Owls are such cool birds, so I’ve saved them for the last posts in my blog series on birds of prey. That’s right. I’ve decided to do a two-parter on owls. I like owls so much that my room contains an owl calendar, a large picture of a tawny owl and a plush Great Horned Owl that hoots. When I interned at the World Bird Sanctuary in St. Louis, I loved working with the owls. Now everyone believes that owls are wise and have great night vision, but did you know that 20% of owls cannot pass a simple calculus exam and 40% of owls cannot see more 30 miles away in the dark? Prepare to learn some interesting facts about these wonderful hooters.
Did you know that very few owls build their own nests? Most owls find tree cavities to raise their young. Great Horned Owls will often take up residence in a used Red-tailed Hawk nest. Short-eared Owls are unique because they are ground nesters and build their own nests out of grass, leaves and feathers. Owls tend to breed in the winter months and usually both parents take responsibility in raising the young. Want to see pictures of baby owls? Of course you do.
(Left – Young Barred Owl. Right – Tawny Owlets. Pictures from http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com)
Let’s start our journey into the magical world of owls by looking at one of the smaller members of the owl family – the Eastern Screech Owl. The Eastern Screech Owl lives mostly in central and eastern regions of the U.S. These little fellows are generally between 6 and 10 inches long and enjoy feasting on birds, mammals and invertebrates. In my experience, screech owls have a special fondness for mice. By the way, owls regurgitate undigested parts such as bones or feathers in a pellet called a casting. Biologists often examine castings to determine what an owl has been eating. The Eastern Screech Owl comes in two color phases, gray and red, with gray owls being more common. Screech Owls start out as gray and become red when they eat a lot of chipmunks. Relax, Chip and Dale are still alive and bickering. Despite their small size, screech owls can be quite vicious, especially when fighting for food or defending their nest. If food is scarce, a nestling will sometimes kill a smaller sibling. This behavior is called siblicide and occurs among other birds such as herons. Eastern Screech Owls have a quivering whistling trill which sounds nothing like Screech from Saved by the Bell. You can get screech owls to nest in your yard by setting up a nest box! Do an internet search for screech owl nest boxes if you’re interested in building one.
(Eastern Screech Owls. Pictures from the World Bird Sanctuary.)
That’s about owl I have for tonight. This was a short post but part two will be much longer. Tune in Sunday night for a look at Barred Owls, Eagle Owls, Tawny Owls, Snowy Owls and Great Horned Owls. Pictures will be shown and stories will be told. Prepare to learn about the silent flight of owls and their unusual ears. May baby Screech Owls nest in your