By Dan Weisz
The Western Screech Owls all over the Foothills are busy these days.
Now that it is very hot each day, the female Western Screech Owl leaves the nest box in my backyard shortly after sunset and spends up to ten minutes quenching her thirst. She’ll get a drink, then look around for a while, then get another drink, and repeat. The owls will lap later into her bill, then tip her head back to let it run down her throat.
On this night, after filling up with water, she found a nearby perch and relieved herself. She squats down in order to do this.
This was a lucky shot. The owl is “casting a pellet”. Owls usually swallow their prey whole and break it down in their gizzard. The bones, teeth, fur and other indigestible material is compressed into a pellet shaped mass that is then disgorged by regurgitation.
Later, she flew to the water dishes on the ground to take a bath.
A few night’s later, she was back on a perch and scratching herself.
Although this photo is blurry, it gives you a sense of what the owl looks like when she returns to her nest box.
I know that the eggs have hatched by the method the owl uses to drop down into the box. Several weeks ago, when the owl dropped into the box after looking out of the opening, she just dropped down and disappeared quickly. For the past two weeks, she turns and looks down before descending. I am sure she is looking at the owlets so she doesn’t just step on their heads.
And then she slowly descends into the nest box.
The male leaves his daytime perch in our neighbor’s porch pillar around the same time the female leaves the box to take a drink. I never see him drinking and usually he is out in the desert nearby hunting. I rarely see him but often hear his calling from the desert. One night this week he perched in my backyard. When I moved, he straightened up and erected the feather tufts on his head. That’s his disguise mode used to blend into the trees that are often behind him. He has not spent as much time near me as his partner has.
A few night’s later, I saw the male again. This time, he had caught some food. He’s holding a Western Banded Gecko in his beak. You can see a fresh wound in the gecko’s belly where the owl probably first caught him. Now, the owl is carefully holding the gecko by its skull and awaiting a call from the female to make the delivery to the nest.