Chris’ Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box Cam’

The 2003 eastern screech owl (Megascops asio previously classified as Otus asio) nesting season has concluded in this urban Austin, Texas, nest box.

The views shown here are provided by one or more tiny monochrome video cameras that are sensitive to both visible and near-infrared light. During the day, the camera "sees" using the normal daylight that streams in through the entrance hole, but the extreme lighting contrast between the portions of the interior that are in direct sunlight, and the dark floor of the box where most of the action takes place, can make it difficult for the cameras to produce high quality images. At night, however, arrays of infrared illuminators take over from the sun and the entire interior is consistently illuminated and clearly visible. (Meet the nest box internals.) So, the best viewing is at night. Since the owls are nocturnal, that seems appropriate.

Daily Image Archive

February 2003
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March 2003
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April 2003
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May 2003
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Daily News

May 22 - [3:45 AM] Owlet and adult fly to nest box tree to observe me taking down the washing. Returning with a light, I'm treated to the sight of the vigorous owlet hopping, flying and climbing through the branches of the tree while the adult owl looks around for food. One food delivery was made to the food-begging owlet. No idea what it was, unfortunately.

May 14 - [2:30 AM] Owlet found sitting in nest box tree, while one of the parents observed from a hackberry tree on the other side of my small wildflower meadow. This is probably a good place to hunt moths, in addition to being familiar territory. Unfortunately, by the time I returned with my camera and tripod, the owlet had disappeared. The adult in the hackberry remained to observe my futile owlet search, however.

May 10 - The owlet has graduated from brancher to fledgling. In other words, he's flying. I located the entire family in a pair of hackberry trees at the back edge of my yard around 4 AM.

At 10 PM the owlet was still there, being guarded by one adult. So the adults may think my pair of hackberrys are a safe place to keep the owlet during the day, or the owlet may not be up to long flights yet, and therefore the adults haven't had a chance to move him nearer to their usual roost sites, wherever those may be.

May 8 - Both adults are defending the area of the nest box tree, and making food deliveries, so the owlet must still be alive and well.

May 6 - Owlet still doing fine. One of the adults, probably the female, spent the day with him amongst the leaves of the uppermost banches of the nest box tree. They were occasionally scolded by starlings, blue jays, and other birds that happened to notice them, but weren't threatened enough to move. Throughout the night, it seems there's always at least one adult on guard duty, though not necessarily in the nest box tree.

May 5 - Success. The owlet is safely out of the nest box. Judging by the time it took him to make the move, he must have walked straight-out onto the owlet rail, and seconds later leapt directly to a tree limb beneath, and to the side of, the nest box. It's a significant leap, and one that I've only seen one other owlet manage in the past.

Having left the nest box, the owlet has graduated from "nestling" to "brancher". A brancher is a raptor that has left the nest, but is not yet able to fly. In screech owls, this stage lasts about a week. During this time, the owlet will climb from branch to branch, and even from tree to tree where intermeshed branches permit. If it falls to the ground, it will climb to safety. Throughout the night, the adults will deliver food to the owlet, and guard the area around the tree. The adults are at their most aggressive during this period. They will make their displeasure with visitors known by, in order of progressive severity: clapping their beaks, making mock attack passes just barely above their target (you can feel the startling rush of air over your head as they pass), and, if all else fails, by flying past the visitor and raking he/she/it with their talons, which draw blood without difficulty. (Taking the photos above earned me only beak clapping, so I wasn't seen as much of a threat.)

During the day, one or both adults will guard the brancher, generally by perching next to it in the deepest cover the brancher can reach. They will avoid doing anything that might draw attention to themselves, unless absolutely necessary.

I will provide updates over the course of the week, assuming I'm able to locate the owlet.

Things to Know About

If you're enjoying the Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box Cam' this season, drop me a line. No need to say anything, if you'd rather not. Why? It gives me an idea how many people are enjoying the cam', and your messages are a lot more fun to read than my normal email. (Your email address won't be used in any mailing list, or provided to anyone for any reason.)

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