The Owls are Out

The parent Eastern Screech Owls have competed the first part of their chick rearing in the last few days. Four fuzzy fledglings left the nest box, three one night, the fourth during the following night.

This cutey was the first to enter the big, wide world of backyard hunting and birdbath splashing.

I had trouble getting good photos during this once-a-year event, partly due to conditions and partly due to my own incompetence. It’s been quite windy this spring and the last few days continued that trend. In addition after last year’s devastating freeze, my Red Oak tree now leafs out in a dense, bushy manner, rather than the more open, airy form that was normal before the freeze. The denser foliage is great for the owls and other birds, not-so-great for those who like to watch them. Still, I captured a few moments of the family’s turning point.

Mom and Dad were the tree, keeping an eye on the owlets as they fledged.

Mama’s not thrilled with my oohs and aahs

The parents supervised the owlets’ hapless hops and awkward wing flaps along the branches. It takes a few days before the owlets are anything near being competent flyers, which means that these newby owls are vulnerable to predators. I recall reading that 75% of Eastern Screech owlets don’t survive their first year. It’s a tough world out there.

With an event as momentous as Eastern Screech owlets leaving their nest box, I hope to chronicle with photos. The owlets peek out of the nest box for a day (maybe) before they fledge and once they’re out, they leave the immediate area within a few days. I try to get at least one photo of each owlet, downloading the photos to my computer soon after. I did that, but somehow managed to permanently delete the first set of photos that I got. Ugh–bonehead move! Between the wind, foliage, and my mistake, I have only a couple of decent photos to mark this backyard birding event.

I think this is one of the three who fledged on the second night. Isn’t it a cute predator?

Once I noticed the first owlet at the nest box hole I called my SIL over so she could get photos. She got some great shots and knows better than to delete! The next two shots are courtesy of Sharon and her camera. I’m not sure if this is mom or dad, but it’s a concerned parent.

I believe this little owl is the first one to fledge and in this photo, it’s no longer in my tree, but had migrated to my SIL’s Arizona ash tree.

That’s always been the pattern with the Screech Owls in my garden: the owlets fledge, perch in my tree for one, maybe two days, then move southward to the ash tree. After that, if I’m lucky and am out at the right time, I might seen the owl family at sundown. The owlets make a scratchy call to alert their parents of their hunger and the parents oblige, but always with the goal of teaching their young ones to hunt. Within about 5 days, the owlets are moderately good flyers, but will be fed by the parents through mid-summer. As their flying skills improve, the owlets will hunt insects (they can have all the cockroaches they want!), then will graduate to hunting lizards, snakes, rodents, and smaller birds.

I wish them well. It’s always a privilege to watch the adults come together and raise their family. Our camera stopped working last year and our various owls have had a run of bad luck in the previous years. I’m hoping this successful segment of chick rearing is repeated next year and we plan to be ready with a camera installed in the nest box.

19 thoughts on “The Owls are Out

  1. What a saga! And what absolutely charming creatures — parents and young both. That next-to-last photo of the parent is a classic. I’ve seen my young cardinals, at last. Those first few days can be nerve-wracking, both for human observers and probably for the parents. You’re right that it’s a rough world out there!

    You say you deleted photos: was it from an SD card, or your computer, or what? There’s a program I’ve used to retrieve photos I’ve accidentally deleted from my camera’s card, but it can be used to get deleted files from a computer, etc. The ony caveat with a camera card is that you can’t get the images back if you’ve formatted the card. Otherwise, it works just fine. If you want to give it a try, let me know, and I’ll send along a link to the program.

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    • I love that particular photo, I think it’s just adorable. It must be so stressful for these parents to send their young ones out into the world.

      I’m not exactly sure at what point I deleted. I think I was in a hurry and was sloppy. Typically I download into a ‘download file’ from the SD, then delete the SD. I then move photos to folders for a future post or one that I’m working on. I’d be interested in looking at that link. I’m usually careful, but obviously, not all the time.

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      • Here you go. The program’s called Recuva. I just noticed that it’s a PC program, though. If you’re a Mac person, it won’t work, but there surely is a similar program for Macs. I paid the $9.99 for the pro version, and when I ran a recovery on my first SD card, it ‘recovered’ somewhere around 2,400 photos, rather than just the 500 I’d accidentally deleted. That was when I began formatting my cards on a regular basis – but not until I’m sure I have everything I want!

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      • Sorry about your picture loss. You’re fortunate to have a camera-wielding sister-in-law next door.

        Every time I come home from taking pictures I download my card to my computer and do a preliminary sorting of the photographs into folders to identify each one. Then I back up my internal hard drive to an external one. Only at that point, with two copies of each picture, do I reformat the card in my camera. No routine is foolproof, of course, and things still occasionally go wrong, like a picture that the camera glitched up when recording it onto the card in the first place.

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    • I really felt fortunate this year and am so glad this couple got their babies to the point of entering the world. It’s been since 2016 since our owl couples have been successful. We have Barred owls around here, but they’re not as common as our little Screeches.

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  2. How wonderful. We never did manage to get one in our several boxes. here I hear a great horned owl every night. But no screech owls. We look forward to sightings of the burrowing or elf owls.

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    • Oooh, I hope you’ll post about any Elf or Burrowing owls!

      I’ve enjoyed reading about your new gardening adventures. A bit different than what you were doing before!

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  3. I’m surprised that within only about five days the owlets are pretty good flyers.

    Since the freeze of 2021, the Monterey oak on our front lawn has behaved similarly to the way you described your red ash tree: new growth has mostly clustered near the center of the tree rather than at its extremities. I noticed a similar growth pattern on various other trees around Austin last spring.

    Eight years ago Eve called my attention to an owl she noticed sitting in a tree in our back yard. Luckily it stayed placid as I slowly got closer and kept taking pictures as I went, never knowing when it would finally decide I was too close. (https://portraitsofwildflowers.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/eastern-screech-owl/) You’re fortunate to have a repeat of the whole process year after year.

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    • Yes, according to Cornell Labs, they’re up and running (or rather, flying) pretty quickly. Obviously, it’s a while before they’re really good flyers, but they can navigate between trees within just a few days. The first 48 hours after leaving the box is the most dangerous time, as it is for any young fledgling. I suspect two of our owls were nabbed by something, one the first night when the three oldest fledged, and the last one. I saw a decent pile of feathers on both mornings after. One bit of feathers was in a deep bird bath. When I cleaned out the bird bath, someone’s entrails were at the bottom. Not a good sign. I hope the other two are learning fast.

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