Took Care of THAT Squirrel!

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:

IMGP4500.new 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,

IMGP4655.new …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.

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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.

IMGP5915.new Isn’t she adorable, even if she looks a little grumpy?    I don’t know where Dad Owl is, close by more than likely, but I haven’t spotted him yet.

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.

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24 thoughts on “Took Care of THAT Squirrel!

  1. I feel like I know your wildlife quite well now, thanks to your story. I’m sure Squirrel Nut-twerp is a resourceful ol’ chap and has found a new spot to stay warm and dry. I just hope it’s not your attic!

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  2. Lucky, lucky you. I knew this story as going to have a happy ending. Unfortunately we have no owl over here even though we put up a new box. In fact I have not heard a screech owl this year so maybe that means they have left the area. I love the name Squirrel nut-twerp. When D went to clean out our first box a couple of years ago he discovered two naked squirrels. Didn’t have the heart to evict the. Then next year it was ants. Two kinds of wildlife we are not keen on.

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    • I’m sorry your efforts haven’t been rewarded. I’d say keep trying, but I know it’s frustrating to want those owl visitors and it’s just more of the same ole–same ole. The ending isn’t completely settled here though. I was gone most of yesterday, came home, checked for the owl face (nothing) and when I had to leave again at 7pm, checked again and that blankety-blank squirrel was back in the house. I guess it( Debra suggests she’s a nesting female and she’s probably right), skittered off to the neighbor’s tree. I plugged the hole and unplugged this morning. So, I’m baffled. Past experience suggests that once the owls are in, they’re in till their young ones fledge. I was very surprised to see Squirrel Nut-twerp again. There is a screech owl in a small evergreen tree in the opposite side of my back yard today–angry birds alerted me to that fact. Dad? Or Mom? I just don’t know. The saga continues….

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  3. Nice! I am so happy for you. I just love that sound of screech owls early in the morning. Your visitor probably was a female squirrel. The only time they nest in hollows is when they they are going to have young. Around here that happens about twice a year. For the rest of the time they camp outside in the trees. But good news — the squirrel house in my backyard happens to be vacant — just send her on over.

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    • Isn’t their trill magical? I just love it!! A few years ago a mama squirrel raised a pair of twins (sooo cute) in the owl house after the owls had quitted it. Now that’s the kind of time-share this gardener can approve of!!

      I do feel badly about harassing Squirrel Nut-twerp–I like squirrels–they’re so smart and funny and cheeky. And isn’t that part of the problem? 🙂

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  4. I love your story! Too bad Squirrel nut-twerp is back though. I put up 2 houses last year hoping an owl would chose one of them. So far I have a starling (or starlings) in one and a squirrel in the other. Last summer I had the pleasure of watching two baby squirrels learn to jump from the owl house to the tree. It was pretty entertaining. But I’d rather have owls. Both houses are too high for me to get too, so I haven’t been able to clean them out or harass the occupants. I have tried throwing rocks at the house the starling is in hopefully to chase it off, but my aim is really bad. I hit the house once out of 10 throws. Perhaps I will get a taller ladder soon. But in the meantime I keep hoping that a pair of owls will chase the little boogers out.

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    • Thanks–from one battle weary wildlife gardener to another. Ha! I’ve done the rock-throwing thing too, and my aim is about the same as yours. Our house is too high up for me to actually see into. What I do is get as high on the ladder as I dare (the next to highest step) then I hold onto a branch of the tree and tap at the house with the end of a broom, or the like. I also place the end into the hole and the squirrel made a mad squirrel sound. I can’t describe it, but you’d know it if you heard it. My husband does the cleaning–he has a few inches on me, but truthfully, it’s best to do that with someone there helping–it’s a long fall.

      I’ve been home most of this afternoon and out in the garden and Squirrel Nut-twerp hasn’t stuck her annoying little head out today, so maybe the owl came back? I’ll have to watch at sundown, if I remember and have time.

