Chris’ Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box Cam’

The 2006 eastern screech owl (Megascops asio, formerly 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 daylight that streams in through the entrance hole. At night, arrays of infrared illuminators take over from the sun. (Meet the nest box internals.)

Daily Image Archive

March 2006
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April 2006
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May 2006
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Start of Nesting: March 17 • First Egg: March 18 • Eggs Laid: 4 • Eggs Hatched: 4 • Surviving Hatchlings: 3 • Weather

Daily News

May 18 - 11:15 PM - Located two owlets, and both adults, in the same hackberry trees they were occupying yesterday night. Some people have asked about the fact that I've only been locating two owlets. Does this mean something happened to one of them? The answer is: I just don't know. On the one hand, first-year mortality among birds of prey is very high. On the other hand, they may all be fine; I could have seen all three of them over the course of the last two nights, but without realizing it because they all look alike. And those are dense trees which provide endless possibilities for hiding. In that respect, it's been a matter of good luck that I've been able to locate any owlets.

Thanks for the latest postcards goes to: Alison B. (Austria!, I think), Jennifer & Ken, and Dorothy G.

May 17 - 11:00 PM - Located one owlet, and then another, high up in a nearby hackberry tree, and one adult with a Texas blind snake in its beak, waiting for me to leave, so it could deliver the food to a lucky youngster. The owlets are impressively mobile already, and the adults have moved off of high alert accordingly, so I can now observe the owlets without being attacked. On the one hand, that was a welcome change; on the other hand, finding the yard unexpectedly undefended during my owlet search, I was beginning to entertain grim speculations about the fate of the owlets. What a relief, then, to find at least two of them alive and well.

12:30 PM - I'd just given-up looking for the owls when the protests of a pair of female grackles led me to one owlet in a crepe mrytle tree whose branches intertwine with the nest box tree's. The protests of Bewick's wrens and a blue jay then led me to the adults, who relocated themselves repeatedly while trying to shake their persecutors, and keep an eye on the discovered owlet. Initially the adults were hiding in the nearby hackberry trees, which is where I saw one of the owlets last night. That suggests an owlet was somewhere in there with with them. Needless to say, I was pleased and relieved to find the owls, but it must have been a seriously annoying day for them.

3:30 AM - Located one owlet in the nest box tree, and one in a nearby hackberry tree.

12:40 AM - Both owlets were still locatable, and doing fine in the branches of the nest box tree.

Thanks for the latest batch of postcards goes out to John & Deb Z., Leena & family (Finland!), Alexandra L., Becky S., Monica & Mike S., and Vin S.

May 16 - Owlet no. 3 exited the nest at 8:39 PM. He/she walked along the owlet rail's new extension, almost all of the way to the tree limb, then fell off. I was watching from about 20 feet away (to the great annoyance of the adults), and had him back in the tree in seconds. The adults showed their appreciation by attacking me repeatedly. (Not that I expected anything less. They're wild animals, and they aren't going to see me as anything other than a threat, which is as it should be.)

I stayed in the area, but at a good distance from the nest box tree, and waited for no. 3 to climb up to a safe place in the tree. When he/she finally did so, I was surprised to find that there was another owlet in the same part of the tree. After running back to the house to take a look at the owl cam', I realized that owlet no. 4 had exited while I was keeping an eye on no. 3. For the record, no. 4 left the nest at 8:56 PM.

That's mostly it for this season. Thanks for watching. Thanks for the postcards. Good luck with your own critters.

I will update this page whenever I have an owlet sighting.

May 15 - With the owlets sitting in the entryway so much of the time, and one sitting somewhere in the nest box tree, food delivery counts have become pointless, but, for the record, I was able to count five in the pre-dawn hours, and two post-sunset. Assume the real numbers are much higher.

The day was just what we've all come to expect. The evening surprised me, however; I was expecting the next owlet to leave the nest tonight, but they both sat tight. Expect the next one to leave tommorrow, shortly after sundown. (I'll just keep predicting that until it actually happens.)

Around noon, I visually searched the nest box tree (and others nearby) for the eldest owlet. I couldn't find him/her. That means very little (except that there are no new photos to show anyone), because owls are supposed to hide during the day, especially the youngsters. At night, the adults continue their aggressive defense of the area around the nest box tree (somewhere on my scalp, I have the scratches to prove it) that began when the eldest owlet left the nest the other evening. So I assume he's still in the nest box tree, but annoyingly well concealed.

May 14 - In the pre-dawn hours, there were at least eight small food deliveries, including one moth, and one gecko. With one or another of the owlets parked in the entryway much of this time, there were really more more deliveries than that, of course.

During the day, the owlets were even more active than usual, and so was I; I installed an extension to the owlet rail this afternoon. It leads out from one end of the rail, crosses about 15 feet of space, and meets a tree limb at the same level as the nest box. In keeping with my hypothesis that most owlets choose their exit path before stepping out onto the rail on the front of the box, and therefore their plans tend to include only things they could see from the entryway, the rail's new extension proceeds directly through the view from the entryway.

I gathered one data point on that rail extension at 8:50 PM when the eldest owlet left the nest box, with the help of a push from one of his/her siblings who was anxious to reap the rewards of sitting in the entryway. Judging by where I found the owlet sitting in the tree, I'd say he/she walked right down the extension and hopped onto the first convenient branch. Photo 1. Photo 2.

