Evicted!

Winter’s bare trees allow for good bird watching, especially when it comes to the local raptors.  It’s also the time of year when we prepare to host Eastern Screech Owls, Megascops asio, as they court, breed and fledge their young in the Red Oak tree in our back garden. We’ve been privileged to observe these shy beauties for the last 8 years and certainly hope that they once again choose our back garden for their home territory in these next few months.  I haven’t seen an owl yet this season and I’ve missed them this winter.   Once in early October and then once more in early November, I heard a Screech Owl whinny  announcing to others this is MY territory!, but I haven’t  heard the common owl trill as the owls are living their lives: hunting, flirting with a potential mate, and then working with that mate to raise a family.

Since late November, I’ve spotted a young Virginia opossum, Didelphis virginianus sitting in the owls’ oak tree at night,

Not a great shot, but you get the idea.

…as well as occasionally scuttling through my garden early in the morning.

I also suspect the same opossum as the thief who had stolen a small board at the entrance to one of my honeybee hives–I found it in a corner of my garden, weeks after it went missing, dropped nowhere near the hives.  Because I’d noticed bits of non-oak leaves and Mexican feathergrass shards caught in the branches just below the owl nest box, I thought the opossum might be squatting in the box, but I  never actually saw her enter or exit. Squirrels have moved in to the nest box in the past and I hoped that a rogue opossum would be too large.

I hoped, but I was wrong.

As Screech Owl breeding season is nigh, we’re placing a new camera in the owl house this year because we enjoyed watching Mama Owl in her box last year–until the camera pooped out just after she laid her 5th egg.

This past weekend, the ladder out and up and tools at the ready, The Hub was up in the owls’ tree.

Steady there!

I remained terra firma and sollicita because 2016 wasn’t a great year for his bones–all 20 that he broke due to a bike accident and related glitches. That’s all we need: for him to tumble off the ladder in the service of wildlife watching. Thankfully, he didn’t tumble, but he did find an owl box interloper in the guise of this fella:

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Actually, I suspect she’s a young, possibly pregnant, female opossum. What to do with a malingering marsupial snuggled in an owl nest box?

I have no objection to opossums. I don’t mind them sipping at the pond and bird baths, eating from the compost bar, or even rummaging through my garden, but I do mind, very much, that this one has decided she needs the owls’ house for her own.

Once the top of the box was removed, the opossum didn’t comply readily with our wishes for her to vacate the premises, nor did she cooperate when The Hub attempted to scoop her out onto a branch with a long stick. She peeked over the top of the nest box once or twice,

Too high up to jump!

Is there an opossum-sized ladder I can use?

…but decided that staying put and hissing was her best bet. With The Hub remaining up in the tree, we contemplated our options:  leave the opossum in the house or scoot her out, forthwith? We decided that the best thing to do–for us, the opossum, and the nest box, would be to carefully lower the nest box to the ground,

Going down…

Almost there!

Thwarted–no more owl nest box squatting for you, missy!

…allowing her to safely waddle off,

…which she did, in a huff.

I admire her steadfastness at claiming the box and for the obvious efforts at collecting leaves and grass for her nest and I do feel badly that we evicted her from such prime real estate.  But we didn’t build the box for her and I’m sure she’ll soon find another cozy spot in which to nest.  Opossums are not the brightest of critters, but they are remarkably adaptable–they eat almost anything and can nest almost anywhere.

Opossums thrive in urban environments–like my back garden.

We’re leaving the nest box down for the week and plan to put it back up into the tree, camera affixed and ready to go, by next weekend.  Learning about and enjoying the life cycle of the Eastern Screech Owls has been a great pleasure for us.  I hope that we can continue with that this spring.

2016 Mama Owl

2016 Daddy Owl

As for Ms Opossum, I have no doubt that we’ll cross paths again.

26 thoughts on “Evicted!

    • Thanks, Chloris. I’m positive the opossum will find a home–smart they’re not, but adaptable they are! As for the owls, I hope so too. I’m bothered that I haven’t heard any, but I’ll keep you posted!

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  1. Oh Tina, you have wonderful wildlife, I hope your Opossum finds a new home too, I followed your link, what an extraordinary creature. Good luck with your Screech Owls, how tall is your tree – your husband needs to have a hard hat on!

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    • Opossums are a bit maligned here–sort of bottom of the barrel kinds of critters, but they are so adaptable, one has to respect that. I never mind seeing them, though they’re mostly around at night time. One day last summer, I saw a mama with a load of babies on her back–my cats were fascinated and so was I . She trundled along my back fence, eventually disappearing. The babies are quite cute!

