If you keep an eye on the holes in tree trunks, especially ones larger than a softball and that face the sun, one day you may find an eye meeting yours. The eyes will belong to a small owl, either grey or red, with feathery ear tufts like this one.
This is a common Ontario owl called a Screech Owl. During the daytime, though, it seldom makes much noise. At night, when it’s keeping in touch with its mate or defending its territory, you may hear quite a collection of calls. One even reminds me of the sound effects used in science fiction movies to indicate a UFO landing. You can listen to that one, and others, on the AllAboutBirds website.
You can see these birds have feathers that give excellent camouflage. The rusty-red coloured Screech Owls tend to show up more but even those are often overlooked because the wood near openings in tree trunks is often yellow or red making less contrast than you’d expect. According to AllAboutBirds, the two colours occur commonly and birds in one area will have both colours.
What Do Screech Owls Eat?
You’d think from the ruckus small birds make when they find an owl that they eat only tiny feathered creatures. That’s not true. Screech Owls eat worms and insects, crayfish, frogs, tadpoles, fish, lizards, rats, mice, squirrels, moles, rabbits. They also eat birds and occasionally bats. Given their large list of acceptable foods, you can probably understand why they are fairly common and are quite happy living in city parks.
You can (dimly) see that a Screech Owl can get a grip on most prey with a foot like this.
Preening is a steady job day or night.
Where Do Screech Owls Nest?
As you probably can guess, they do nest in tree cavities, including ones originally hollowed out by woodpeckers. They will also use nest boxes. In fact, they will not live in an area with no trees.
So the next time you’re in a wooded park, keep an eye on the tree trunks!
Have you had a Screech Owl stare back at you? Please share your sighting with a comment.