Not counting chicks before they hatch ...

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A POPULAR Fife bird of prey centre is hoping to beat the odds to successfully rear Great Grey owl chicks in captivity.

Elite Falconry has successfully bred a pair of the beautiful owls at its premises on the outskirts of Kirkcaldy and staff are eagerly waiting for the eggs to hatch at the end of the month.

Grace, a nine-year-old female and her partner Mr Jones (3), both of whom were reared as chicks at Elite Falconry, have produced a clutch of nine eggs.

At least six of the eggs have shown to be fertile, through a simple process called candling in which a powerful beam of light is shone through the shell.

Difficult to rear

However, because Great Grey owls, which are native to the inhospitable climes of north America, Canada, Scandanavia and Russia, are notoriously difficult to rear in captivity, they are not counting their chicks before they hatch. Mr Jones himself is the only survivor of a clutch of 13 eggs.

Barry Blyther (43), head falconer at Elite, said: “We are all very excited about this, but we are also very cautious as it is a very rare occurrence that they will survive. Grace has laid eggs each year since she was about four years old, but there was no male until Mr Jones came along three years ago.

“He wasn’t able to breed until last year when we had three fertile eggs, but only two hatched and one chick died at three weeks old then the other at five.

“It would be great if we could have some success because Grace has laid a large amount this year.”

Intervals

Owls are different from other birds of prey in that they lay their eggs at two day intervals and incubate them immediately so they hatch at different times, ensuring a greater chance of survival.

And Elite is planning to set up a webcam link to its website so the public can see the chicks hatch live.

“Because there were so many eggs we have taken some from mum and put them in an incubator, with the rest left with mum,” said Barry.

“We are expecting them to start hatching around May 23, and, fingers crossed, we will have some new baby owls.”

The Great Grey Owl is one of the world’s largest owls. It is often referred to as the Great Grey Ghost or Phantom of the North as it is one of the most reclusive owls of the northern hemisphere. It can measure up to 40 inches tall and has a four to five foot wingspan and prominent facial disc with no ear tufts, making it easily recognisable.