On Sunday, I experienced the privilege of releasing three Screech Owls we raised from infancy at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport after they lost their home to loggers. They now live in a protected North Carolina forest adjacent a meadow with a pond and river close by, away from traffic and human interference but close to “meals on the go.” All you tiny rodents, big fat bugs and squiggly things better watch out! Nature is harsh but necessary. The Screeches must be careful as well, because a hierarchy exists when it comes to predation. Although they are efficient predators themselves, larger animals on the wing or the ground will take an opportunity if they are not quick and wise. The two amber faced and one gray faced Screech spent months at the shelter, eating, growing and learning how to be the owls they are meant to be. They are stubby, tiny owls, only reaching a length of between eight to nine inches and six to eight ounces in weight. Their large, yellow eyes fill most of their flat round face, crowned with ear tufts and like larger owls, their beak and talons are curved and deadly. They hunt from dusk to dawn, which is something wildlife rehabilitators must ensure the owls are capable of before releasing them to the wild. Their great sense of hearing helps them locate prey in any habitat. Hopefully, in their new environment of old and new trees, they have found cavities in which to roost. One may even be so rude as to boot a woodpecker out of a cavity to take it over. Screech-owls are primarily solitary, so no telling how long they will stay together in the wild. Even though they were raised as siblings at the shelter and acclimated together in an outside enclosure, they may have gone their separate ways already. When we think of owls and the sound they make, most familiar to us is the typical “hoo hoo,” we all use when imitating an owl, but the Screech owl is named for its piercing call which is basically a hair raising, high pitched scream, hence the nickname, demon owl, which I think is a bad rap and not very becoming. They do have a more pleasant trill, more like a song they sing, that is just between them, one Screech to another during courtship or between members of a committed pair. They really aren’t the kind of bird you want to see or hear in your back yard, especially if you supplement the feeding of other wildlife. Here’s hoping they are enjoying their freedom and the wide open spaces of their new world in the forest, and I must say, it was an honor to share their Independence Day!
Author of “Save Them All”
North Carolina, USA