Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Screech Owls Roost and Nest in Boxes
December 02, 2022
By Steve Grinley
It doesn’t feel like it has been four years since we moved into our Essex home.We are blessed with a wooded backyard with a stream running through it. It is no surprise that we have added bird feeders, a heated birdbath, and bird houses. The reward has been numerous species of birds and the countless hours of enjoyment that we have had observing them.
Our wintering screech owl returned to our owl box recently to spend its days roosting. He often awakens late in the day and appears in the hole as the sun is setting to get ready for his nightly hunt. Sometimes we will see him there at dawn, back from his night escapades. Once in a while he will peer out during the day to warm himself in the winter sun but the blue jays, titmice and nuthatches often scold him back into the house.
It reminds me of that first year we moved to Essex and the story that I shared with you then:
Our good friend and fellow birder, Phil gave us an appropriate house-warming gift: a screech owl box. It was appropriate because the town of Essex seems to be full of screech owls. There are multiple boxes placed in yards around town, including in the yards of a couple of our close neighbors.
We have seen owls roosting in some of these boxes on multiple occasions. We know about some that have nested and produced young. There are, or have been, screech owls roosting in numerous natural cavities around town as well, including one right along Route 133. I often see that one in the morning on my way to work.
Phil came over to our house one morning last week to put up our new box in the backyard. I took out my twenty-foot ladder and he supplied the rest of the necessary materials. We picked a tall hickory tree with few lower branches so the owl would have easy flight access and the squirrels would not be able to jump to the front of the box.
We faced the box so that a roosting owl would get the afternoon sun. Phil attached a loop high on the trunk and we hoisted the box high up with a rope. He then secured the box to the tree with long screws…
As Phil tossed some wood shavings into the house and closed the front, he quipped, “Just add owl!” Our task was done, and now we all just had to hope that an owl would find the new house and accept the new accommodations.
Margo and I headed over to Cape Ann that afternoon to do some birding. When we arrived home just after dusk, we stepped out of the car to the whinny of a screech owl in the woods near our driveway. I pulled out my iPhone and opened an app to play a short screech owl call. In less than a minute, I could make out the silhouette of the little owl perched on a branch above me! Now if he (or she) would just find the new box that we provided!
The next morning, I awakened before dawn and I glanced out at the box. It was still too dark to see anything in the hole. I picked up our binoculars and I could see a form in the hole. I still couldn’t be sure if it was an owl or a squirrel. After a few minutes, it was light enough to see that it was a red morph screech owl peering out the hole! I woke Margo and she smiled as she saw the owl through the binoculars. I texted Phil, “Owl added!”
Later, while speaking with the Scott, who made the box and many others around town, he said that we now have the record for the quickest occupancy after erecting a box. The previous record was three days!
Scott’s squirrel-resistant boxes are linoleum clad and help keep squirrels at bay. The design yields a high rate of owl occupancy. A box in downtown Newburyport has produced two young in each of the past two years. Scott’s boxes have been so successful that it is the most popular owl box that we have in the store. Scott will even erect the house for customers and it is well worth the small fee that he charges. The result has been screech owls all over Essex and wherever his owl boxes are found!