Sitting outside with a neighbor the other day, we were excited to see a small, stocky owl, about the size of a pint jar, fly into a large bush near her pond. This owl, the Eastern Screech-Owl, is the owner of the mysterious trilling or whinnying call that you sometimes hear after dark.
Since the Eastern Screech-Owl nests in wooded areas, especially near water, our lovely West 11th Street Park offers them a perfect home. The banded pattern of this small gray owl provides camouflage against the bark of the trees. Occasionally during the day, you can locate the screech owl when you hear the noisy calls of jays mobbing the-owl (or other raptor) in an attempt to make him move on. When you do catch sight of the Eastern Screech-Owl, its pointed ear tufts provide a distinctive silhouette. Another way to identify this owl is through their flight pattern. When traveling between perches, theyoften drop, fly straight, then rise again, in a characteristic U-shaped pattern.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Eastern Screech-Owls are usually monogamous and mate for life. The male owl, smaller than the female, is an agile hunter providing food for the nesting female and chicks. They perch 6 to 10 feet above ground and swoop on prey crossing below. Easter Screech-Owls eat small birds and mammals along with a large amount of earthworms, insects, crayfish, tadpoles, frogs, and lizards. In fact, this owl is agile enough to occasionally prey on the bats we see flying around the park.
Eastern Screech-Owls don’t build their own nests but occupy holes and cavities of abandoned woodpecker or squirrel nest that can be found in the snags (dead trees) remaining in the Park. However, you can attract a nesting pair of these owls to your yard with a properly constructed nest box such as that described by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/). Another way to attract an Eastern Screech-Owl, along with many other types of birds, into your yard is by providing fresh water in a birdbath or fountain.
So listen to the night noises and maybe you’ll hear, or even see, the Eastern Screech-Owl! I hope to see you in the Park soon.
Helen Shumway, President of Friends of West 11th Street Park