      Good luck with yours–I hope some owls raise a family; it’s such joy to watch that experience unfold.

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  5. Wow – this is one dramatic ongoing saga. I’m rooting for the owls but admit I too am constantly amused by squirrels. I think I can make my peace with whichever Momma ends up with babies in the box. Kudos to you for taking all these extra steps to try and save the residence for its target population though. I used to hear owls nightly but haven’t heard them routinely for quite a while. I’d love to have them back!

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    • It is quite the saga. I wish they’d just move in already and get to it! I won’t have much choice but to make peace if the owls decide not to settle and the squirrel does. But I’m really okay with that. I’d miss the owls; I’ve so enjoyed them these past 7 springs, but I can only do so much, the rest is up to them. I know you don’t have owls and I’m sorry you don’t. Your area seems like the ideal place. Maybe next year?

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      • I think I shared with you previously that neighbors next door had rats/squirrels nesting in their attic and put poison out a couple of years ago. I decided then not to put up an owl box due to the risk of their capturing/eating poisoned prey. Unfortunately it was around that same time our regularly appearing owls stopped coming around. I’d like to think they simply found a quieter spot as we continue to have annoyingly high levels of renovation construction noise here.

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      • I remember you telling me that about the rat poison thing. I wish people wouldn’t do that–it’s so unnecessary. I’m always amazed at how adaptable critters like owls are with traffic, sirens, dogs barking–they still live hunt, mate, raise owlets. Perhaps in time, your neighbor will put away his poison and the infernal reconstruction will end and you will have those night time visitors again.

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    • Aren’t they interesting, though? I’m glad you’ve enjoyed them in your gardens. I love them and am so glad they’ve chosen to raise their families these past few years in my garden. I just hope it happens this year too. Stay tuned!

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    • They are pests, but I’m really quite fond of them–except in this case. “constant battles” is right. I’m toying with the thought of building a squirrel house for next year. I wonder if that would be more appealing than the owl house? Probably, it would just encourage more of those fuzzy-tailed beasties.

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  6. Don’t despair. We often have down-to-the-wire squirrel vs. owl sightings in our owl box until one day the owls finally claim permanent residency. I think the owls take care of things themselves, although, like you, we try to help by pulling out squirrel nesting material just before owl nesting season. I’ve spotted an owl in our box twice in recent weeks, but not consistently. She’s either being shy or the couple hasn’t committed to the box yet. I hope it’s the former.

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    • I know there’s owl activity and I’m now fairly sure, though not positive, the owls are in control of that prime bit of real estate. There has been a struggle these past couple of seasons with the squirrels, but I guess they ultimately cede property rights to the owls. I suspect he owls’ talons and beaks play some role in that.

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  7. What a great post. I am glad that between you, you and the owls managed to see off the squirrel. Lovely to have this beautiful owl nesting in the garden. What an amazing photograph of the owl face peering out of the box. How big were these owls?

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    • Eastern Screech Owls (and their kin, the Western) are small, common owls in North America. They stand 6-10 inches tall, or so, but typical of raptors, have a decent wing span. The male is smaller than the female. They’re so fun to watch when they choose to raise their brood in a homeowner’s garden. They eat rodents, other birds (sniff), toads, lizards–I suppose anything smaller than they are. They are hunted by the larger Great Horned Owls, which also live quite comfortably in urban settings. I know we’ve had a couple in my neighborhood, though I haven’t heard their hoots since December. Here’s more information if you’d like to read about the Screeches. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Screech-Owl/id

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  8. Squirrels drive me nuts sometimes but they’re hungry and cold, too. You can’t blame him/her for their excellent taste in warm winter homes. 🙂 Those owls are beauties! How extremely cool to be able to watch them raise their families.

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    • Yeah, I’d agree with that and I’m sure that house is so much cozier than a nest. I like squirrels, but there are lots of them around. I love hosting the owls in my gardens and am gratified that they choose to hang out and rear their young. It’s been a real gift these past years to observe and learn about them.

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