Now that one owlet has exited the nest, the adult owls have entered their hyper-defensive stage. Where they would normally be content to watch me walk around beneath the nest box tree, they now try to drive me away as soon as they notice me coming anywhere near the tree. This stage will last for about a week, while there are owlets outside of the nest in their flightless ("brancher") phase. Once the owlets are flying, the adults will mostly go back to putting up with me, but for now they're taking no chances. (This is nighttime-only behavior, by the way. During the day, at least one of the adults will sit with the owlets in the tree, and will keep a very low profile, probably to avoid being mobbed by birds.)

With the eldest owlet gone, the remaining two owlets took shifts in the entryway for much of the evening. The camera only caught one food delivery, though I'm sure there were many more.

Expect the next oldest owlet to exit after sundown tomorrow.

May 13 - After midnight, there were at least eight small food deliveries (one was clearly a gecko). Mme. Owl stopped-in for two minutes of cleaning at 4:02 AM, then there were a minimum of four more small food deliveries before sunrise.

The day was much the same as yesterday, except that on several occasions one of the owlets went to the entryway to have a look at the outside world. This is the first day in which the owlets have taken such an interest. In my experience, the exit of the eldest owlet is preceded by several days during which an owlet (by convention, the eldest) spends significant portions of the day (usually the late afternoon) sitting in the entry hole, watching the world go by. Today's peeks through the entry probably mark the beginning of that behavior this year. Having said that, if this year's eldest owlet leaves at the same age as last year's eldest, he/she will exit on Monday, so there's not a lot of time left for those traditional, pre-exit days of watching the world from the entryway. Every time I think I've found a dependable feature of owlet behavior, they toss a wrench in the works. Rotten owlets.

With the setting of the sun, an owlet positioned itself in the entry hole to make certain it got first crack at all the food. As happened yesterday, that lasted until the owlet had had it's fill, then it dropped back into the box to relax, and the next most anxious owlet took its place, and so on throughout the evening. Consequently, only two food deliveries were actually captured on camera: one small one, and Mr. Owl arriving at 11:06 PM with a bird. The owlets still haven't figured out what to do with deliveries of that size, so, as usual, he exited with his kill almost immediately. The most remarkable thing at this point is that, after endless rejection, he still brings large kills to the box, just in case the owlets have wised-up.

May 12 - There was at least one small food delivery before 12:34 AM when Mme. Owl stopped-in to spend a few minutes cleaning the nest. After that, there were eight or more small deliveries before 4:18 AM when one of the owlets sat in the entryway for almost thirty minutes. There's no telling how many deliveries that owlet monopolized. At 4:57 AM, Mme. Owl arrived with a large prey item (never did get a look at it), and began feeding it to the owlets. Six minutes into the feeding, her mate arrived with a bird, but she expressed no interest in it, and he exited with it. He tried again four minutes later, and she probably accepted it that time, given that she continued feeding the owlets for a further seventeen minutes. Mme. Owl was back at 6:02 AM to spend a further seven minutes feeding something large to the owlets.

As is now normal, the owlets spent the day on their own. They occupied themselves with the usual combination of sleeping, staring, digging, and calisthenics.

The evening began with all of the owlets taking turns sitting in the entryway and intercepting all of the food deliveries until they were satisfied. Those deliveries included one Texas blind snake that was fumbled and promptly slithered into the box between the owlet's legs. That makes at least two live Texas blind snakes in the box. (The other has occasionally shown itself over the last two days while trying to climb out of the box. It's an impressive climber, but it still hasn't found the way out.) Once the owlets lost interest in sitting in the entryway, six small deliveries were observed, including one more blind snake, and an insect.

(As the sun was setting I was fortunate enough to get a few more photos of one of the adults. Photo one. Photo two.)

May 11 - Between midnight and 1:27 AM, there was at least one small food delivery. At 1:27 AM, the video capture system did its "infinite persistence of vision" bit again, and captured the same image over and over again until I noticed the problem, power-cycled the capture box, and restarted the capture software. So, that was twelve hours of imagery lost.

Shortly after fixing the capture system, I got out my ladder and climbed up to the nest box to install the owlet rail, which will provide the owlets with a good perch from which to consider how best to reach the nearest tree limb. On Saturday, I'll see if I can come-up with some way to connect the rail to one of the nearby limbs. This is probably a waste of time, because I've only seen one owlet ever follow such a path (I get the impression they've already selected their paths before they set foot on the rail, so they don't consider alternatives that only become visible once they're out on the rail), but fallen owlets are very vulnerable to my neighborhood's absurd population of free-roaming "house" cats (keep 'em indoors, people), so I do what I can.

Not long after I was done installing the rail, the youngest owlet resumed his hobby of digging in the bedding material. He outdid himself this time, not only making himself a pit to sleep in, but also burying his two siblings in pine shavings in the process. This led to a lot of concern among viewers that the owlets had disappeared, when they were actually sleeping peacefully under a tide of wood chips. They awoke and surfaced around 4:45 PM, and got on with their usual wing exercises, stumbling around, and, yes, more napping.

The first recorded food delivery of the evening was a gecko at 8:33 PM. At least eight more small food items followed, including two geckos and one caterpillar.

By the way, a feeding movie from April 26th, which vanished into thin air after I uploaded it to the Ourmedia site, has finally become available. Check it out, if you're interested. It's amazing how much the owlets have changed in such a short time.

Things to Know About

If you are enjoying the Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box Cam' this season, please send a picture postcard from where you live. My address is: Chris W. Johnson, P.O. Box 302042, Austin, TX 78703, USA. If you have questions, continue to send email.

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