Well Owl Be

Screech owl spotted on Conrad.

Photo credit: Carolyn Card Sutton

Check out “hoo” moved to East Falls last month: an Eastern Screech Owl, most likely a male setting up his nest in the hopes of enticing a female to breed with him this April/May. If he scores, they’ll probably wind up taking residence here for several years – Screech Owls are monogamous and mate for life and typically will reuse the same nesting site.

Hopefully, his choice of location (on a well-trafficked street) won’t be a hard sell. Fortunately, screech owls have adapted well to human development, mostly because they’re so strictly nocturnal we rarely notice them.

They’ve also got great camouflage! They can flatten their feathers and get all skinny to mimic a tree branch, closing their eyes and even seeming to sway back and forth with the wind. When threatened, they’ll puff up their plumage to seem as large and dangerous as possible – a sweet trick for a tiny raptor that’s only about the size of a robin (one of the smallest owls on the continent).

But boy do they eat. Their diet includes beetles, moths, crickets, cicadas, rodents, mice, bats, earthworms, reptiles and even small fish. They can take down prey in flight — even creatures that outweigh them: shrews and songbirds the size of rabbits. If they can’t swallow their catch whole they will fly it back to their nest where they can tear it up with their claws and sharp, curved bill. Any indigestible matter like fur, bones and feathers is coughed up in 2 – 4 dark gray, oval “pellets” a day.

Photo credit: allaboutbirds.org
Eastern Screech Owl in North America (source owlresearchinstitute.org)

Not So Screechy (Possibly Lying About Other Stuff Too)

Contrary to what their name implies, Screech Owls rarely screech – usually just when they’re defending their homes or young. Their calls instead are generally plaintive, mellow trills that descend in tone and have a whinny-like quality. Both males and females sing (it sounds like low, soft hooting).

Owls can live 20+ years in captivity but average lifespan in the wild is only 3 – 7 years, thanks to human dangers like traffic, trash, rat poison, etc. in addition to host of predators: cats, weasels, raccoons, skunks, hawks and pretty much every bigger species of owl in its habitat. Even crows and blue jays pose a threat to younger Screeches and nestlings. Not-So Fun Fact: usually only 1 baby out of every clutch (3 – 5 eggs) survives to adulthood.

Credit: Philly Metro Wildlife Center Facebook Page

Human Hazards 

These baby screech owls lost their home (and parents) when the tree where they nested was cut down. Philly Metro Wildlife Center worked hard to provide vital care without habituating them to humans, so they could survive when released back to nature.

Watch Out For That Tree! Springtime is NO time to be trimming or cutting down trees – birds and other wildlife are nesting and raising young. Some species breed again in summer, which btw is prime time for insects and other pests. Best to keep pruning for the fall when Nature is dormant.

If you see tree trimmers disturbing an active nest TAKE PICS of the nest, the location and the company’s name. Report violations to the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s very active Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or call their Southeast branch at (610) 926-3136.

You probably should also alert Philly Metro and community pages like Living in Germantown and East Falls Rants!

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