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Baby screech owl learning to fly and hunt in backyard

By Staff | May 24, 2018

PHOTO PROVIDED Baby screech owl

The baby screech owl has fledged from the backyard nesting box – the only one this year. Last year there were two.

One night I heard the adults making a very unusual call – all night. In response, the chick “chittered” back a “feed me” call, also all night. The next day no owls were in the box. Seems withholding food is one way that screech owls encourage their young to fly.

But what I have seen so far is not exactly “flying.” The chick can soar down but not fly up yet. At night, a very noisy upward climb can be heard followed by a lot of crashing around in the cabbage palm fronds. The chick climbs the stock of a large vine on one palm, using it like a jungle gym. The young owl has also climbed up the wooden fence, then perching on the fence post. For two to three days after the young owl makes the big jump from the nesting box, it cannot really fly.

Thankfully, improvements have occurred in the second week since fledging. At dusk, dad perched and called from a front yard palm. Mom landed on a porch railing halfway between the chick and papa. She called to entice the chick to follow her. The chick flew for a distance of 100 feet before crash landing in the palm. My cabbage palms are only naturally pruned during hurricanes. The fronds protect the owls from rain, wind,and cold – sort of an owl “cheekee hut.”

Mom, dad and chick still come back every morning to spend their days sleeping in the palms close to the nesting box. The parents will continue to feed the chick for 8 to 10 weeks, flying around together picking beetles, lizards and moths from treetops until the youngster can feed itself. These little owls also catch much of their food on the ground by pouncing from a perch. They hunt by sight, not by sound like barn owls. There is a nice open area by the nesting box in which they pounce hunt. Supposedly, they can see “a dime from across a football field.” Who figured that out I have no idea.

The next mating season will begin in the fall, with the males picking their territories first and the females picking the male with the best territory. Make sure to get your nest boxes in advance from the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation’s Native Landscape and Garden Center.

Dee Century is the living with wildlife educator at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation.