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March 5, 2021
Corey James Comstock

No, They Do Not Actually Screech

One evening I headed out to the backyard to bring in the birdfeeders because, if I leave them out, they get rained on by Mother Nature or ransacked by the raccoons. This evening, however, I spotted an odd little silhouette perched atop the hummingbird feeder, akin to a horned demon.

I halted in my tracks and stared, distrustful of anything that looks like a miniature hellion.

I squinted in the darkness for quite a while but the shadow devil did not stir. Eventually, I retreated to the kitchen to fetch my Maglite flashlight and, creeping towards the hummingbird feeder, I snapped it on…

There stood the tiniest owl I have ever seen.

I found out later that this little thing is known as the Eastern Screech-Owl and I believe she had set her sights on our backyard mole population. Screech seemed neither perturbed nor annoyed by my flashlight so another trip back to the house produced my trusty Canon camera. Little Big-Eyes allowed me to come surprisingly close, seemingly preoccupied with securing tonight’s dinner or breakfast, however you prefer to look at it.

What a fascinating-looking animal!

Robin-sized, short and stocky, with about as much neck as a football linebacker. Where did it live and why wasn’t it afraid of me? This particular owl possessed reddish-brown coloring, less common than the typical gray plumage and no, they do not actually screech. They whinny and trill.

Little did I know that she was honoring me with a rare appearance as, generally, Screech-Owls are heard and not seen because of their tiny size and true nocturnal habits. You won’t view them during the day unless you happen upon one of their nesting holes.

Nesting hole?

Yes, they love trees and roost in natural hollows or abandoned woodpecker holes, across most types of woods, evergreen or deciduous, urban or rural, especially near water. That’s why this attractive little night owl appeared here because of the numerous marsh areas intermittent with wooded preserves meandering through my neighborhood.

Handy and fun to have around, the Screech-Owl will even take up residence in a human-built nest-box if you are ambitious enough to make or buy one. If you opt to be creative and build your own, this will get you started.

Outdoor plywood, pine and cedar are all good building materials, the more weathered, the better. Plan on an 8” x 8” interior floor plan, about 15” high with a 3” circular hole drilled through the front side 10” above the floor. Make 5 or 6 horizontal kerf cuts below the hole, 3” long, ¼” deep and spaced at ½” apart. Make sure there are a few small drain holes in the floor and the roof should overlap, slanted for drainage, hinged for easy cleanout. If you prefer, hinge and latch the floor instead.

Add a couple of inches of wood chips or dry leaves and mount the box on a pole or tree about ten feet off the ground facing east or south so your little owl friend can soak up the sunlight. If you have a population of squirrels, pole mounting will discourage them from claiming the box as their own.

I don’t know about you but I am going to go ahead give this little owl a home.
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