Date: 4/9/18 9:22 pm
From: Lisa Potash <lisapotash6...>
Subject: [JERSEYBI] Owl in the Box Update

My last update was February 22nd. I've had weeks of observations and photos to sift through to gain a little more insight about Eastern Screech Owl behavior. They are amazing.

In February of this year, a new Red morph was occupying the boxes, we call bigRed. I'm convinced this was the same owl that appeared at dawn perched on the backyard box on March 8, 2016 & Jan 28, 2017. In those two instances the pair of Red Jr. and Grey were in the box when this newer owl showed up. As I've mentioned - Red Jr. (the red morph that appeared as a juvenile Aug 16, 2014 in the backyard box) is "no longer."

Brief History:
Red Jr. (the red morph that appeared as a juvenile Aug 16, 2014 in the backyard box and grew up in the yard) is "no longer."
Red Jr's mate (Grey) has remained in the yard/territory, and is the third Grey Morph we've had in the owl box since March of 2014.

The first grey screech was here with her mate/Red and occupied the backyard box for about a week. I think she checked it out as a nest site and declined, while her mate (Red) stayed on and off until later that April.

The second Grey2 (don't know what sex this owl was) was killed in a Hemlock tree in the property below.

The current Grey-III first arrived in the box on Dec 18, 2015, and has been a fixture in the yard boxes (except for nesting time the previous 2 Springs) since then. To keep it simple i call her Grey. This owl was Red Jr's mate last season and the season before.

Back to bigRed:

I thought this owl was a female because it presented so "big" in the 3" hole. The face is broader and square-shaped vs. the other 2 red (males) that have been photographed. Also, this owl looked bulkier perched on the box compared to Red Jr.

I've been able to confirm it's actually a Male red morph. Grey has a new mate/bigRed.

Since Feb 14th:
Grey has used roosted in the frontyard box 16x's, and the backyard box 17x's. She has been in the backyard box the last
bigRed has roosted in the frontyard box 18x's and the backyard box 18x's.
They have roosted together 4x's.

Observing the Owls:

I don't venture outside at dawn, but since early March (at exit/dusk hour) I've moved outside to the back porch to listen, watch and if possible digiscope. I sit quietly and wait for things to happen with the owls. I'm situated about 1/2 way between the two boxes and close to a side yard with brambles/light woods. This is the pathway that the owls often take in coming from the front yard box to the back/side yard. Recently the owls were meeting off my corner of the porch. Normally (non-breeding time) the owls would depart in "hunt" mode, not vocalizing, and going their separate ways, but with breeding season it's been different.


Since bigRed returned to the yard on Feb 14th, this owl has been trilling daily before night falls. It is an even toned and mellow lasting about 4 to 5 seconds. Sometimes I've heard the length get stretched out. He has trilled as much as 35 times in a row, or as little as 2 x's before exiting, but generally 6-12 x's. Video of bigRed trilling on a branch shows he puts his heart into, vibrating from head to tail.

Have observed the male/bigRed give short "contact notes" that aren't the trill or whinny song. They are singular, and it seems like he's contacting Grey. Sometimes these short notes then evolve into a regular trill song. After watching these owls for many hours, it appears that the monotonic trilling is being used to call one another. In a few instances the male has trilled in the morning, or middle of the afternoon. On Feb 26th i caught Grey trilling at 5:54 a.m. after her mate had first flown to the backyard box (where she was already) and then he flew to the front box to roost.

Grey is the most vocal I've seen this year. I'd only seen/heard her trilling a couple times previously, so couldn't compare a male vs. female screech's song. Grey has a higher pitch and quicker paced song. I think it sounds insect-like. Generally this female's trilling song is longer than the male's. Comparing some of the video of the two owls - a trill song of 8.5 seconds/Grey vs. 4.5 seconds/bigRed. March 20th, bigRed was not present in the frontyard box, and that evening upon departing from the backyard box, I watched Grey sing her little heart out/trilling 15' up on a branch.
Tonight I saw (digiscoped/iPhone view) Grey giving contact type, singular note calls shortly before exiting the backyard box, but it was too loud with spring peepers to hear.

Observations at dawn, Feb 24th to March 10th: courtship behavior?

bigRed arriving at the box early, and then giving up/yielding the Box to Grey as she arrives at dawn. The male departs to roost in the empty box - 3x's
Grey Switching Boxes at dawn - starting out at one and then moving to the other - 4x's
Grey Denying bigRed Entry into the Box at dawn - 2x's
Both owls start out together in one box and then bigRed backs out/tail first - flies to frontyard box for the day.

It's Breeding Season/Copulation:

March 8th,11th,12, 18th, 25th, observed the owls copulate after departure at dusk. Since stationed in the backyard, I can follow that box/owl. In each instance the owl in the backyard was calling/trilling and watching intently toward the sideyard. This is the flight path the owl takes to "meet up" with their mate. Sometimes the male would arrive first from the box and call from the woods, and almost immediately the female departed. Another night, bigRed was already out of the box and calling/trilling. After a couple of minutes I caught Grey arrive, and swiftly the male mounted the back of the female, fluttering on top for just a second, before moving off.

Where will Grey choose to nest?
I'm not sure. Last season Grey left the yard on March 22nd to nest elsewhere. March 27th-29th Grey was not seen in a box, but bigRed was present and doing his usual trilling routine. March 30th I thought it was Done - with no sign of either owl, but then bigRed was in the front box April 1 & 2. April 3rd & 4th I was surprised to see Grey (only) in the backyard box. Again no owl sighting on April 5th - thought it was done. Then Both Owls returned on April 6th and for the last 5 days Grey has been stationed in the backyard box and bigRed in the front. These last 5 days it seems like the contact/trilling has calmed down. Watching Grey depart she was in "hunt mode" until this evening, when I think (not sure) she met up with her mate.

Will hope for the best. They have security from predators in these boxes, but it's not the best situation for owlets leaving the nest and learning/gaining strength to fly.

I have updated my flickr' page with new pictures and videos. Just scroll down to view. Also, if interested, I have detailed "storyboard" pictures (that are marked up) showing a number of different interactions between the pair. If interested email me privately and i would be happy to send along for you to view.

Good birding,
Lisa Potash

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