by Barbara Walvoord
An eerie screech or whinny you hear near the woods at dusk or nighttime will reveal a nocturnal owl the size of a pint jar, so well camouflaged that you will probably never see it (hear the call at https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Screech-Owl/sounds).
But screech owls are common in our area. They have kept themselves off the rare species list by being not too picky. They have adapted from their forest home to thrive in suburbs and urban areas.
They eat an astonishing variety of foods, including worms, insects, crayfish, tadpoles, frogs, lizards, rats, mice, squirrels, moles, rabbits, and birds, even large birds like jays, doves, starlings, and woodpeckers. They are agile enough to occasionally prey on bats. They store surplus dead prey in tree holes and may eat the leftover meat for up to four days–truly not picky.
Tree holes are the usual homes of screech owls, but they will also use nest boxes, woodpiles, mailboxes, or crates left on the ground.
They don’t build nests, but lay their eggs in a shallow depression in whatever litter is at the bottom of the tree hole–wood chips, old leaves, or feathers from previous residents.
Screech owls mate for life, though occasionally a male will try bigamy. The second mate may drive the first mate out of the nest, lay new eggs among the eggs of the first mate, and, not too picky about her “own” kids, raise both broods.
When food is scarce, the nestlings, not too picky about siblicide, may kill their weakest brother or sister.
At Lathrop, we nurture these adaptable, scrappy little owls by protecting the woods in which they live and the many creatures they eat.