Western Screech Owls
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My friend Dan e-mailed me about a week ago, telling me that he had a pair of Western Screech Owls nesting in his yard and inviting me to come over and photograph them. I responded enthusiastically and showed up at his home a couple of evenings later, camera in hand. What followed was extraordinary. The owls, particularly the male, put on a terrific show and I was able to obtain some excellent images of a species I’d never previously seen in the wild.
There are three species of Screech Owls living in the United States — Eastern, Western, and the much rarer Whiskered. These little owls bear a strong resemblance to each other. There are also color variations within these species. The Western Screech Owl bears a slight resemblance to the Great Horned Owl. However, it is much, much smaller. A Great Horned Owl may weigh more than three pounds whereas a Screech Owl comes in at about five or six ounces. Screech Owls have “horns” (technically, “plumicorns”) consisting of tufts of feathers on each side of the tops of their heads. They can elevate these “horns” as they please. Neither of the owls that I photographed at Dan’s home was in the mood to do that.
These are delightful little raptors. The male (pictured above) was out and about in Dan’s yard and posed obligingly for me. The female, who is evidently sitting on a clutch of eggs, only poked her head out of the nest box long enough for me to get an image. Then, she returned to her duties as parent-to-be.
Screech Owls are by no means rare in our community, but they are rarely seen. They are strictly nocturnal and tend to conceal themselves in dense vegetation during daylight hours. Their gray, deep brown, white and black plumage blends in extremely well with tree bark. One of these owls resting among foliage next to a tree trunk is virtually invisible.
They are active predators at night. Their diet includes insects, other invertebrates, and small rodents.
Notice the feet and talons on the male. They are huge relative to the bird’s overall size. Screech Owls, like many other owl species, use their feet and talons to capture and kill their prey. The razor sharp talons are easily long enough to penetrate to a rodent’s vital organs and can kill very quickly.
As with many owls the Screech Owl’s eyes — gigantic in proportion to the bird’s overall size — are its most prominent feature. This bird has superb vision overall, but even more superb night vision. Those massive eyes can gather light far more efficiently than our eyes can. But, vision isn’t necessarily this bird’s most prominent sense. Screech Owls, like other owls species, have extraordinarily sensitive hearing, hearing that is so developed as to allow these birds to hear their prey when it isn’t visible.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm ISII zoom lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT speedlite, M setting. The first, second and third images shot at ISO 400, f5.6 at 1/160. The fourth image shot at ISO 400, f5.6 @ 1/200. The fifth image shot at ISO 250, f5.6 @ 1/400.