By Dan Weisz
It’s been three weeks now and, for a variety of reasons, I haven’t posted any photos of the family of Western Screech Owls in my backyard. I’m finally catching up with things so here is the latest news: A few days after my last post on May 23rd, the baby owls fledged, leaving the nest box for good. (And remember, this Western Screech Owl story is one among many that are happening each spring throughout the Foothills!)
One evening we were watching the mother owl who, well before sunset, had perched outside of the nest box. Shortly after sunset, we saw some movement deep in the thick mistletoe of the mesquite tree. As we realized that the owlets had finally left their nest box, a Cooper’s Hawk looking for prey came screaming into the mesquite tree landing near the baby owls. Mother Owl immediately pulled herself as tall as she could be, erecting those plumicorn (ear tuft) feathers, and began calling loudly, causing the Cooper’s Hawk to fly off. The frantically waving our arms might have helped as well.
This is what attracted the Cooper’s Hawk. Can you spot the owls?
Eventually, one Owlet made it to an open perch. See how this young one has a barred look, compared to the vertical striping of the feathers on the adult owl in the first photo? Young Western Screech Owls do not yet have developed ear tufts (plumicorns) nor do they have the dark feathering that notes their facial disc. In the adults, the black “parentheses” is pronounced Young owls have that startled, wide-eyed look as if they are figuring out everything in the world that is new to them.
Here is a close-up of the same bird.
Later the two owlets were perched at the top of the tree waiting for a food delivery and looking off into the dark desert night.
One of the parents then brought her babies what looks like a house sparrow. Dinner is served! The birds were all directly overhead, so the perspective of this shot is awkward.
We learned there were three babies after all. While we watched the two fledged birds flitting around the tree, another Western Screech Owlet poked its head out of the box. That was exciting to learn.
After the sparrow was eaten, all three birds (Mom and the two kids) ended up close to each other. Once again, this shot was taken while looking straight up into the tree.
If there had only been two baby owls, that night would have been the last time I would have seen the birds. Once the young owls fledge and become fliers, they move to a sheltered spot away from the nest for the next phase of their lives. Because of the additional baby owl in the nest box, I knew the parents would have to remain close by. The following afternoon, I spotted the mother owl in another nearby mesquite tree. Do you see her in this photo?
With a photo taken from the same spot, but zoomed in, you can now see her. She is well hidden from daytime predators.
Tomorrow, the final shots of the Western Screech Owls.
I have been out of town for a few short trips during the past three weeks between these photos and today. While at home, I hadn’t seen or heard from the owls at all. That’s what happens every year. The owls nest in one spot, but raise their young in another. And the Western Screech Owls limit their calling during this time so as to not attract predators so that even with my windows open at night, I haven’t heard them. Last night though, I was in the kitchen before sunset and saw an adult Owl perched on the counter outside the window looking right at me. I grabbed my camera but when I opened the door, the bird had disappeared! Looking around, I did find the family of three young and two adults perched in my yard. Stay tuned!