Western Screech Owls in My Backyard

By Dan Weisz

The Western Screech Owl pair has again begun another family in the nest box in my backyard. (And they nest throughout the Foothills in either Saguaro Boots or other satisfactory cavities.) Western Screech Owls have “nest fidelity” and will generally return to the same nest year after year. Western Screech Owls are cavity nesters, to the number of eggs and chicks will remain a mystery until several weeks from now. In the meantime, I satisfy myself knowing the little ones are in the nest and I will try to watch how the adult Owls begin their nightly activities. With the female sitting on eggs or minding the chicks, she no longer goes out hunting. The male does all of the hunting for the entire family.

Although I’ve been observing this pair for two springs already, this is the first time I’ve seen this particular prey being brought to the nest. The male Owl has a House Sparrow in his talons. That will make a very large meal for the family.

This mesquite branch appears to be a very active roost spot for the birds. One evening the female Western Screech Owl left the box a half hour after sunset. Although I didn’t see it, I would guess that she used the time to cast a pellet, poop, and to somehow communicate with her partner that she was awake and hungry. She quickly returned to the nest box.

The night after the House Sparrow snack, the first meal of the night was Cockroach. Those insects are full of protein with little fat and I would guess that just like a tasty candy, they are crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

The mesquite branch offers a direct view of the nest box for the Owls. After one food delivery, the male Owl retreated to a low cholla branch to continue his hunting. Look at the size of those feathered feet and those long talons! Head to tail, these Western Screech owls are perhaps eight inches long.

Last night I decided to not even watch the next box but sat on the back porch staring at the mesquite branch. After almost 45 minutes, I was rewarded by the Western Screech Owl who appeared with a Western Banded Gecko to feed the family. Each of the following three photos has a different character so I am sharing all three with you.

This side view helped me to ID the reptile as a Western Banded Gecko.

And the owl seems to be thinking, I’ve had enough of you now! He soon flew to the nest with his treat. Notice the “lipstick” on the gecko?

The Western Screech Owl babies will not leave the nest for another month or so expect a few more photos during this season!

Return to Foothills Clusters Home