Midwinter – the Screech Owl Leaves the Box

Sunday, February 4, 2024

            The owl was not in the box today.  A sudden panic sets in – has he left?  Yesterday an owl was in the box, tearing at some piece of food, probably a bird.  This alone was new behavior; until now, the owl has sat in the box contentedly without bringing any prey in, and it seemed possible this was a different owl, perhaps the female?  Also, the debris that was left in the box by the squirrel was pushed noticeably to one side of the box.

            I take out my manual, The Eastern Screech Owl by Frederick R. Gehlbach, and search for encouragement.  He says male eastern screech owls sometimes leave the nest box between Christmas and Valentine’s Day for a while.  “Our” owl has not left at all until today. Gehlbach says that by St. Patrick’s Day the female arrives to “spend a few quiet days” before laying eggs.  I look at the history of our box, at the last successful nesting, and the first egg was laid March 12 (2021).  So, we have a wait.  As the weather warms the male may leave and come back, as the male is smaller, does not hold body heat as well and so prefers to roost in nest boxes. 

            The weather warmed this week with temperatures reaching 70º at one point.  It was a welcome change from the cold and rain, but hardly true winter.  Friday afternoon and evening it rained again, filling puddles at the barn, the terrain slippery as I walked to Willis’s paddock.  Shae brought new bucket hangers so the horses’ feed buckets don’t lie in the mud and water.  Willis HATES water.  That fear is so deeply engrained in him he will not even cross a puddle.  I tried yesterday and he just made tight circles around the puddles. 

            Today was windy all day.  Daisy and I walked through the neighborhood enjoying the mild winer.  The cedars along Q-Ranch Road, their trunks look like they have been stripped or shaved.  It must be from the drought.  Other trees are bare, their skeletons showing their fine form.  A does leaps through a yard and runs up the road; then a second.  Either something has frightened them or they feel the rain clouds hovering overhead. 

            Where have the birds gone?  Aside from a titmouse stealing a sunflower seed from the feeder, a cardinal sitting in the bird feeder tray, a dove drinking from the bird bath or a wren singing happily on the fence, I have seen few.  Then again, I haven’t watched diligently.  Maybe I’m not paying attention.  This morning vultures circled overhead, five of them.  There is a house about two blocks from here where large branches have broken off from oaks in last year’s storm.  They bend to the ground, resting on the grass.  At first I wondered why they hadn’t been hauled away, cut off and shopped up.  But today I am glad, happy to see them there.  They provide cover and food for birds and so many other creatures.  I look at the lantana and other withering plants and decide to leave them as they are, food and habitat for those I do not or cannot see. 


Christine Baleshta