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.

Will He or Won’t He?: Wildlife Wednesday, December 2019

Tis the season to owl watch and at least one owl is providing a bit of show.  I’ve heard occasional territorial trilling and have seen an Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio, in our nest box on and off for a few weeks now.  At this writing, it’s been about 6 days since Mr. Screech snoozed during the day in Tina’s Owl Chateau, but owls are like that: they show up, hang out, disappear and don’t say where they’re going, and then, maybe, show up again.

Who knows what an owl thinks or how he makes plans?

This is the Screech, resting comfortably in the nest box one afternoon.   What you see is his back and tail feathers.

As well as seeing him peek out at the hole of the nest box (sorry, no photo of that as I didn’t want to spook him!) and observing his daily rests through the lens of the owl camera, I spied him in my neighbor’s tree last week.

Isn’t he cute as he glares menacingly at me?  On second glance, maybe it’s more of an annoyed stare.

Tree holes are the traditional, preferred spot for owl nesting, though in all my years, I’ve never seen an owl in this particular hole (just feet from my front garden) and wouldn’t have observed him, except for the alarm calls of Blue Jays, Carolina Chickadees, and Lesser Goldfinches.  Our nest box, which resides in a tree in our back garden, has attracted Eastern Screech Owls for most of the past decade, with varying degrees of familial owl production.  The nest box is a human affectation for attracting the darling predators and it’s mostly proved a snugly spot for chick rearing.

I don’t know with certainty that this tree owl is the same as my nest box owl, but it’s probably the same little dude. Am I sure it’s a male?  More than likely, because it’s typically the male who checks out suitable digs as he works to attract a mate for the upcoming breeding season.

Our owl luck has lacked in the past three years, so while I’m tickled that there is at least one Eastern Screech Owl experimenting with the local real estate market, it’s no guarantee of a settling down, a mating pair, or the creating and caring for chicks.  Time will tell and wildlife gardener patience is a must.

Appreciative of the quirks of wildlife, I’m marking Wildlife Wednesday and also joining in with Anna and her Wednesday Vignette.   Check out her beautiful Flutter and Hum for musings of various sorts.

Hoot-n-Annie

I’ve long thought that naming wildlife an unwise practice.  When I first installed a water fountain at my back patio, we purchased three “feeder” goldfish which the kids and I named.  The fish didn’t last long, as one of our dogs decided that sushi was something he enjoyed.  Once our pond was built and we had even more fish we could name–at first, koi, and later, goldfish and gobs of gambusia (mosquito fish), I’ve steadfastly refused to name even one of the swimmers.  Herons, plain bad luck, as well as old age, all end the fish and I don’t want to lament their loss by name.

The same is true for my regular bird visitors.  I’m fond of the pairs of Carolina Chickadees and Wrens, and Black-crested Titmice, and many others, who I see in my garden.  I’m charmed when they bring their babies to visit and feed in late spring and summer, enjoying the this is how you survive lessons imparted by the excellent parents to their eager and darling offspring.  But I dare not name any one of them.  Ditto for the wintering warblers who daily flit in the garden from November through May.  I already miss them when they leave to wing northward for summer;  how much more would I regret their flying the garden nest if I called them Joe or Rufus or Abigail?

So why name the Eastern Screech-Owl couple who, it appears, are (perhaps?) in the process of choosing to raise a family in my garden?

In a word: weakness.  And, maybe a second word: affirmation.

Meet Hoot and Annie.  Hoot-n-Annie.

The male, Hoot, guarding the nest box.  He wasn’t interested in showing me his pretty face, but I can share his beautiful wing plumage pattern with you.

Annie, trying the nest box on for size. She was tolerant at my photo taking, but I didn’t bother her much–just enough to get this shot.

Here’s a look from our owl cam. What you’re looking at are her tail feathers–her head is looking out the nest box hole.

There are several problems with the conferring of these names, notwithstanding the stupidity of  perceived control.   Firstly, Eastern Screech owls don’t hoot, they trill (in varying forms), and they also make bill claps and low chuckling sounds.  Check out this link to Cornell Lab’s Eastern Screech-Owl sounds to understand what we’ve been hearing for a few weeks now and why “Hoot” is a goofy–and erroneous–name.  Secondly, the life of Screech-Owls is fraught with danger.  Of course that’s true of all wildlife, thus the wisdom of not naming the wild critters in my garden.  We can provide the right habitat,  day and night, but we have little influence over their destiny.  Cars, bigger owls (there’s a Great Horned Owl pair in our neighborhood), and maybe rat poison, are all hazards to Screech-Owls.  Also, Screech-Owls are risks to the smaller birds, toads, and insects in and near my garden.

And so it goes with the wildlife food web.

But I have hope and a sense of reassurance with this particular canoodling pair of owls.  It’s been a few years since we’ve enjoyed the privilege of intimately observing the shy, elusive night birds–more about that at another time. The previous owl pairs were always Mama Owl and Daddy Owl, and except for the last clutch of Screech-Owl fledglings, I never named the babies.  But the dearth of owl watching and owl learning in the last two years renders me sentimental and hopeful about their recent presence in the garden. The strong bond between adults, their focused and shared care of chicks, and their important contribution to diversity of the wild community (of which my garden is a small part) is heartwarming and affirming.  Appreciation of the natural order continues, as (selfishly) does my own education and enjoyment.

If the Screechies move in and raise their family, a kind of avian hootenanny in celebration of life’s dance of diversity and songs of progress will be in place, at least for a specific time and type.

I’m glad to join in today with Anna’s Flutter and Hum and her wonderful Wednesday Vignette.  Please pop over for garden, nature, and other musings.

Addendum:  It appeared as if Hoot and Annie were settled in and comfortable in the owl house.  But one evening in early March, I strolled the garden;  Annie was in the box and looking out. She saw me and immediately took flight.  From that point forward, the owls didn’t inhabit the house, though on a couple of occasions, I saw an owl before dawn perched just outside the box and from time-to-time we’ve continued to hear at least one of the owls trilling.

It’s now three years since an Eastern Screech couple has successfully raised a brood of babies.