I have nothing for you today but owls. This is the pair of screech owls that nests in the live oak in our front yard each winter, for all the four winters we have lived here. I took this photo in early March. The female, on the left, is clearly puffed up with connubial bliss while her partner is barely conscious. It was worth it.
In 2014 they went childless, which was sad. On a day much earlier than usual they left for the greenbelt and the box was empty until their return in the fall.
I bought our first owl box for our previous house, ordering it directly from the builder (http://www.owlshack.com/). He’s in Nacogdoches, which is where Floyd grew up, so it seemed fitting. The first time I saw an owl in that little doorway I thought it was a photo of an owl placed there by my husband because I’d become discouraged about ever having a tenant.
When we moved to this house, I picked up an owl house by the same builder over at The Natural Gardener. It went into the tree before I’d finished unpacking the dishes even though it was summer and I wasn’t expecting anyone to move in before fall. I wanted all screech owl house-hunters to gaze on it with admiration and desire as they flew around the neighborhood looking for a winter home.
And sure enough, a female moved in. Ever since then, people come from all over the neighborhood to check on the status of the little owls (for screech owls are quite small: when perched they can look like a hunk of ball moss). Their eggs incubate for about 26 days and then the young stay in the box another four weeks as their parents take turns feeding them. You can hear lots of trilling in the early evenings as the adults speak to each other at shift change.
If we’ll see babies, it will be right around Mother’s Day, and this year was no exception. I’m just going to show you a few photos of what I was privileged to watch.
Their appearance ranges from the breathtakingly poignant – as these baby creatures take their first look out into this world we have pretty much destroyed in time for their arrival – to the ridiculous. They inevitably remind me of Muppets.
On the first day, there is a great deal of scrambling up and down the inside of the long nesting box. They have to grab on with their beaks to keep from falling back in. But on the second day, they’re perching like the big kids.
I thought they were very good sports about my standing around snapping a hundred photos, hoping for decent shots.
Imagine emerging as a little baby from a life of almost total darkness and then, just as you are learning to perch on your own two feet, a silly border collie goes running by chasing a ball. Whaaaat????
This stage is harrowing for me, because they are still very tenuous in their balance and I live in fear that they will fall to the ground. The other day I actually entertained the idea of having Floyd construct a giant round net the diameter of the tree’s canopy, so no one would be hurt in a fall. If they can just make it safely out to the woods, I can more or less stop worrying about them. Almost.
Four days later, they were out of the nesting box and perched in the branches of the live oak in a little cluster, their parents very much in attendance. (I worried all day about hawks.) I have never witnessed any of this process before, but as far as I could tell the parents escorted them off to the woods one at a time, until this morning only one remained. (I felt badly because it was raining, but not too badly because it wasn’t cold. I mean really, Nancy! Birds live in the rain!)
I had to run out this morning – six days after our first sighting – and as I left I saw that one of the adults had joined the little one in the branches. Sure enough, when I returned from my errand they were gone.
It always feels like something is missing when the owls return to the woods. I know we’ll hear and see them now and then as summer passes; if I go out the back door at the right time I’ll see one in the birdbath. The owls make me feel as if I’ve participated in something truly amazing – even though it’s an event that has been going on for millennia. It’s happened in the place I call my front yard, after all.
This summer I’ll also have especially pleasant memories of the owl babies to sustain me.
This year there were three.