WORDS ON BIRDS
Screech Owls Find Essex Home
January 27, 2018
friend and fellow birder, Phil, gave us an appropriate house-
warming gift: a screech owl box. It was appropriate because the town
of Essex seems to be full of screech owls. There are multiple boxes
placed in yards around town, including in the yards of a couple of
our close neighbors.
We have seen
owls roosting in some of these boxes on multiple occasions. We know
about some that have nested and produced young. There are, or have
been, screech owls roosting in numerous natural cavities around town
as well, including one right along Route 133. I often see that one
in the morning on my way to work.
Phil came over to our house one morning last week to put up our new
box in the backyard. I took out my twenty-foot ladder and he
supplied the rest of the necessary materials. We picked a tall
hickory tree with few lower branches so the owl would have easy
flight access and the squirrels would not be able to jump to the
front of the box.
We faced the box
so that a roosting owl would get the afternoon sun. Phil attached a
loop high on the trunk and we hoisted the box high up with a rope.
He then secured the box to the tree with long screws.
As we were doing this, we heard a creature squealing from near the
deck where we have all of our bird feeders. As Phil and I turned to
see what was happening, a small hawk came rushing by us, heading for
the woods with a screeching starling clasped tightly in its talons!
As the hawk went by with the
struggling starling, we could see that it was an adult sharp-shinned
hawk. We watched as it landed on the ground about fifty yards into
the woods. It was obscured by a stone wall and some thick shrubs,
but several crows had heard the commotion and surrounded the raptor
and its prey.
Eventually the squeal
of the starling ceased, only to be replaced by the loud caws of the
murder of crows that were hoping for a free meal. We proceeded with
our task at hand and the background noise subsided. By the time we
finished, the hawk must have flown off with its prey and the crows
As Phil tossed some
wood shavings into the house and closed the front, he quipped, “Just
add owl!” Our task was done, and now we all just had to hope that an
owl would find the new house and accept the new accommodations.
Margo and I headed over to Cape Ann
that afternoon to do some birding. When we arrived home just after
dusk, we stepped out of the car to the whinny of a screech owl in
the woods near our driveway. I pulled out my iPhone and opened an
app to play a short screech owl call. In less than a minute, I could
make out the silhouette of the little owl perched on a branch above
me! Now if he (or she) would just find the new box that we provided!
The next morning, I awakened before
dawn and I glanced out at the box. It was still too dark to see
anything in the hole. I picked up our binoculars and I could see a
form in the hole. I still couldn’t be sure if it was an owl or a
squirrel. After a few minutes, it was light enough to see that it
was a red morph screech owl peering out the hole! I woke Margo and
she smiled as she saw the owl through the binoculars. I texted Phil,
Later, while speaking
with the local man, Scott, who made the box and many others around
town, he said that we now have the record for the quickest occupancy
after erecting a box. The previous record was three days!
Bird Watcher's Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
years of service to the birding community!
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