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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Squirrel has moved in

On Tuesday night (3/26) both owls were around much of the night and even were both in the box together.  I will try to sort out the video from that night when I have a chance.  Then on Wednesday, only Gray was around.  No owls came by during the night since early Thursday morning.  Today, I was away most of the day and when I got home there were many new leaves (and a squirrel) in the box.  Trying to evict the squirrel, I tapped on the box, it left, and I opened it to clear some leaves.  Unfortunately, I discovered that the mother squirrel had brought her young into the box also.  They are not new born but appear to be several days or more old.  I couldn't see how many there were (at least 2, maybe 3 or 4).  Not wanting to hurt them, I closed the box for the night.  The mother squirrel has returned to nursing and sheltering her brood.  I don't know what will happen if the owls return tonight.  I guess we will find out together.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Long Courtship

It is a new year and I, as well as the pair of owls have a lot to learn.  At least this time around, it will be very easy to tell the owls apart.  I have only had one brief view of the new red-phase owl--it is a truly beautiful, full rufous red, not at all a "brown phase" individual.

For anyone reading this who is not familiar with Screech Owls, they mate for life.  If one passes, the other will adopt a new mate.  Once the eggs are laid, the female will depend almost exclusively on the male to bring food for her and the owlets.  What is apparently occurring now is the test phase.  Is the box suitable?  Will the male be able to supply the needed food?  Do they trust each other?

I record video every night from dusk to dawn, log every arrival/departure to the box, and make notes on any behaviors that I observe.  I don't know why, I guess it has become an obsession.  On a typical night lately, 12 hours of video have produced 5-30 minutes of owls doing something, anything--the rest nothing (which you probably already know if you have checked out the live feed).  Although I delete much of it, I save many hours more than I share with you here--you get the cream.  Maybe someday, I will figure out what to do with the rest of it.

In the mean time, here is a video from March 23 of Gray feeding Red.  This was the first (maybe second but it was not conclusive) of a feeding taking place.  Check back to last year and you will see videos of Papa bringing Momma whole voles to prove his worthiness!  Stay with us to see what happens this year:


I apologize for keeping my 9 followers in suspense.  This year is a new experience for me with my owls.  As I have mentioned, the pair includes a red-phase owl, easily distinguished on the videos because it is much lighter in color than the other.  The pair (one gray, one red) have been scarce at the nest box but I still think we are going to have a successful year.  I have been trying to upload a video made last night of Gray feeding Red!  That will be the first time I have seen them on camera!  More when I can do that.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


There have not been any visits to the nest box (day or night) by either owl since 3/14.  That doesn't necessarily mean that they are gone or that they won't nest, just that this is a new year and I have lots to learn.  The squirrels (up to 4 at a time) have been visiting the box so it will be a challenge.  I have been gently discouraging the squirrels and removing any plastic bags and other unnatural trash that they bring.  So far none have tried to spend the night.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Squirrel but no Owl today--Don't Worry

Neither owl is spending today in the next box.  The squirrel looked in early this morning, as it has every morning.  Since the owl wasn't there, it has started bringing in materials to rebuild its nest.  Based on previous years this is perfectly normal.  Check out two previous blog entries:  Nest Prep and Courtship (posted 4/11/11) and Three Eggs and a Squirrel (3/19/12).  At least with the experienced female of past years, the owl will always win the battle.  As much as I try not to influence nature though, I am going to give the new owl(s) a break and help out.  I can see the squirrel is filling the box with plastic bags (wish I could find out where it is getting them) and I am concerned that an owl, especially a young one, may have difficultly negotiating such a mine field.  Leaves I am not worried about.  I will remove the bags just before dark tonight and let the owls take it from there.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The red-phase owl is learning about the nest box.

While I am still not sure which owl is the male and which is the female, one thing is clear.  The gray-phase owl (I am going to call it Gray--perhaps in honor of one of my longest followers, Grey) clearly has been around the nest box before and is "wooing" the red-phase.  Every other year for 8 years now, the female was a gray phase owl.  Last year, both were.  In 2011, I called the male a red-phase but he was really much more a brown-phase (see photo in Sibley, Field Guide to the Birds).  The red-phase (hereafter called, you guessed it, Red!) owl is an incredibly beautiful rufous-red.  I hope to be able to share a photo sometime soon but it is very shy.  Now I will shut up and let you see a video clip from yesterday morning and let you help decide which is the male and which is the female--not until we have eggs will be know for sure.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Video from March 11 (early morning)

Here are two videos of the pair of owls.  These were recorded on the morning of March 11.  Since then, the red-phase owl has spent two days (yesterday and today--March 13) in the nest box.  I will try to keep the live feed on for people to watch while we wait for egg laying and decide for sure which owl is the female.

