Sunday, April 25, 2021
Sitting outside in the shade of the oak trees, a gentle breeze brushes against me. I search for the male screech owl, scanning the forks of trees and branches in the high canopies. Last year he wedged himself into the “V” of our neighbor’s oak and stayed there dutifully each day, his eyes on the owl box. This spring he perched in the usual spot, but a pair of chickadees, guarding their own nest in a small bird house nearby, fussed at him, driving the owl from his comfortable spot. He must be there someplace in those trees.
The owlets are growing rapidly. The fifth egg must have hatched on or about April 17 when we noticed the last egg missing, but the little newcomer wasn’t visible. The owlets huddle together in one big fuzzy ball, so it’s hard to tell how many owlets are there, but by Monday the fifth owlet could be seen in the middle of its four siblings, its tiny white head and skinny wings and body sticking out. Five owlets – amazing! Having hatched three days after the others, he is markedly smaller and a little behind.
At first the owlets were just a blur of pale gray feathers; now their bodies have conformation. They are little oval shapes with dark masks around their eyes and beaks. In the middle of the week, one or two sprouted quills, tiny sparkling dots on their feathers. They wobble about, their cheeps louder now, slowly developing a screech.
During the day Mrs. Owl shuffles around the nest, picking up food from a bird carcass left in the box, feeding her young. She is restless. The box is getting crowded, the weather warmer. She hops into the entrance throughout the day, looking out longingly. In the evening, as soon as it’s dark, the meal deliveries begin. Both parents shuttle back and forth to the nest feeding the owlets – birds, lizards, snakes, insects. The owlets crowd the parent as they land on the floor of the box, the adults screeching while the owlets answer, trying to imitate. It’s every owlet for themselves, the tiny screech owls grabbing whatever they can. The youngest struggles to reach the end of the food chain, but every once in a while he grabs something. I worry about him getting enough food, but the parents are good providers. They tag team, going back and forth, constantly bringing food. As the owlets grow larger each day, we treasure each minute knowing how fortunate we are to watch this pair of screech owls raise their family.