By Dan Weisz
Western Screech Owls are very common throughout the Foothills. I last sent out an update on the Western Screech Owls in my back yard three weeks ago so it’s time for an update now. I had been busy watching the Great Horned Owls, but now the little screech owls are the only owls in my life.
During the past three weeks, the adult owls continue to care for their young. The mother sometimes remains in her box to begin the evening, but the father always leaves his perch to go into the desert to hunt. They are not always readily visible during the hour after sunset when I try to observe them. Below are some photos from the past three weeks:
Here is the male on a mesquite branch in front of the neighbor’s house where he spends his days inside the front porch pillar. He is probably listening to his mate before he heads off to hunt. This photos shows you the screech owl’s pale yellow eyes and the black streaking on his body.
As the temperatures have risen well above 100° (in the shade), it has gotten very hot inside the nest box, especially if mom is sharing the space with one or more growing youngsters. Some days she’ll exit the box in the afternoon and perch on the ladder at the side of the house from which she can keep a close eye on the nest box. She does notice me when I come around the corner and her plumicorns are erect….
but she doesn’t seem very fazed by my presence. I can’t get over those feathered eyelids! Notice how her wing is being held away from her side to promote cooling.
One night dad caught some kind of caterpillar for an early evening snack. After a while, he flew to the nest box to deliver it.
And on May 29 (one week ago Tuesday) we had our first sighting of a young bird (and he had his first sighting of humans)!! He has fuzzy, gray baby-bird downy feathers and grayish eyes that the young owls seem to have.
One parent continued to hunt (and a reminder that today’s photos cover a period of a few weeks). Western Screech Owls are only 8-9 inches long. Those dark arcs around his face indicate the feathers that outline his facial disc. Owls have excellent hearing that they use in hunting paired with their terrific night vision.
Here the young owlet has grown quite a bit since his first appearance a few days prior. He is standing in the opening to his nest box and you can see his talons. His eyes are darkening and his facial disc is more pronounced now. He has eyebrows that remind me of Groucho Marx’s.
Another early evening hunting by mom. She’s on a cholla cactus now. Both adults seem to use very low hunting perches, just a few feet off the ground. Mom is a bit chunkier than Dad is, typical of owls and other raptors.
On one hot afternoon, mom perched on our back porch atop the porch light. Her plumicorns are down so she’s not disturbed by me. There is some kind of debris hanging from her left eyelid.
This photo was taken by a friend, Steve Kessel. It shows dad with a food delivery of a fresh Desert Spiny Lizard. Steve is a wonderful nature photographer whose work can be seen on his blog at https://sonoranimages.wordpress.com
I was with Steve when we saw the dad and its prey but the bird was too far away for me to even attempt a photo. Thanks to Steve, we’ve got the shot. You can see where the owl dispatched the lizard. Now he’s waiting patiently for a signal from inside the nest box that the others are ready to eat.
By Monday night, the youngster is looking more and more mature. Young Western Screech Owls should leave the nest between 7-10 days from their first appearance at the entrance so that should be happening any day now. This youngster is perching on the opening and being very active looking at the world around him.
Could tonight be the night? I’ll keep you posted.