By Dan Weisz
The Western Screech Owls in the nest box in my yard are growing daily. The Dad is hunting throughout the night to provide food and the Mom often now leaves the box. At times, she is just vocalizing for her partner to hurry up and bring food. She may also be hunting herself at this point.
This is the female, sitting on a new perch I provided near the mesquite tree that the nest box is on. She has her plumicorns raised a bit.
Dad caught a Kangaroo Rat! The rat clearly is sandy brown with a white underbelly and…
Kangaroo Rats have very long tails with a bushy end. Below you see its very long tail.
The male is awaiting the signal to enter the nest. We can’t hear any communication by the owls at these times but assume there may be some very soft or high sound between the two adults. Perhaps the male just has some kind of sixth sense letting him know when it is the right time to bring the food home. The bushy end of the Kangaroo Rat’s tail is easy to see in the photo below.
Here the Western Screech Owl is holding a very tiny caterpillar and waiting to enter the nest.
This was fascinating behavior to observe. The female Western Screech Owl is “casting a pellet”. The digestive systems of these birds have to deal with bones, scales, fur, and feathers. So the bird’s gizzard performs a kind of sorting operation. Soft tissues pass through to be digested, while indigestible sharp and hazardous bits are formed into an oval mass, or pellet. They pass back up the digestive system and are regurgitated hours later. Below you see the owl with her mouth wide open and her tongue is visible at the lower end of her mouth.
The shiny brown pellet is appearing in her mouth. A micro-second later, the pellet flew out and onto the ground below. She is really concentrating here. As soon as the pellet passed, the bird sat up, roused her feathers and relaxed.
Meanwhile, Dad caught another gecko.
As far as I can tell, there are two chicks in the nest. If there is a third, we have not seen it yet. One chick has a beak that has scratches all over it. It also appears to have ‘eyebrows’ that are very light.
The other chick has a very shiny and gray beak with no scratches or irregularities in it. Both chicks are very active at the entry to the nest box, leading me to think they will be fledging and leaving the nest soon.
Food deliveries happen in the blink of an eye. We get no advance notice but just see a fllurry of feathers at the nest box. Weeks ago, the Dad would enter the nest box to deliver the food. Now, he usually sits at the entrance and hands the food off to a bird inside.
I uploaded a video of the female Western Screech Owl in my yard. She is sitting on a branch and calling for the male. She will do this often and then fly off to another perch in the desert where she may repeat the calling.