Chris’ Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box Cam’

The 2007 eastern screech owl (Megascops asio, formerly Otus asio) nesting has concluded in this urban Austin, Texas, nest box.

The views shown here were 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.)

What's up in 2008? Not a lot, I'm afraid.

Daily Image Archive

March 2007
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May 2007
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Start of Nesting: March 16 • Eggs Laid: 4 • Eggs Hatched: 3 • Weather

Daily News

May 21 - Thanks to Dale P. for the wonderful work!

May 17 - All three owlets are alive, well, and perched together high-up in the same hackberry tree that they were occupying yesterday night.

May 16 - I went out into the backyard this evening, calling the owls and expecting to be attacked for wandering around beneath the nest box tree, but that was fine with me; I just wanted to know that there were still owlets that needed defending. To my surprise, however, there was no response. After giving up on the nest box tree, I looked for them in the adjoining crape myrtle. I didn't see them there, either. I moved on to searching the canopies of the large hackberry trees at the back of the yard, and finally found some eyes shining back at me. I went and collected the necessary camera and equipment then positioned myself under the hackberry from which the eyes had shone and began searching for the owls. It took a while, but eventually I found all three of them, and one of their parents who was silently perched above me, making sure I behaved myself. Unlike their parent, the owlets were at a distance that conspired with the limitations of my hand-held light to make the auto-focus system in my camera only intermittently functional. Also, they refused to strike useful poses. So, the following photos have little merit, except as documentation of the owlets' presence:

From these photos, I can only guess about the identities of the owlets, by the way, but if you want to assign identities to them, those guesses are plausible.

The owlets I'm identifying as numbers one and two were perched within a few feet of each other on the same tree limb. The owlet I'm calling number three was in the same tree, but quite a distance from the other two. Every year the adults move the owlets to that same pair of hackberry trees as soon as they can. The only thing that surprises me is that owlet number three was already able to make the move, because, while the hackberry trees are very near the nest box tree, there's probably no less than a thirty foot gap between the nearest edges of their canopies, and a still larger gap between any good jumping-off/landing points. I've never had a chance to see the owlets move between these trees (and the owls will probably never give me that chance), so I don't know how they do it. I'm assuming their flight feathers aren't well enough developed yet to let them fly the entire distance between the trees, but the ground between the nest box tree and the hackberries has too many big wildflowers and other plants growing on it to be traversable by an owlet on the ground. Perhaps I'm underestimating their flightworthiness. I just don't know.

Anyway, now that the owlets are somewhat mobile, the adults are back to being very relaxed about my presence. It seems that knowing that the owlets won't be haplessly plummeting to the ground where nasty critters, such as myself, can get hold of them is all the peace of mind that they need. My own peace of mind is greatly enhanced for much the same reason. Of course, any bird of prey has a very difficult first year, but these owlets have now cleared all of the toughest hurdles they'll face in their first few months of life, so their odds of survival, at least in the short term, are now very good and getting better every day.

Thanks for postcards go out to Dora B., John & Deb Z., Bob & Sandy B., Jewell R.T., Sandy & Bob B., K.M., Joy P., and Rozenn!

May 15 - Owlet no. 3 left the nest box at 8:45 PM. I went out to make sure that it hadn't fallen to the ground, only to find that it was out on the left end of the owlet rail, debating with itself about the best route to the tree. Knowing I was there, however, it wasn't going to move an inch, so I retreated to the house for ten minutes, then returned. The owlet was nowhere to be seen by then, but its parents were present and feeling very defensive, so there were obviously owlets for them to defend, whether I could see them or not. (Not being able to see them is good; they ought to keep themselves well hidden.)

As promised, here are photographs of the nest box in its current configuration: the wide angle view, and a subsecton of that same view showing more nestbox detail. The owlet rail is the long stick that runs parallel to the front of the box, just below the entryway. Because the old stick broke early this year while I was doing some maintenance, that's a new, longer stick. (I spare no expense when it comes to sticks.) The extra length seems to have been appreciated, as all of the owlets chose to walk over to the left end (as seen in this picture) of the stick and leap a short distance from there to the third limb to the left of the nest box. (The two limbs in between are actually behind the box, and are not accessible from the rail.) The lumber and branch combination that I installed (leading slightly up and to the left) to join the owlet rail to a different, smaller limb of the tree was not used. That's just as well; the owlets chose a large limb that heads directly up into the canopy of the tree, which is where the safest perches and best cover are to be found. The smaller limb to which my lumber and branch combo led mostly proceeds horizontally, and wouldn't provide the same quality of protection from climbing predators.

