Chris’ Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box Cam’

Established 2000

The 2012 eastern screech owl (Megascops asio, formerly Otus asio) nesting season 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 cameras "see" 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
April 2012
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29 30
May 2012
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Nesting Start: 21-Mar-2012 • First Egg: 25-Mar-2012 • First Hatch: 24-Apr-2012 • Eggs Laid/Hatched: 4/4 • Weather / More Weather


June 5, 1:18 AM – I’ve been meaning to compile the data on all my clutches for some time, but was aware it was going to be a lot of work to extract good numbers from my notes, archived frames, etc. Nonetheless, I’ve made a start with the data for this year’s clutch. I found it interesting; anyone else might, but I suspect that people with their own nesting screech owls will be the most interested.

Owlet Egg Laid Egg State Hatched Nestling State Branched
Median Time Error
Median Time Error
Median Time Error
2012-1 2012-03-25 01:29 AM ±45 min 30d 13h 35m ±61 min 2012-04-24 03:04 PM ±16 min 28d 5h 36m ±16 min 2012-05-22 08:40 PM ±0 min 8:24 PM
2012-2 2012-03-27 05:04 PM ±189 min 27d 23h 10m ±242 min 2012-04-24 04:14 PM ±54 min 31d 4h 16m ±59 min 2012-05-25 08:31 PM ±5 min 8:26 PM
2012-3 2012-03-30 01:22 AM ±55 min 26d 13h 59m ±55 min 2012-04-25 03:21 PM ±0 min 31d 5h 15m ±10 min 2012-05-26 08:35 PM ±10 min 8:26 PM
2012-4 2012-04-01 01:24 PM ±383 min 26d 2h 30m ±383 min 2012-04-27 03:53 PM ±0 min 31d 4h 36m ±3 min 2012-05-28 08:29 PM ±3 min 8:28 PM

The combination of consistencies and inconsistencies is especially interesting to me. For instance, the time of day at which eggs hatched is remarkably consistent, though the time of day for egg laying is not. Time spent as a nestling was very consistent for the last three owlets, but not for the first. The time of day at which they left the nest (became “branchers”) falls within a mere 8-14 minute window.

Postcards – My thanks to Sandra & Nancy, Nancy C., and Jewell T. for the postcards. Yes, that’s two separate “Nancy”s in one batch. Clever people.

June 1, 3:46 AM – I've recently corresponded with several Windows users who could not play the videos included on this site. That came as a surprise, and, I hope it goes without saying, was not intentional. Some searching turned-up a Microsoft document that acknowledges the issue, without really explaining it. (See the “MPEG-4 (.mp4)” section.)

All but one of the video files I’ve offered this year use the MPEG-4 (“.mp4”) file (“container”) format, and stored within those files are video in the H.264 format (AKA “MPEG-4 AVC”), and audio in the MPEG AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) format, so Microsoft’s choice to support some parts of the MPEG-4 standard, but not others, is an unanticipated problem. (If you’re wondering why MPEG-4 matters, that’s because it’s a standard for representing high-definition video. Blu-ray players, for instance, are all required to support MPEG-4 AVC.)

Fortunately, there are workarounds for the limitations of Windows Media. The simplest and best is probably to download and run the free VLC application for viewing these videos. I use VLC routinely, so don’t worry, it’s on the level, and, significantly, it supports audio and video formats that neither Windows machines, nor Macs, will typically handle, so it’s likely to be useful on other occasions.

BTW, if you have an HDTV with one or more USB ports (they’re usually hidden on the back for your convenience, and are more common on newer HDTVs, as far as I can tell), you can place these “.mp4” movie files on a USB flash memory “stick” (formatted using the FAT-32 filesystem, if my Samsung HDTV is representative), and insert it into one of your HDTV’s USB ports. Somewhere in the HDTV’s menus, and/or on its remote, you’ll find an option to view what’s on the USB stick, and from there you can play those movies. Granted, that’s not very convenient, but with a high definition video like the 2012 Owlet Family Portrait, the result looks and sounds very good, if I do say so myself.

May 30, 1:32 AM – Beginning the process of sifting the few interesting movies from the worthless mass of automatically recorded dreck, I offer a food delivery movie from April 3rd (MPEG-4, 30 MB), while incubation was still less than halfway complete.

May 29, 8:53 PM – I searched for owlets at dusk, catching sight of one silhouette, and at least three overlapping, but distinct, food begging calls. Regrettably, both from a photographic standpoint, and an “I don’t trust my owlets with other people” standpoint, they (or their parents) seem to have decided to camp in a tree very near one of the back corners of my yard, but, nonetheless, not in any on my property. So, unless they all decide to stand around at the end of the one branch I can see directly, I’ll have to settle for silhouettes, sounds, and the knowledge that all four of them are probably doing well.

