Sunday, February 24, 2013

Our very first Owl Shack tenant has arrived!

Last Tuesday, alone in the garden, I lamented the lack of wildlife in the habitat boxes we installed a few years ago.    Alas, I thought to myself, no bats in the bat house…
Empty bat house

…and, Big Noisy Sigh, no owls in the owl shack. 
Eastern screech owl

Um… wait, what?

Well, hello!  We have an owl!  First owl we've seen in the Owl Shack since we put it up in 2010.  I'm guessing it's a she, but just in case, I've given it an unisex name - Owly. 
Eastern screech owl

Owly seemed as surprised to see me as I was to see Owly.  Neither one of us was quite ready for photos at this time of day, but we did our best to document the occasion.
Eastern screech owl

Jack installed the Owl Shack up on one of the posts of our backyard gazebo, as we didn't have any trees that met the criteria listed for optimum placement.  The eaves are about 10 feet up off the ground, but standing on the deck, I can touch the bottom of the owl box - it's that close.  Owls are remarkably tolerant of humans, particularly in urban areas, and have been known to lay eggs in things like windowboxes, well within reach of people.

Owly made lengthy appearances on Tuesday and Wednesday, then seemingly disappeared.  However, I heard rustling sounds from within the box, so I'm hopeful there's owl brooding going on in there (and not birds or squirrels nesting).  I hesitate to peek in the box to see what's up.  Plus, those talons! 

So for now,  I'll have to console myself with the videos on Chris' Eastern Screech Owl Nest Box Cam website.  Chris Johnson, who lives in Austin, has an incredibly high-tech owl house complete with owl cam and temperature gauge. Unlike me, Chris has no qualms about climbing up and reaching into his owl box, not just for a peek, but to remove, count, weigh and measure eggs and even owlets (while momma owl is out of the box, that is).  His owl webcam site and its accompanying blog, Partial Perspective Vortex, provide a wealth of information about the mating and breeding habits of the Eastern Screech Owl in Central Texas.  

It's likely Mr. and Mrs. Owly have been checking out and visiting my Owl Shack since December, and may have even temporarily stored food there (like leftovers in the fridge, says Chris) - the owls oblivious to me and vice versa.  And his momma owl has already laid her clutch of eggs, a month earlier than typical years. Perhaps my Owly has, too; or perhaps she and Mr. Owly are still in pre-nesting mode, making intermittent visits like a prospective home-buying couple.

If you want your own Owl Shack, you can get one like mine from Texas ornithologist Cliff Shackelford, author of Hummingbirds of Texas.  Cliff builds Owl Shacks to order from recycled and new cedar fence wood.   The Owl Shack website has tips on how to place the houses to best attract owls. Or, look for owl house plans online and build your own.

I also stumbled across this Cornell webpage on owl anatomy and behavior while looking for information on owl ear tufts, as Owly seems to be missing some feathers above her right ear.  I learned that owl ears are asymmetrical, and that owls use their ear tufts to communicate. 

Updates to follow as they become available!

Words and photos © 2009-2013 Caroline Homer for "The Shovel-Ready Garden". Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited.