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A Watched Egg Never Hatches

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I’ve been spending the better part of the last two days watching an egg. Along with approximately 5,000 people from all over the world, I am watching an owl egg in an owl box in San Marcos, California. Carlos and Donna Royal, in San Marcos, constructed an owl box in their backyard two years ago. They fitted it with cameras in order to view any owl occupants that might choose to take advantage of the box.

Then they waited. And waited some more. Finally, in February 2010 they noticed a pair of barn owls checking out the digs. Apparently the box was satisfactory because the owls moved in immediately and the female, subsequently named Molly by the Royals, began laying eggs.

In March Molly’s eggs began hatching and soon she had four owlets. Carlos Royal wanted to share the live video feed with some friends and soon it blossomed into a vast network of millions of viewers. School children watched in classrooms and held question-and-answer periods with Carlos via Skype. Odes were composed in Molly’s honor, books written, even a cartoon series drawn depicting the anthropomorphized antics of Molly and her family.

In May the owlets fledged and left the box and soon Molly and her mate, McGee, also left. The box was empty and all of the people who were watching the live feed suddenly had a lot of free time. In July, Molly returned to the box and laid four eggs. At first Carlos Royal was not going to share the live feed as he did with the first clutch. Soon he relented and the owlcaholics were back online watching Molly sit on eggs.

Which brings me to my weekend of sitting in front of the laptop watching and waiting. The last egg was due to hatch on Saturday. When a hatchling is about to break out of the egg, it first makes a small pipping hole in the shell. Through the small hole you can hear the faint peeping of the hatchling The process can be very quick or take many hours. This little hatchling started a hole and began pushing a small flap of eggshell. It just couldn’t seem to get very far with this approach and finally Molly assisted by peeling off bits of the shell with her beak.

When the hatchling finally gave a push that sent two halves of the shell apart, Molly picked up the shell, with the hatchling still inside, and sort of shook the owlet out. It landed on the floor of the owl box with an eggshell for a helmet. At least my long wait was over. It was a difficult birth for me, sitting at my computer most of Thursday, Friday, late Friday night, and almost all of Saturday. I have little granules under my eyelids from looking at the computer for so long. But I’m glad I got to see it.

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