And the second video a couple of hours later:

New Owl(s)!

Sorry about the delay in postings but things have changed.  After the last post questioning which owl was which, everything went silent around the nest box.  From 2/7 until 3/9 only a squirrel was there.  After spending a wonderful week in Puerto Rico learning about its varied habitats (especially the rain forest), I returned on 2/27 to a nest box crammed full of leaves and junk.  In the past, Momma had quickly cleared the squirrel nest and taken over--not this year.  On 2/29, I cleared the box (no there weren't any baby squirrels) and reset the camera.

March 9, activity began again.  I will be posting videos later today or tomorrow (just been too busy and they are a lot of work) to help everyone understand the interactions of the two owls that have been visiting.  The bottom line is that the owl that is now roosting in the box is a really beautiful full red-phase bird.  All evidence points to this bird as the female.

I will try to keep the live feed on, adding sound at night, for you to watch with me as the spring progresses.

I will certainly miss Momma (and will have to rename the new female) after spending 8 years with her.  But that is nature and we will establish a new relationship.  Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Update, Video, and Question

Over the past week, the screech owls have been around but were not seen, either in the video or in the yard on either January 17 or 18.  I record every night from at least dark until dawn and log in a spreadsheet, every arrival and significant (and some not so significant) observations.  The following video is a clip from last night (1/19-20).  At 1:40 a.m., one of the owls (the one I have been calling Momma) was in the box, the second owl arrived and they almost instantly changed places.  Here is the action:

Now the question:  Many references discussing the Eastern Screech Owl mention that the male selects the cavity and then attracts the female by calling.  The female selects the male with the "best" nest cavity and presumable voice as well.  They are also believed to mate for life (of course if one passes away, a new mate may be found).  If one were to judge only on the above video, one would assume that the first owl was the male, and owl 2, the female.  I believe it is the other way around.  Evidence:

1)  This nest box has been used for 7 straight years.  The female (and if fact every owl I have ever seen looking out of the nest box including last night) has always been a gray phase bird.  The average life of a wild screech owl is about 14 years. I am assuming that the one in the box first last night is the same female that has been here for years.
2)  The difference in coloration (can't really see color in the night videos unfortunately) suggests that owl 2 is a red phase.  (NOTE:  the phase color does not indicate gender).  Two years ago the male was definitely a red phase, but last year, I am pretty sure they were both gray phase.  If the above are true this is a new male.
3)  In the video on 1/12, the owl in the box (tonight's owl 1) left for 12 seconds and returned with a grub--too quickly I believe to have dug it up on its own.  That suggests that the owl that was not visible provided it to owl 1--typical behavior for a courting male.

We will all have to keep watching to find out for sure.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Couple of Words on 2013

I have recently replaced the camera in my nest box with a new Hawkeye Nature Cam (  Some may notice that the owls enter from the opposite side of the image this year--still the same box and placement in my oak tree--just more logical for me since it now is what I see from my window.  I also have a second Hawkeye Cam (their original model), mounted outside the box that I can monitor during daylight and early evening/morning and save still images from the front of the box outside. I don't anticipate broadcasting from that cam unless someone out there has a substantial amount of money to contribute to the hardware and effort necessary.

The new camera has great sound but I have issues broadcasting audio apparently due to an incompatibility between UStream and the Dazzle digital-to-video converter I am using.  Any suggestions would be welcome.

Finally, Blogger, YouTube, Pinnacle Studio, and UStream (all of which I use to bring you my simple, lovely owls) are constantly changing and I need to figure out the changes (improvements?) available since last year.  For the next couple of weeks, I will be changing things in the broadcast periodically as I learn.  Hopefully, by the time that Momma Owl is there more frequently and ready for egg laying in March, I will have it all figured out and the broadcast can be on-line most of the time for your pleasure.

If you become a member of this blog, you will be kept up to date on all of the happenings.  Thanks for joining us!

Monday, January 14, 2013

It's a new year for Momma Owl

The 2013 Screech Owl year is beginning.  Last year on January 9, I recorded encounters between Momma and Papa at the nest box.  Last weekend (1/12/13) they returned again.  The following video records some of the sounds Momma was making as she interacted with her mate.  At one point, she leaves the box returning in 12 seconds with a grub.  Did she have time to catch her own, or did she take an offering from him.  I will post as interesting things transpire but remember that the first egg was not laid until March 12 last year.