Eastern Screech, Settling In

When we returned during the first week of January from our European travels, our Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio, nest box was open and ready for residents.

It was surrounded by lovely autumn foliage, though shortly after this photo was taken, the leaves went brown and dropped. This is a new box, as the older one was no longer functional. The fancy slide for the door that The Hub engineered is so we can easily close the box after the chicks fledge and the owls vacate, or, at the beginning of owl nesting season, to prevent squirrels or opossums from squatting in the box. We also installed a new camera (some wiring is visible at the bottom, left of the box). With that new camera we saw that a squirrel had filled the box with leaves, prepping the box as her nest for some babies. I feel sorry for evicting the squirrel by pulling out the leaves, but we built the box for owls, not squirrels. I had observed an owl in the box before we left in mid-December, but that doesn’t always mean that she’ll settle in for nesting.

But settle in she did, within a day or two of removing the squirrel’s leaves. Shortly thereafter, this little egg appeared:

…and two days later, another,

…then another,

…finally, a fourth.

Note the swish of Mom’s tail feathers at the top of the photo.

Wow! This couple got busy, probably in late November; I had no idea that breeding action had commenced. This is the earliest that a Screech Owl couple has ever started their breeding season in my garden. In past years, I observed their courtships during January and February, watching them meet at sundown, woo and canoodle, then fly off together to hunt for the night.

And as I write that, it sounds voyeuristic and maybe even a little creepy.

The fact is that the best time to observe these elusive nighttime birds is during their courting and the raising of their chicks. This season, I missed the first part of that fascinating process. Typically after courting Mama resides in the box in February, laying her eggs during in March; chicks fledge between late April and mid-May. Dad will hunt and provide food for the whole family, until the chicks are nearly old enough to leave the nest box, when Mama joins him in the hunts. This couples’ early nesting is new in our Screech Owl experience, but is within the time frame of owl procreation here in Texas.

If I’m out at the right moment around sundown, I’ll see Mama swoop out of the box for a quick piddle-n-poo break. I imagine she takes a few breaks during the night, but she’s on the nest nearly full time now–those eggs need to stay warm and cozy. Dad has been harder to observe this year; I’m pretty sure he’s holed up in my back neighbors’ large elm tree, but it’s likely he moves around from place to place. I’ve only spied him once, at sundown, when he flew to the nest box, then to the nearby Mountain Laurel tree. Mama dashed out to met him, both perching briefly in the laurel; I lost sight of them after that.

Eastern Screech Owls are amazing hunters, but they’re also vulnerable to larger predators like Great Horned Owls (we have a pair in our neighborhood), accidents with automobiles, and poisons laid out for rodents which impact the food chain. All I can hope is that this couple remain safe and healthy, and are able to raise their chicks to adulthood.

22 thoughts on “Eastern Screech, Settling In

    • We’re really looking forward to it! We’ve rather poor luck with this task: the camera would stop working before the chicks hatched; the camera was working, but the nest was raided by a predator and the parents abandoned it. It’s just been one thing, then another. For this season, I wish we would have had time to re-adjust the angle, as it slipped just a little since we set it in in early December. We were planning to get into the box to do just that, but Mama had different plans.

      Yes, it does have video and I’ll probably post some once the chicks hatch. Stay tuned!


  1. How exciting, Tina! Is four a usual number of eggs? If all four hatch and begin growing, those parents are going to be busy, for sure. I’ve noticed a lot of squirrel action out in the trees: much running and chasing. Bits of twig and even small branches are showing up on the sidewalks now; it’s a sure sign of nest building for the squirrels, too.

    I’m going to have to make myself remember to stop by the marina where the egrets and herons nested last year. There were mutterings about making it impossible for them to build nests in that location, but I have a feeling if the trees haven’t been cut down, there will be nests.


    • I think that four is pretty typical. The couple last year (I think it’s probably the same) had four. All four fledged, but I think 2 were nabbed by something (two pile of fledgling feather and some innards…) on their first night out. It’s a tough world out there.

      You’re so right about the trees! Poor wildlife, they have to make do as best they can, I’m afraid. I’m am concerned that with this early breeding that there won’t be as much to choose from. There are way more insects, lizards, other baby birds, etc., in May and June for the fledglings to hunt than what is available in March/April. On the upside, though–the young owls will have lots of time to learn their necessary life skills before next season.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I saw Daddy owl tonight! He’s been so elusive that I was afraid he’d met his end. Nope–he and Mama smooched and sat next to one another for a few minutes. Then he went off to hunt and she went back to the nest. It is awesome!!


  2. Awesome! And also that sliding door is awesome too. I think it is great that you are encouraging the screech family to stay at your place to raise the kids. Obviously you have been doing this for awhile so it is likely they will be your visitors for years to come. Awesome!


    • We’ve had a house up for about 12 years. There were years that no one came and a few sad times when nests were abandoned for one reason or another. Hoping for a successful family this year! I saw Dad owl last night; he’s been very hard to observe.


  3. Omg, how EXCITING!! You’re going to be an owl parent!! I was just commenting on another blog how I think we can thank the barred owl in the park for our lack of bunnies this year. Owls are great to have around! Wonderful to be able to see inside the box, too. 🙂


  4. I just checked in on your weather situation, and I certainly do hope you still have power. I hope the owls will fare well, too. It must be hard to find things to eat when everything is covered with ice. Snow is one thing, but ice quite another. How did your birds fare during the 2021 storm?

    Liked by 1 person

    • We lost power at about 6am, still in the dark. The Hub and I are on the sofa , under a blanket, a cat for each, the dog snoring on his bed beside the sofa. We both have our phones for reading, thank goodness for extra batteries! We keep going into rooms, flipping switches and nothing happens!

      With no electricity, I couldn’t check on mama owl. She’s probably fine, it’s daddy and the other night creatures I feel for. There are loads of damaged trees in our ‘hood and everything is covered in ice. Pretty in its way, but damaging.

      The day birds fare well I think, but it can’t be much fun when everything is covered in ice. I brought my feeders in this evening so they wouldn’t freeze and as I was at the door (sliding glass) this little squirrel came right up and looked pathetic. He ended his day with a human handful of peanuts.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve been watching reports from your area all day. The tree damage is unbelievable. In 1997 we had an ice storm here that put about an inch of ice on everything, and the result was what you’d expect. Stay warm — at least this one isn’t going to be an extended freeze, like 2021. We’ve been lucky — just 40s and rain.

        Liked by 1 person

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