Annual Arrivals

Cedar Waxwings are a very sociable bird, preferring large groups as they partake of various berries.  They’re fairly widespread although they follow migration patterns with winter and berry supplies.

We have one tree (and I have no idea what kind it is, to be truthful) that produces a fair amount of purple berries.  This is a picture I managed to capture of one cedar waxwing at work.

They’re a beautiful bird, with a crest resembling a cardinal’s and bright coloration.

They’re a little difficult to photograph because they’re in almost constant motion.  But since they tend to form such large groups, sometimes the easiest thing is to point the camera at a likely bunch of berries and simply wait for one to stop long enough to get a photo.

Around this time as well, many birds will begin to think about raising young.  While most of them will wait until the weather warms a little more, the Eastern Screech Owl prefers laying eggs in the cold weather and having its young emerge when spring is beginning to signal its arrival.

A neighbor has had a nesting box for screech owls for a few years and just put up a new one, so I’m hoping they will nest once more.  They hadn’t the past couple years, as far as I could tell, although there was a period of three years in a row when they were very successful.  One year resulted in four owlets (although one died during a heavy thunderstorm after already leaving the nest).

Eastern Screech Owls are fairly accustomed to humans and unless approached too closely may simply watch as long as they feel they’re beyond reach.

These youngsters (there were often three but this picture only caught two together one early evening) would allow me to come close enough to photograph them.  Sometimes their mother would be close by as well.  Note the slight “horns” (raised feathers) which they use to make themselves appear larger.  When they rise tall on their feet and puff up their feathers, they are in more of a warning mode of alarm.

This is a very young owlet that has just learned to fly.  One evening I opened my front door and this one flew down to the porch to check me out.  It remained there for several minutes, long enough to have my wife bring the camera and take a few pictures.  Its mother was in a tree nearby, calling to the baby to return, which it eventually did.

A screech owl’s call can best be described ( at least by me) as similar to a horse whinny, but more eerie and higher like a whistle.  Mated pairs will usually roost separately from one another during the day, and then call to one another as dusk falls.  So when you hear one calling at dusk, it may be trying to call its mate to meet up prior to hunting.

They’ll eat a variety of small prey – including moths and other large insects, geckos are a favorite treat, small goldfish from outdoor ponds, anoles and other small lizards, small birds if possible, and an occasional small garden snake.

Blue jays and similar birds in the corvidiae family (ravens and crows) will mob screech owls if they discover where one is roosting during the day.  Corvids recognize predatory birds like owls and hawks and will relentlessly harass them.

There is a gentleman who has maintained a nesting box with cameras for many years now and provides considerable insights into the raising of owlets by their parents.  It’s a very good site and I hope he does it again this year – assuming he has the time, the equipment can be kept in working order, and the owls cooperate.

Owlets are precocious and leave a nest quite early, before being capable of actual flight.  During this time, they rely on their formidable climbing skills – using their already powerful beaks and claws to climb to safety where they experiment with short glides from one limb to another.  Their parents maintain a watchful vigil over the youngsters during this critical time.  For a few months after learning to fly, the youngsters will remain close to at least one parent (usually the mother) to learn foraging and hunting skills.

Eastern Screech Owls readily adapt to urban environments and the unfortunate downside of this is that some of their losses are due to collisions with cars.  Screech owls tend to hunt beneath the canopy, soaring down in a long glide and occasionally this happens low across a street.

If a young owlet is ever encountered, its parents are probably close by, watching.  Unless it  appears to be injured or in danger for some reason (such as far from any tree with potential predators such as cats around), it should be left alone.  They’re very adept climbers and will get back into any nearby tree fairly quickly.  Try to approach a young owlet may trigger a protective response from one or both parents.  And handling a young owlet is something best done with heavy gloves, since their claws and beaks can cause damage to any exposed skin.