Well, Bob and I can finally say that we have seen an Eastern Screech Owl in the wild, as opposed to one we visited at the Mountsberg Raptor Centre a couple of years ago. It has taken us two years to finally see the Eastern Screech Owls in Burlington and not for lack of knowing where to look. It was overcast one day last week when Bob and I again ventured west of Toronto in hopes of finding at least one of the known Screech Owls out of its nest hole.
The funny thing is that, last winter, we took a drive to Burlington knowing that Screech Owls reside in some of the trees at a cemetery, but we had no inside information so did not know in which trees to look. Trust me! There are scores of large trees on the cemetery property, many of which have large cavities that were potential nest holes. It was about lunch time when we arrived there, so Bob pulled the car over to the side of the road that winds through the cemetery, and while we ate lunch, we waited in hopes that another birdwatcher might come along and give us some tips. Referring to a photo on Facebook, it soon became apparent that we had accidentally parked directly in front of the tree featured in the photo, but, sadly, the owl was not out and about on that occasion.
But, on this most recent visit, we found one resident Eastern Screech Owl resting comfortably in the crevice of that same broken tree trunk. The dead wood surrounding the cavity has weathered significantly and is now faded grey with rusty striations that perfectly match the reddish-brown feathers of this Red Morph Screech Owl. With an odd break in the clouds, morning sunshine bathed the tree in radiant light, yet the Screech Owl, in its stationary position, was almost invisible.
I was absolutely thrilled with this bird sighting. Even though the owl remained motionless, with our binoculars, it was possible to appreciate the complex pattern of rusty mottling, streaking and barring on the owl’s underparts. Eastern Screech Owls are very small as owls go, and this adult would measure a mere 18-25 centimetres (7-9.8 in.) in length, so there is little of the owl’s body hidden from view.
Eastern Screech Owls can be found in either deciduous or evergreen woods because almost any habitat with a sufficient canopy will suffice for this owl. That is why they are quite often found in urban settings.
As Bob and I admired and photographed the Screech Owl, a couple of other birdwatchers arrived on the scene and informed us that the Eastern Screech Owl Grey Morph at another location was resting in its nest hole and had been there all morning.
But it was hard to tear our eyes away from this beauty. Eastern Screech Owls are small eared owls that have prominent ear tufts, and if we could see them, yellow eyes. The female of this species is larger than the male, and maybe owing to their small size, both are very agile.
Many species of small mammals make up their diet, everything from bats to rabbits, but Eastern Screech Owls are not particular. Birds, insects, invertebrates, amphibians, and even the odd fish will be consumed by these stealthy owls that were once referred to as “feathered wildcats”.
I am thankful that these adorable little owls are a common species throughout the southern areas of eastern Canada because, for one thing, Bob and I were able to enjoy observing one without driving a hundred miles, but also because these owls really help to keep rodents under control. We left the Eastern Screech Owl Red Morph blissfully soaking up the warm sunshine while we set off to look for another one in a different colour phase.
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