Eastern Screech Owl
by Stan Tekiela
May 25, 2007
Photos by Stan Tekiela©
Ask anyone who knows
me and they will tell you that I love all birds
but there is one special group of birds that
I stand partial towards--the owls. For as long
as I can remember owls and other raptors have
held a special place in my naturalist heart.
I have traveled thousands of miles and hiked
many miles more to see and photograph owls all
over this country. They are just one of those
birds that really excite me.
I am not the only one who finds owls captivating.
I know many who are just as enthralled as I
am with these birds. One of the things that
I find so interesting about owls are that some
species are so tiny such as the Elf Owl which
is only 6 inches tall while others are so large
such as the Great Gray Owl which stands over
two feet tall. Even though there is a large
size difference these owls share many common
For the past two years I have been fortunate
enough to be able to do an in-depth study and
photograph, with the aid of some modern technology,
of a nesting pair of Eastern Screech Owls. These
small owls have been very accommodating and
tolerant of my efforts to learn more about their
It all started last year when a wonderful
retired couple contacted me to stay they had
an owl roosting in one of their Wood Duck boxes.
It was late winter so I stopped by to take a
look. Sure enough an Eastern Screech Owl (gray
morph) had taken up winter residency in one
of the wood duck boxes. On sunny days she would
sit with her face out of the hole allowing me
several nice opportunities to photograph it.
Later, towards spring a second owl, this time
a red morph, showed up and was also roosting
in a near by nest box. The home owner and I
went around and looked in all the nest boxes
to determine which one they where using for
nesting. We installed a tiny infra-red camera
that is capable of seeing in the dark in the
nest box. We ran a wire from the nest box into
the home and hooked it up to the VCR and TV.
Just like that we had a window into the private
life of this pair of owls.
It wasn’t long before the female started
laying eggs. We watched as each day she would
lay another ping-pong sized and shaped egg until
she had a total of four eggs. Over the next
month we watch as she preformed what I think
is an amazing feat—incubating the eggs.
Incubating may seem like a simple and mundane
process but in many respects it’s another
example of how amazing mother nature can be.
Think about it; if “you” sat down
for a month, as this bird does, with only a
few minutes break each day, your muscles would
atrophy (weaken) to the point where you would
need to learn how to walk all over again.
During this month long incubation the eggs
need to be kept near 99 degrees F which is a
degree warmer than our own body core temperature.
Owls average around 104 F body core temperature.
The female does all of the incubating. The male
will bring her food which she sometimes carries
off to consume someplace else or will stay in
the box to eat.
Photo by Stan Tekeila ©2007
Twenty six days after she started incubating
the camera showed us the hatching of the four
owl chicks. As each egg hatched the mother eat
the egg shells presumably to regain the calcium
that she lost while producing the eggs. Each
tiny owl chick comes into this world with its
eyes sealed shut and sparsely feathered. The
mother continues to sit on the chicks to keep
them warm. This is called brooding. For the
first week or so of their lives the tiny owls
have no ability to regulate their body temperature
so brooding is extremely important. If the chicks
become cold they will be too weak to lift their
heads and feed. Without feeding they will become
even weaker and cool off even more and will
The male brings the female and the chicks
their food. He flies up to the nest box and
quickly deposits whatever morsel he has caught
into the nest hole. Usually it is a large insect
such as a moth, but he also brought in many
mice and small birds. Each food drop is accompanied
by a lot of calling by the female.
Night after night he faithfully brings in
enough food for the chicks and the mother. The
mother tears up the food items and feeds the
hungry owlets. After only a week the female
leaves the box and the young start to feed themselves
on whatever the parents drop into the box. By
the third week the young have grown enough to
leave the safety of their nest box and join
We were extremely fortunate enough to have
the same pair of birds return to the same nest
box this year but this time laid six eggs. Again
with the aid of the infra-red camera we watched.
Tragedy stuck when during one of the nights
when we were not watching four of the six eggs
went missing. We don’t know if it was
a raccoon but that is my guess. Shortly after
the two remaining eggs hatched. We were thrilled
I still see each bird hatching as a miracle
and this year was no different. As I write this
the two young owls are growing and stretching
their wings in preparation for their first flight
out of the box. Once again I feel as proud as
the owl parents. Until next time...
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