May 28, 10:27 PM – I went out to check on owlet no. 4, but couldn’t see it anywhere. After a lot of waiting, some food begging sounds gave away its general location, and eventually I found myself staring up at its fuzzy backside high in the crepe myrtle tree that intermingles with the nest box tree. The myrtle’s foliage provides very good cover. Of all the owlets, no. 4 has moved fastest of all by far.

May 28, 8:57 PM – Owlet no. 4 exited the nest box, climbed out onto the owlet rail, sidled along to the end that approaches a large limb, and successfully leapt to freedom.

In the following half hour, I watched he/she jump, walk, sidle, and climb through the nest box tree – not going very far, but doing it well, which is my main concern.

While I stood guard under the nest box tree, I kept an eye on the nearby hackberry trees, much loved by generations of owl parents and owlets for their liberal foliage, large size, and terrific selection of limbs and branches to perch on, jump between, climb, hide amongst, etc. At one point a silhouette moved between branches in a very owlet-like way, so some or all of the family may be very nearby.

May 28, 8:41 PM – Owlet no. 4 is sitting in the entryway. Escape must be on its mind.

I intended to capture some of that in photos, using the motion sensitive camera trigger I built earlier this season. Unfortunately, when I mounted the motion sensor on the front of the nest box (when I had the box down to install the owlet rail), I still had very little experience with the sensor's behavior and left its sensitivity set to maximum, which my tests strongly suggested would be necessary due to the speed at which flying owls could move through its field of view. Those tests, by sheer luck, were performed on essentially windless occasions. So, I didn’t realize that at maximum sensitivity, every little gust of wind would find something to move that the sensor could “see” and thus it would trigger the camera almost continuously. Naturally, it’s been windy ever since I installed the sensor on the nest box.

I could easily adjust the sensitivity, but that would require bringing the nest box down again, and I haven’t wanted to annoy or frighten the owlets merely for my convenience.

I know in working with any new gear that I won’t master it until I’ve gotten all of the mistakes out of the way by making them (or a representative sample of them, at least). In this case, there wasn’t time to make enough mistakes in advance. Crud.

May 27, 12:03 AM – Owlet no. 3 is safe and remains in the nest box tree.

May 26, 9:30 PM – Owlet no. 3 has left the nest box, and is climbing steadily, and with careful planning, high in the nest box tree. It is heading generally in the direction of the crepe myrtle tree, but is too far away for me to make predictions with much confidence.

Efforts to find the other two free range owlets have failed, but there is persistent calling by the adults from a tree in a neighbor's yard, which strongly suggests at least one owlet is located there.

May 26, 7:34 PM – Strange. Slices of discolored white bread and hamburger buns found distributed under nest box tree. Someone’s been trespassing, purpose unknown. Am I actually going to have to setup video surveillance of my own yard? It would seem so.

May 26, 11:49 AM – The supplier of my video server decided to be closed today, to honor a holiday (their phone system doesn't know which one, but provides the date for Easter), Memorial Day, that occurs on Monday, presumably on the grounds that the holiday was so important it would be inappropriate to honor it on any day that might meaningfully affect profits. So, there will no new video server this weekend, since they are always closed on Sundays.

That, I deeply regret, means there’ll be no more live images this season. I’ll do what I can to take photographs when the opportunities arise, however. (While I’m still trying to make the daily gallery slide show display them nicely, I already have a backlog of interesting photos to share.)

May 26, 7:50 AM – Two owlets remain in the nest box, and two are somewhere outside. A visual search of the crepe myrtle tree that intermingles with the nest box tree, and is therefore usually the first-day hideout for a freshly emerged owlet (AKA “brancher”) did not turn-up either the owlet, or the adult owl (normally mom) who would be spending the day with it. However, the reason to move to the crepe myrtle is that it is covered in foliage that provides good hiding places for owls during the day. Perhaps later in the day the local songbirds will find the owls, and with all their yelling and mobbing, give away the owls’ location.

May 25, 9:57 PM – The second owlet has safely left the nest and climbed high into the nest box tree during the last hour and a half, demonstrating some nice flying, jumping and climbing skills along the way. The flying is always downhill, as it were, due to the lack of well developed flight feathers, but the will and skill are there already. The adults owls, needless to say, are staying busy in the area. Remarkably, I wasn’t attacked, which ordinarily is a mandatory punishment for being around the nest box tree when an owlet is leaving the nest. This pair must have come to know me. After all these years, that’s a first. Almost a first was that this owlet was willing to leave the owlet rail and climb the nest tree while under my constant and very obvious observation. Normally, an owlet wouldn’t budge in such a circumstance.


May 25, 8:11 PM – Repeating the performance of the other S2071 video server, the current video server appears to have died (or, more accurately, to be locked in a perpetual boot-crash-boot cycle, that even the factory reset button somehow can't cure).

I’ve tried everything I can think of to recover the video server, but the factory reset switch is really the only last-ditch option, and it doesn’t have any apparent effect.