      As for the hard hat, maybe I should make him wear his bike helmet the next time he ascends! I think our tree is probably about 30 feet–we planted it in the late ’80s, so I think it probably qualifies as a mature oak. I have two in my back garden and they’re wonderful trees.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! That’s true, although if you think about it, opossums don’t move all that fast and it was a pretty smooth ride down and a gentle landing. She just waddled off, only stopping for a few seconds to stare down the orange tool cart before moving along.

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  2. You’re a good story teller, Tina! fun to find this one this morning 🙂 It’s neat that you’re open minded about opossums. Hopefully both will take up residence … and we will find more stories here.

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    • Thanks, Hollis–it was a good story to tell. I’m just fine with most critters–rats and roaches the exceptions :)–I do home Ms. O finds a cozy spot somewhere!

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  3. What a great story about the opossum Tina. I clicked on the link to read more about them, quite an interesting animal, and perhaps their bad PR is not all deserved. I hope your opossum finds a new home and the owls return this year for you.

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  4. We had possum problems last year when my first crop of beautiful peaches we ripening. Our possum was not as lucky as yours. We have 2 peach trees, and about 75 to 100 beautiful peaches on each were just too tempting for the possums and raccoons. We ended up with less than 2 dozen. This year, I’m putting up electric fencing.

    Additionally, we had a thrasher eat all my strawberries, 3 raised beds, I only got about a quart. Momma bird ate the berries before they were even ripe. I put netting up the year before because the chipmunk got into them, but he at least shared. I didn’t put the net up last year because the foxes in resident cleaned up all the chipmunks. Netting will be used this year!

    I hope your owls return. We have them here too, I love listening to them.

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  5. Hi Tina, thanks for the post. I heard or read your piece on owls a few years back, knowing how much owls mean to you, I hope your owl home is filled with owl love this spring…looking forward to your posts…

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  6. Oh wow. What a dilemma, but it sounds like everyone should end up happy. I take it that you hope the break with the box at ground level will result in fixing the opossum’s mind elsewhere. Good luck with the owls.

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    • I sure hope everyone is happy and well-homed! I haven’t quite decided whether or how I’m going to close the hole to the nest box. Of course, with the camera installed, I’ll be able to see who’s in there!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It was a good thing she was careful and discovered that the possum had settled in the nest box of the owls and was able to dislodge it. Let’s hope you find a good place to nest. I hope the screech owls aniden this year in their nest box and bring forth all their chicks. The story is told visually through its beautiful photos. Greetings from Margarita

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  8. I confess a fondness for possums. They always seemed a little snarly to me, until one saw me approaching my car, took fright, and “played possum” right by the car. It was a huge one, but it was a scardy-possum. I finally took pity and walked away. Eventually, it got up, shook itself, and headed off into the woods.

    A friend in the hill country fights them for her persimmons every year. In some regions of the country, the creature spends so much time gorging on the fruit the trees are known as “possum wood”. Audubon pictured the Virginian Opossum in a persimmon tree, and an old American folk-song celebrates the relationships among the Possum, the Persimmon and the Raccoon.

    “Possum up a ’simmon tree, raccoon on the ground,
    Raccoon said, “”You rascal, shake them ’simmons down!”

    I’m glad you got your possum down, and I really hope you get your owl family back. It’s probably good to leave the box down for a bit. It gives the lady possum a change to come back, check, sigh, and waddle off again!

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    • I like your car vs. opossum story! One of our dogs (Kilian, who died some years ago–sniff) was a master of opossum divining. Several times he “vanquished” one, looking at us with such pride at his “kill”–we’d bring him into the house and the “playing opossum” opossum would then stand up, shake him/herself and waddle on the next adventure. Mostly, Kilian just drooled on the opossum prey, so no opossum was hurt! Kilian never caught on. 🙂

      I can imagine that both opossums and raccoons really enjoy persimmons–add squirrels in that mix, too. Good luck to your friend, in her protection of persimmons.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I am still alarmed at all those broken bones. Crikey. The thing about wildlife is that it never reads the book which says ‘this is for hedgehogs’ ‘this is for owls’ etc. Our wilder friends just choose their homes irrespective of our wishes, which is lovely, but frustrating if you are looking forward to owls. I hope she finds somewhere splendid to shelter and that your owls return.

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    • Crikey is right! He’s recovered, but has some accident prone tendencies…

      You’re so right that wildlife generally don’t read our playbooks, but I’m sure the divine Ms. O will find a place–there’s plenty of good evergreen hedges and outdoor tool sheds in which she can snuggle.

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