Screech Owls Choose A Nest

December 10, 2023

            It began on October 26, 2023, when the male screech owl first appeared in the owl box and stayed each day, leaving just as evening shadows hid his nightly flight.  On Thanksgiving Day, there was a surprise in the owl box – two screech owls – something we have never seen before.  We often turn the camera on during the day just to make sure the owl is still there, and when we turned it on sometime after noon, there were two screech owls, huddled in opposite corners of the box.  Later that afternoon, sometime around five o’clock, the two owls crowded into the entrance, one perching outside the box.  We do not know who the second owl was – his female mate?  An offspring?  We assume this was the female because of her behavior.  “She” saw us watching through the window and promptly took off, leaving the other owl staring out the entrance.  The male is very tolerant of our presence, but she is not. 

            Since Thanksgiving only one owl has been in the box.  He stands in the corner, his feathers fluffed up looking like a round, gray ball.  Sometimes he peeks out in the middle of the afternoon, then retreats to the safety of the box.  He would most likely prefer to be outside; instead, loyal owl that he is, he guards the box for his mate.

           Today was a perfect autumn day.  Cold, chilly, around 48º-50º with a slight wind.  I walked by the red-shouldered hawks’ nest today, or where it was.  The great oak that cradled it for so many years spread its branches out, but its arms were empty.  It was not a great surprise to find the nest and the plastic bin that was wedged in the fork of the tree gone.  New owners moved in before last spring’s nesting season and they delighted in watching the adult pair as they settled into the nest and flew back and forth feeding their three young.  Even when one of the eyas fell out of the nest and wandered under the tree, they recruited a neighbor to install a surrogate nest in the fork of the tree made from a plastic tub and lifted the young hawk into it.   Unfortunately, the red-shouldered parents proved ungrateful and dove at the man when he was outside, mowing the lawn or other tasks, as well as passers-by (including myself).  He told me he worried about his year-old daughter and hated to disappoint all the neighbors and bird watchers who came by, but it was a safety issue.  I looked at the tree today, its branches stretching out, welcoming, leaves shimmering in late afternoon sun.  I am just enjoying the tree.

            I have been looking at trees, leaves in particular.  The sumac trees in the neighborhood are changing color, some a golden yellow and others red-orange, producing red berries that droop down in clumps like grapes.  Prairie Flameleaf sumac grows to around 30 feet high and is usually found on limestone or neutral soils.  Bradford pears are changing too.  I keep watching the Chinese tallow, waiting for its teardrop shaped leaves to transform to deep red.  The cold weather has brought a changing in color for other trees as well: Bradford pear, red oaks, even redbud.  Leaves don’t change in color much in Texas, so I grasp every slight variation. Tonight, the temperature will drop to the 30s, so maybe more trees will change. 

Christine Baleshta