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We have had an owl nesting box nailed to a Pitch Pine at the edge of the side yard for years. It is quite similar to the more common Wood Duck nesting box. As a matter of fact there is really little difference and I suppose if a Wood Duck ever started to nest in this box we would be thrilled and there would likely be no trespass or squatter rights contested. So, we have this big old nest box (probably the same one that KR gave me twenty plus years ago) hung where owls, squirrels, and Great-crested Flycatchers all have a shot it it. The small Sreech-Owls usually gain control each spring.
Over the past decade we have been the landlords to a pair of Eastern Screech-Owls on about 4 out of every 5 years. Screech owls are a smallish predator of the night and very common in eastern half of the US. It seems a bit odd to me but they rarely are found north of the Canadian border or in the western states. There are other small and smallish owls in these places but this very successful type has never swept north or west. Before you stop and marvel at that tidbit let me be clear – there is also a Western Screech-Owl and a Whiskered Screech-Owl. These are both western species and are very similar in appearance to the eastern but the voice/song is quite different amongst the three types. The Whiskered barely reached the USA in southern Arizona and is primarily a bird of the Mexican highlands. The Western Screech-Owl ranges from Alaska well into Mexico and is found in all of the western mountain ranges.
In bird nomenclature there are often usages that are a bit baffling. In the case of the screech owls it is seen that they are called “XXXX Screech-Owls”. They have their first name and then they then have both Screech and Owl capitalized and separated by a hyphen or dash. The mid-sized heron group that we call Night-Herons have the same naming structure.
Anyway, back to our nest box and owls. The Eastern Screech-Owl is a bit of a genetic oddball in that there are gray morphs and reddish morphs but no blended form or mixed color form or any forms that show a blending of gray and red. Two gray adults can have reddish young or gray young or one of each. They are “eared” in that feather tufts can be seen on all birds starting just before they fledge and then on throughout their lifetime. They are rather intricately patterned with the ventral side marked with vertical lines and almost fernlike delicate horizontal lines which allow them to stand on a branch next to a tree trunk and blend in with the bark. Let’s take a look at some of the recent birds of prey seen in and over the yard and then then look at our most recent owl family.