Maybe I can have the dead S2071 units exchanged tomorrow, but, for the time being, there seems to be little or no hope of restoring live images to this web site. I apologize to all of you viewers.

Needless to say, I will add news items here to keep you informed of the owlets’ progress.

May 25, 4:39 AM – The picture quality went bad sometime yesterday and has stayed that way. What changed to cause this? Nothing, as far as I know. I made no changes to the system between the time the picture was good and whenever I first noticed it had gone bad. After noticing, I did a lot of tinkering, but it had no effect whatsoever. It's very hard to deal with something that has no discernable cause, and I became desperate enough to find a factor that had changed, and might therefore be the cause, that I even checked on solar activity. (Virtually nil in the mid-latitudes, so I can’t blame it.) No matter what I do, this sort of problem appears from time to time, then disappears, usually for long enough to make me think it’s gone for good. However, as you can see, it isn't gone at all. The weakness in the system that lets in this interference (tiny AC currents, which were recently steady at 0.7 mV and 0.1 µA on the entryway sensor wire which, foolishly, is both unshielded, and untwisted) remains unidentified, as do the variables that govern the effect it has on the system, which range from mild to awful. (Of course, I had already disconnected the sensor wires before this problem became severe, so I don’t see how it can be the problem.)

Meanwhile the owls are doing well. Though I haven’t caught sight of the first owlet to leave the nest since the night she/he did so, the behavior and calls of the adults suggest that owlet is located in trees in a neighbor’s yard behind my house.

I was confident that a second owlet would leave the nest shortly after sunset on the 24th, but that didn’t happen, which is especially surprising when you consider that the eldest two owlets hatched on the same day.

Presumably, shortly after sunset today, an owlet will leave the nest, but yesterday’s gap remains a surprise to me.

There’ll be some interesting photographs included in the missing daily image galleries, just as soon as I get caught up. Bear with me (yes, again).

May 23, 6:34 AM – The brancher (a raptor that has left the nest, but is not yet capable of sustained flight) is safe in the crepe myrtle tree next to the nest box tree. It will spend the day there with one of the adults at its side (or very nearby). The adult will cajole the owlet into the outer branches where the foliage is densest and can hide them as effectively as possible.

As I write this, a 720p version (313.6 MB) of the four minute owlet family portrait video is being uploaded. Estimated completion time is 36 minutes. Take that with a grain of salt, but I’ll try to get a link into a news item here as soon as the upload is complete.

May 23, 1:09 AM – The four minute HD video (1080p) shot during the owlet family portrait shoot this afternoon is available for download. It's a hefty 1.39 GB, so it's not for everyone, but it must be for someone ... you know who you are. Enjoy.

2012 Owlet Family Portrait Video (1.39 GB, MPEG-4).

May 22, 9:33 PM – A four minute HD video (1080p) shot during the owlet family portrait shoot this afternoon is being uploaded now. There’s no action by most definitions, just four owlets sitting on a branch together getting their first look (or best look, in the case of the owlets who’ve been climbing into the entryway) at the outside world. The world meets with their approval; the photographer not so much.

This is raw video; I haven’t added titles, a copyright notice (it’s mine, all mine, ©2012 Chris W. Johnson), credits (I did this), etc. It’s 1.39 GB, so (1) due to the unremarkable speed of my Internet connection, it might take 3 hours to upload, and (2) you’ll probably want to wait for a lower-resolution version unless you have a fast Internet connection.

However, dedicated owl fans with good Internet connections will eventually be able to download it. Play it on your HDTV, if you can. I’m very pleased with its video quality, and the sound’s not bad, either. You can clearly hear one of their parents, probably their mother, calling to them from out of shot left. I never did see that owl, so she wasn’t exactly sitting next to me while I shot this. I’m impressed that the mic picked-up her calls so clearly.

May 22, 8:50 PM – The first owlet has left the nest, and, after a long pause on the owlet rail, made a perfect jump to a nearby tree limb. At least one of the parents was monitoring the situation the whole time. There was one bizarre aspect: while the owlet was on the rail, a starling landed on the rail next to it in order to investigate it, peck it – I couldn’t be sure (it was dark, so I was watching silhouettes). It then flew to the other side of the owlet, and was gone (good riddance). Cats are frickin’ everywhere, but the owlet is safe for now.

May 22, 8:19 PM – Everything is back to normal, although the owlets are currently lying around the floor of the box, resting after their big, fun, fascinating and scary adventure. (Sounds like anthropomorphism, I know, but I don’t think it is.) Fear not, they’ll be back to normal when the night’s food deliveries begin. And, of course, whenever they leave (and that could start tonight – when I brought the box down, one owlet climbed straight into the entryway and jump/flapped out to me) they have an “owlet rail” from which to plan that first big jump. Photos and video of their adventure will be available sometime tonight.

Postcards, Email, and Reference Material

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

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