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Screech Owls (Posted On: Monday, January 06, 2014)

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"A wise old Owl sat on an oak, the more he saw the less he spoke, the less he spoke the more he heard, why aren't we like that wise old bird?"
- Wisdom Quote

Tucked away in the burrow of a tree rests a screech owl keeping warm from the Ontario winter weather.  Just a hop, skip and a jump away from the creek, these owls typically nest around streams, deciduous woodlands, or in trees within cities.

Today, it feels like -24 degrees, but the sun shines leaving a comforting and warm feeling while watching the owl rest.  Upon snapping a few photos, after climbing on top of a shed roof, I decided to let the owl rest and visit again tomorrow.  I may have become a new and avid bird watcher because of this little fellow!

Screech owls are the second smallest owl species in Eastern Ontario and quite common throughout.  They hide well with their tufted ears and particularly small size, relying mainly on camouflage feathers to blend in with trees, and stretching tall to look more like a branch.  They are a nocturnal woodland owl and with those pretty yellow eyes have also been called ghost owl, dusk owl, spirit owl, and shivering owl, just to name a few.

Hence their name, the brown morph screech owl, is known for the sound it makes when scared, their screech. For instance, if you were to get too close they would make this noise as a tactic to frighten you off. Their mysterious song may also catch your attention in the still of the night, and is known as a whinny. The haunting sound they make is a courtship call, mostly heard in the spring and winter. Although they have different types of callings, their trilling sound is commonly known to bird watchers, so listen carefully at dusk if you know one is around.

This type of owl species is no bigger than a pint glass and rests in holes, nooks and tree crannies through the day saving its energy for the nightly hunt. Their nest may be either a natural hollow or excavated by a woodpecker. Screech owls are territorial, using the same nest site for consecutive years, and are non-migratory so will stay in their nest through the winter. Like most owls, the hunt is on from dusk to dawn with most of their activity occurring during the first four hours of dusk.

Screech owls have binocular vision - their eyes are on the front, where most birds' eyes are on the side. The eyes are also tubular instead of round. Screech owls use their eyes for hunting more than their ears, though they have excellent hearing as well.

Did you know?

An owl's neck has 14 vertebrae, which allows it to turn its head throughout a wide range of motions.

In fact: owls can turn their head a full 270 degrees!

Depending on the species, owl eyes are fixed, forcing the bird to look straight ahead.

The ears are symmetrical, and don't triangulate sounds to pinpoint prey the way predators with asymmetrical ears do. Their excellent eyes locate their unlucky victims, typically in an open area.  Swooping down on their prey such as chipmunks, mice, insects, reptiles and even bats, these birds usually return to their nest to dine.

The main threat to this species is habitat destruction even though they have adapted quite well to human habituation so consider the consequences when cutting down a tree.  Do you see burrows, tree crannies, and nests?  Is the tree close to a stream or creek?  Because they camouflage well, it's important to observe the possible habitats of trees before you cut them down for the owl and many other types of species as well.

Protect our birds of prey and take the time to look up in a tree; maybe, just maybe, you'll catch a glimpse of one of these spectacular creatures of the night!

Melanie Vollick, Write Way Communications,

(705) 428 3807

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