So my boyfriend and I participated in an Owl Prowl sponsored by the Buffalo Audubon Society at the North Tonawanda Nature Preserve this past weekend. Our guide, Naturalist Tom Kerr, took us and a group of about 8 other people on an hour and a half walk through the nature preserve in search of the Eastern Screech Owls that call this area home.
Due to the recent rains, the preserve was a muddy mess, however, this didn’t stop any of us. We came prepared with waterproof boots, binoculars, flashlights, and cameras. I would highly recommend face masks or a scarf for any future walks in the middle of a woods in the dark, as we kept getting whacked in the face with tree branches.
Tom was a very knowledgeable guide and within minutes of calling the owls with pre-recorded sounds, we saw our first Eastern Screech Owl. The owl flew into a tree about 30 feet above us and patiently sat there while we all watched in awe. Within a few more minutes, yet another owl flew about 35 feet away from us, this time onto a lower branch, shortly thereafter joined by the first owl we spotted, possibly it’s mate. In all, we saw three different Eastern Screech Owls, two gray, and one red, and saw them on about 5 different occasions throughout the evening. They didn’t seem to mind us gawking at them, however, I believe they probably were patiently waiting for us to leave so they could continue hunting for their dinner.
Eastern Screech Owls are small, nocturnal owls, commonly found in woodlands in the Eastern half of the US. They can be found year-round as far West as parts of Montana to Texas and even Northeastern Mexico. Eastern Screech Owls do not migrate.
These little owls measure only about 9 inches (23cm) and have a wingspan of about 20 inches (51cm). They are the only small owl in New York State with ear tufts and can be gray or reddish brown. Their call is very soft, but if it’s really quiet, you just might hear them. They make a soft whistling sound and more commonly a soft whinny- just like a little horse whinnying.
They have excellent hearing and eyesight and are most active at dusk and during the night. They prey on small mammals including rats, mice, squirrels, moles, and small rabbits. They supplement their diets with birds, earthworms, insects, crayfish, tadpoles, frogs and lizards.
They will apparently nest in a wooden box- that is if you can keep the squirrels from moving in first. The female incubates 4-5 plain white eggs for 25-26 days, while the male feeds her. Both parents feed the young and the fledglings leave the nest after about 26-27 days. It is thought that males and females mate for life.
While the thought of going out into the woods in search of Eastern Screech Owls, or any other owls for that matter, might seem like a fun thing to do, Tom does not recommend it. When we are out there, we are disturbing them and keeping them from hunting and essentially eating dinner. The Buffalo Audubon Society hosts various owl prowls throughout the year in selected locations. They won’t have another one in North Tonawanda until the fall in order to give the owls some privacy. Check out their website for the next birding event. We are looking forward to the next outing. http://buffaloaudubon.org/