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Undercover

No Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio, pair took up residence in our owl house this spring, owing to the tardy eviction of a young Virginia opossum, Didelphis virginianus which you can read about here. We dissuaded her owl box residency, but likely too late for the courting owl couple who’d visited our garden during January evenings. Observing the lovers, I was hopeful for a ninth year of Screech owl doings, even witnessing the female checking out the box early one evening, but alas, I suspect that by then she was considering our box as her backup. During these past few months, I’ve occasionally seen an adult owl swoop through the back garden just after sundown, which means that they were probably somewhere nearby. I’ve had to glean my owl fixation through other sources like the local folks who placed cameras in their owl boxes and generously shared antics of their owls on Facebook during the nesting and fledging, as well as responding to a frantic phone call from neighbors who were attempting to remove two fledgling owlets from the middle of a busy nearby residential street and who requested my help. The owlets were rescued, placed safely in shrubs while owl parents were present in the trees, supervising inept humans fumbling with cell phone lights and quibbles about where to place the little raptor.

Rest assured that it all ended well: no one (person or owlet) was squished by a car.

My Texas red oak tree, Quercus buckleyi, where the owl house is situated, is fully leafed out for the year.  Lovely and lush, the foliage provides energy for the tree, shade for the gardener, as well as sanctuary and sustenance for many critters.

Note the black line underneath the nest box, heading away from the tree trunk. That’s the cord to the owl cam, which sadly showed no activity in our box, except for industrious ants.

 

Recently, the foliage has stepped up, or rather, layered over, and is acting as cover for a mama Eastern screech owl and her two fledglings.

Pretty mama Eastern screech owl.

Helloo! Aren’t these owlets adorable?

I don’t know where she holed up and nested or where she and Dad nurtured their offspring prior to their debut in the big, wide world, but for one day, they decided that my tree was a good place to rest from the responsibilities of teaching their youngins’ how to fly and hunt during the nights.

I realized before I saw the owls that the male toads in my pond–which were loudly, insistently, and nightly crooning for mates–had been silenced, and I know from experience that neighborhood owls are usually why love-sick toads are muted. Screech owls find toads delicious and the toads choose noisy flirtation over quiet survival–every time. The evening before I spotted the owls in my tree, I heard the owlets’ chrrrrrrrr, which in owl-talk means feed me, and I spotted two adults and two owlets perched along my fence, flying to and from my tree and a neighbor’s tree. The family may have been in my tree prior to that evening, but apparently I wasn’t looking up.

Even if I was looking up,  the canopy of leaves works successfully to keep owls hidden from prying eyes.
Foliage serves as good cover for wildlife. It was challenging to take photos, as the birds were hidden, at least partially, behind the leaves and owls certainly blend in to the trunk and limbs well.

Interestingly, while Screech owls have nested in the box on this tree for years, each May once they fledge, they never perch in the tree for more than a couple of days. Soon after exiting their nest box for good, the owlets’ wings strengthen and carry them to other trees in other gardens, and under the tutelage of their adept parents, they learn the skills needed to survive. During the summer months, I see them occasionally and sometimes they even land in their home tree for brief periods. I like to think they’ve come by to say hi!, but I suppose that’s wishful anthropomorphizing.

Mama keeping a keen eye on the intrusive human.

 

I’m conflicted when the oaks leaf-out in spring as it makes warbler and owl watching significantly more challenging, but that’s one of the important roles of tree and shrub foliage–providing cover for wildlife, especially for the vulnerable young ones.

Foliage serves as a plant’s method of breathing, generates energy for plant health, provides oxygen for all of us, and food and sanctuary for wildlife.

And, foliage is beautiful.

The owls haven’t appeared since Friday, but I’m sure I’ll see them again at some sundown, swooping from tree to tree. If I’m fortunate, I’ll spot them resting during the day, camouflaged by limbs and hidden by luscious leaves, making good use of the protection and life-giving qualities that foliage provides.

Given the beauty and the importance of trees and shrubs for wildlife, why wouldn’t we appreciate foliage in our gardens?

 

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