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.

Dad’s Duty

It appears that our Eastern Screech Owl, Megascops asio, couple are in the family way. About 12 days ago, dad owl moved from his daytime perch in the back neighbor’s ash tree, located at the opposite end of my garden from the nest box, to varying spots that are within 10-20 feet from the nest box. That he is now hanging out so close to the nest box indicates not only eggs, but that they’ve begun to hatch. As well, I haven’t seen any sign of mama, as I’m certain that she’s been busy brooding the eggs and is now caring for hatchlings. She probably leaves the nest box briefly in the evenings (everybody has to pee and poo), but she’s mostly in the box with the chicks. Dad is providing meals for the whole family at this point in time. I haven’t seen a rat in weeks!

Some days, dad perches in my SIL’s large ash tree (just over the fence line), other days he’s in our Red Oak tree, just a few feet above the nest box. No matter which perch he chooses, he snoozes, but he’s also keenly aware of what goes on in the garden and he keeps a wary eye on our activities.

Hanging out in our Red Oak tree, he stares at me while I snap a photo.

Our poor owls have had a run of bad luck for about 5 years, following years of successful families raised. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for appearances of fuzzy owlets the first week of May. I’m likely to see mama hang out more in the trees soon, too, because those hungry chicks will be getting big and the box will be crowded.

Our camera stopped working last year after the owls abandoned the nest and we didn’t replace it. I regret that we didn’t, as I’d love to observe the chicks’ progress and the parents’ devotion and care. Even so, I like searching for dad each morning as he sits sentry, protecting his family, and I look forward to seeing mama again, and in time, the darling owlets.

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.