Every autumn/winter, we clean out the Eastern Screech-Owl house in preparation for the upcoming brood season. This year, when The Husband took down the owl house for its yearly cleaning, he decided to quickly cobble together another because the one used for a couple of years was worse for wear. Screech Owl houses are easy to build.
We installed the newly constructed house and waited to hear the tell-tale trill of a male Eastern Screech-Owl, Megascops asio, letting his partner know that he has, indeed, found a lovely home in which to raise a family.
I heard him trill one evening in December, just after sundown, but only a few times since. I also haven’t seen an owl head poking out of the hole at sundown–which typically happens once the couple settles in for breeding and brooding and it’s a pretty cute thing to see. No owl observance isn’t that unusual–Screech Owls, while comfortable in and adaptable to urban settings, are shy and elusive, although I usually see/hear more activity than this year. I wasn’t particularly concerned, until I saw this:
He or she moved in and has been quite comfy squatting in another’s home this winter. I forgot this might happen–usually it’s a young squirrel and I’ve engaged in this battle of wills before–fuzzy-tailed rodent moves into the house, cranky gardener chases him off and round it goes until the squirrel moves off and the owls move in. This year though, Squirrel Nut-twerp (SN) has been quite the recalcitrant squatter. On and off throughout January and February, SN has outsmarted me. I placed an old pillowcase early in the mornings,
…that I’d remove at night. I didn’t do this everyday, but as often as I felt like I needed to in my quest to dissuade SN from his desired digs. I’d think, ah ha, he’s gone, I drove him off. Victory is mine!! Then he’d be back in the house, looking cute and if I might suggest, just a little smug about besting me.
Last Thursday, as the sun sank to the west and as the coldest night/morning of the year commenced, SN was in the brood box, looking askance at me, clearly wondering what I was going to do. You gonna chase me out again, lady? The forecast predicted rain, freezing temperatures, ice. He looked at me, I looked at him. I capitulated. OK, Bub. You can stay there for the night. I didn’t have the heart to chase him off. Truthfully, I’d given up on hosting an owl family this year. I’ve seen and heard so little from the neighborhood owls, that I assumed the couple moved on to a less squirrelly location. My adored owls and I were vanquished. Squirrel Nut-twerp was the victor in the annual maneuvering for desirable tree trunk real estate.
Just after sundown on Saturday evening, I stood outside, looked up in disappointment once again at the hole being empty of a fuzzy owl face and I turned away. Feeling quite disconsolate and sorry for myself, believing with full conviction of my abject failure as a wildlife gardener, I morosely stared off into the opposite distance from the brood box, appreciating the form of budding trees against a darkening sky. After a minute (probably less), I turned around and saw two perched owls in the tree–the female (the larger of the two), whinnied in the way of Eastern Screech-Owls and her mate, who sat just beyond her, on a different branch, quiet and probably annoyed at me. We regarded each other, though I’m sure they saw me more clearly than I saw them. One swooped off, the other followed, both in complete silence.
Happy, happy wildlife gardener am I!
Sunday morning, I noticed Squirrel Nut-twerp nosing around the brood box. First, he climbed on top, timorously looking in from above. Then he scampered to the limb in front of the box, peeking his nose close to, but not into, the hole and withdrawing quickly. Hmmm, that’s a good sign that something scary resides in the box. Further circumstantial evidence of inhabiting owls presented when I stepped outside a little later to the raucous kerfuffle from 10 birds, perched in the tree, pointedly cawing at the brood box. Wrens, a mockingbird, blue jays all in noisy chorus, protesting…something. New neighbors? That’s one of the sure signs of Screech-Owl inhabitants: other birds, as well as their offspring, are potential meals of the owls and once owls move in to the brood house or tree hole, those prey make known their displeasure about the predators. As a friend of mine said: there’s nothing like some killers moving in to galvanize the neighbors into action. I understand the birds’ trepidation. While I cheer about the rats and mice hunted by the Screech and Great Horned Owls, as well as the various hawks in the neighborhood, I lament the loss of fledglings and migrating songbirds who will, undoubtedly also become prey.
Such is nature.
Sunday afternoon, absolute proof of the Screech couple and their choice of house.
I’d like to think that I helped my owl buddies by annoying Squirrel Nut-twerp to the point that he/she moved on, but I suspect it was all the owls’ doing.