Monday, August 30, 2010

Owl babies

Many of my friends are avid birders - on the lookout always for birds, watching their antics and activities particularly in spring during nesting.
One friend I know began - some time ago - to accomplish his goal of putting up 1000 bluebird nest boxes in his lifetime. I'm not sure where he's at with that, but he has installed 13 on my property about nine years ago along with an owl box.

These wee fellows are not in my owl nest box but in one of the other boxes my friend has installed in the countryside around Port Hope, Cobourg, and Meaford/Beaver Valley among other places. I believe they are screech owl babies, but they could be sawwhet owls. Anyone out there who know please email me at

The top photo is the owls in their nest box . In the middle image my friend has removed them from the nest - they have no wing feathers and aren't about to go anywhere but boy are they ever cross! I wouldn't want to run across one of those at anytime, baby or not.

The third gives you an idea of how tiny they are, being held in his hand while he photographs them. Or perhaps a friend took the photo.

There is a screech owl that wakens me periodically in late summer - actually just last week it came calling. It is the most eerie sound, a descending wail of a sound. When it reached the big weeping birch outside my bedroom it perched for a while, and I swear it purred... that was the sound I heard - a burbling soft call.

From Wikipedia: Screech-owls are typical owls (Strigidae) belonging to the genus Megascops. Twenty-one living species are known at present, but new ones are frequently recognized and unknown ones are still being discovered on a regular basis, especially in the Andes. For most of the 20th century, this genus was merged with the Old World scops-owls in Otus, but nowadays it is again considered separate based on a range of behavioralbiogeographicalmorphologicaland DNA sequence data.
Screech-owls are restricted to the Americas. Some species formerly placed with them are nowadays considered more distinct. See below for details. The common name "screech-owl" is sometimes used for the not closely related Barn Owl as well.

The Eastern Screech-owl Megascops asio is one of the smallest species of owls in North America[1]. All of the birds in this genus are small and agile. Screech-owls are generally colored in various brownish hues with usually a whitish, patterned underside, which helps to camouflage them against the bark of trees. Some are polymorphic, occurring in a grayish- and a reddish-brown morph.
Screech-owls hunt from perches in semi-open landscapes. They prefer areas which contain old trees with hollows; these are home to their prey which includes insectsreptiles, smallmammals such as bats and mice and other small birds. Screech-owls have a good sense of hearing which helps them locate their prey in any habitat. They also possess well-developed raptorial claws and a curved bill, both of which are used for tearing their prey into pieces small enough to swallow easily. They usually carry their prey back to their nests, presumably to guard against the chance of losing their meal to a larger raptor.
Screech-owls are primarily solitary. During the late-winter breeding season, however, males make nests in cavities, sometimes reusing abandoned nests of other animals, to try to attract females. The females select their mate based on the quality of the cavity and the food located inside. During the incubation period, the male feeds the female. These birds are monogamous, with biparental care, and only fledge one young per year. The young of most screech-owls are altricial to semialtricial.[2]
The Northern Screech-owls are found in Eastern States ec. New Jersey, New York, etc. The Screech-owl are named for their piercing calls. The normal territorial call is not a hoot as with most typical owls, but a trill consisting of more than 4 individual calls per second given in rapid succession (sound of a female human in pain or fear). They also have a kind of "song" which is used in courtship and, as a duet, between members of a pair. Calls differ widely between species in type and pitch, and in the field are often the first indication of these birds' presence, as well as the most reliable means to distinguish between species. The distinctness of many species of screech-owls was first realized when vastly differing calls of externally similar birds from adjacent regions were noted.

I note that the screech owl apparently only has a single young, and Wikipedia tells me that saw whet owls lay between three and five eggs.... hmmm. pause for thought.

Whichever they are, they certainly add to the wonderful variety of nature around us.

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