At this point, regular updates to this site end for the year. There will, however, be future updates if/when I have owlet sightings over the next week, before the owlets are flying well enough for their parents to move them to a quieter part of the neighborhood.

I'm still catching-up on a considerable backlog of email, so if you've sent me a message, you may yet hear from me, on the "better late than never" principle. And it goes without saying that it's never too late to send a postcard.

Anyway, thanks for watching. I hope you found it interesting, and perhaps even motivating (it's never too late to put up your own owl box, you know). Now, if you'll pardon me, I'm going to start catching-up on my sleep. Setting the alarm clock for October should just about do the trick.

May 14 - Owlet one exited the nest box at 8:29 PM this evening. Owlet two followed at 8:33 PM. Both made their ways safely into the upper limbs of the nest box tree; the new, extra-long owlet rail permitting them to walk well over to the left of the nest box and leap to a major limb that heads up at a very steep angle. That seems to have been exactly the sort of thing that the owlets were looking for. Owlet three is several days younger, and noticeably smaller, than owlet two, and, accordingly, will probably wait a day or two before making its exit. In the meantime, the adults will continue bringing it food.

Owlets, like most juvenile birds of prey, leave the nest a week or so before they are capable of flying. During this stage they're known as "branchers", because they climb and leap from banch to branch in the nest tree, or any adjoining trees. Mistakes while climbing and jumping aren't uncommon, but, while their wings aren't well enough developed to keep them in the air, they are good enough to guarantee them a soft landing when they fall. They then have to climb their way back to safety before anything bad can happen to them. They don't always exercise good judgement about what to climb, unfortunately. (Which is why, in my book, the "brancher" phase is also known as the "knucklehead" phase.) If you have owls nesting your yard, keep an eye out for owlets that've chosen to climb things like bushes or lawn furniture; things that provide them no real protection. If you find such an owlet, consider gently removing it and placing it on the highest limb of the nest tree (or whatever tree the family seems to be hanging-out in at the time) that you can conveniently reach. If you find yourself doing that at night, expect to be attacked by the adults. During the day, the adults will probably be keeping a low profile and should leave you alone.

Because the owlets are at their most vulnerable during their brancher phase, the adults are, not surprisingly, also at their most defensive during this time. Owls that've gotten to know you and that have never objected to your presence before will suddenly begin objecting verbally, or with mock or real attacks, when you venture into your yard at night. Just give them their space, and everything will be back to normal about a week after the final owlet leaves the nest.

Of course, the determined owl watcher can use that behavior to track the owlets. After dark, walk around the nest tree and any nearby trees and observe which ones are most aggressively guarded. That's where the owlets are, even if you can't observe them directly. You can return during the day and make a careful visual search of the leafy outer branches of those trees. With practice and luck, you'll find them, usually roosting in a group alongside one or more of the adults.

May 13 - There appear to have been eighteen food deliveries during the pre-dawn period, including one so large that Mme. Owl spent more than thirty minutes feeding it to the owlets. (During that time her mate tried to make three more food deliveries, but nobody paid him any attention.)

The day was occupied with the usual owlet antics, until 7 PM, when I brought down the nest box in order to attach the owlet rail. As usual, I took the opportunity to replace the sodden bedding material, clean the camera compartment window, and photograph the owlets. None of them were too keen on all of this at first, but they each found their photo shoots interesting enough that they were frequently too busy taking in the view to look into the camera for their photos.

Although they adjusted to their strange encounter, their parents were having none of it, and my scalp has the scrathes to prove it. Some of my owls in past years have been more relaxed about this sort of thing, but not this pair, and I don't blame them a bit.

Anyway, everyone and everything was back where it belonged by 7:30 PM, well before sunset, so I wondered if the eldest owlet, motivated by the new rail (and the branch I added that leads from it to a nearby tree limb), and his/her recent visit to the outside world, would choose this evening to make his/her exit, but it didn't happen. Maybe tomorrow. It is certainly more likely with each passing day.

Following sunset, I only saw clear evidence of two food deliveries, though I'm sure there were considerably more than that. The owlets are increasingly fond of the idea of going straight to the source, by sitting in the entryway, so I don't see most of the deliveries.

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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