank you so much for speaking with us.
ROYAL: Hey, thank you. This has – this has been fun.
CAVANAUGH: Carlos Royal of San Marcos, talking about Molly and the owl box. If you’d like to look at Ally – Molly, that is, you can go online, KPBS.org/ and see her livestream. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.