Owls in Glenelm

A new installment of nature notes from our resident nature columnist, Dr Richard Staniforth. Stay tuned for this year’s Christmas Bird Count in the coming weeks as well.

The clues are: a feathery face peering out of a duck nest box, or a noisy bunch of birds squawking at something hidden in a dense bush. There are owls in Glenelm!  Sometimes, Eastern Screech Owls will roost or even nest in nest boxes that have been put up for Wood Ducks. On other occasions chickadees and nuthatches have spotted an Eastern Screech Owl hiding in a bush and have decided that if they make enough noise then the owl will fly away. Crows and Blue Jays do the same thing when it comes to the much larger Great Horned Owl which may also be found in our neighborhood. These are good ways of finding owls in Glenelm!

Great Horned Owls have become scarcer in recent years, but would have been recorded annually on our regular Christmas Bird Counts until just a few years ago. Nowadays, we are fortunate to catch sight of one – usually in Elmwood Cemetery or in one of those massive Eastern Cottonwood trees that grow on the riverbank. During our 45 years of living on Glenwood Crescent we have noticed this decline in the numbers of Great Horned Owls but an increase in the little Eastern Screech Owls.

We are fortunate that Eastern Screech Owls have nested in one of our nest boxes and successfully raised their young owlets; three owlets in 2019 and four during the previous year. The owls are secretive and we usually do not see them until after the young birds have left their nest and are trying out their flight skills. Young owls flopping about on the lawn have needed help to get back to a tree branch. On other occasions we have seen the young owls out in the open and waiting to be fed by the parents, like when Di looked out of the kitchen window one evening to see three owlets and one adult lined up on the railing of our sundeck – if only we had a camera handy!

On another occasion after a shower of rain, the young owls were in a nearby bush while an adult was pulling earthworms out of the lawn for their food. The worms were long enough that the owl had to stretch to its full height to pull the worm out of the ground; quite a sight! The adult would fly back and forth to the young birds carrying fresh worms! Later that day, when the rain had returned the adult owl was seen taking shelter beneath our eaves.

Sometimes on a still night we may hear an owl call, especially when we are lying in bed with our windows open. The Great Horned Owl has a bellowing “Oohoo, hoo, hoo”, while the call of the Eastern Screech owl is a very soft, quavering “oooooooo”. I find that this call is hard to hear unless the owl is pretty close!

Other kinds of owls pass through our neighborhood but are not frequent. Over the years, we have seen a Boreal Owl and a Long-eared Owl, but only on single occasions. Perhaps if you have seen owls in our neighborhood you can let us know about them, just for the record!

Photos from top to bottom (1) Roosting in a wood duck nest box (2) Hiding in a dense bush is what they do best (3) Young owl recently out of a nest (4) Sheltering under the eaves during a thunderstorm.

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