Friday, June 24, 2016

Owlphelia: Chronology of a Screech-Owl Nest Box

Habitat at Home yard
recognition sign
For several years now Tucson Audubon has been encouraging people to place nest boxes in their yards for desert birds. This process is now integrated with our Habitat at Home program, which asks people to do a variety of things in their yards to create safe, sustainable bird habitat. Then the program then recognizes their achievements (see the sign to the right)!

A couple years ago, one of our nest boxes went to a couple living in the Tucson foothills. They are long-time members of Tucson Audubon and had closely followed the development of this program. The box was placed on the rafters of their second floor balcony where they hoped it would catch the attention of American Kestrels. It didn't, so in late 2015 they felt they needed to make a change. They decided to move the box to another location where it might be more successful.

Western Screech-Owl (Doris Evans)
In October 2016 Tucson Audubon Society's Bringing Birds Home Program Manager, Kendall Kroesen, helped them find a new place for the box in a palo verde tree near the house. The reasoning was that this new location might be good for attracting Western Screech-Owls.

Below is a chronology of events starting when the first owl moved in, which they named Owlphelia! This is based on reports from the residents of this home. (If you have a nest box, we would love to see your reports of activities in your box!)

October 8, 2015
Box moved to palo verde tree.

March 4, 2016
When I went to put down the window shade this morning, I happened to look out at the bird house you and we had moved to the large mesquite tree. Lo and behold there was a face in the hole!!!  I had been hearing a screech-owl recently at night that sounded quite close by. It must have been he, or she? Very excited. We've named her Owlphelia.

First screech-owl sighting in box

March 8, 2016
We checked the box last night after our resident left to hunt and/or find a mate. No eggs. Will check again next week. 

March 30, 2016
We noticed the first egg March 23, the second one March 26, and the third one March 29! 

April 4, 2016
Normally when we check the box at dark every few days, there is no one home. Last night when we went to do the same, an owl flew out when we opened the box. There are three eggs and we were able to get some pictures of them. An owl is perched in his/her usual whole today, so it looks as though we did not scare them off!

Three screech-owl eggs

April 20, 2016
Haven't seen our owl today. Usually someone is sunning himself/herself in the portal all day. We saw someone fly out of the box at twilight and when we checked in the box, the three eggs were still there but no owl. 

April 29, 2016
We looked today and she was still sitting on the eggs. 

May 16, 2016
Owlphelia was hanging out in the portal of the bird house when we approached to check on her. She dropped down into the box and when we opened it, she had a wing spread trying to cover what looked to be a big ball of fluff. We could see only one, but the others were probably under her wing.  She is spending more time in the portal, so I imagine the eggs have hatched and she doesn't have to be sitting on them. We'll check in another day or two to see if we can see more. 

May 22, 2016
Yesterday evening around dusk I noticed our cat looking out the bedroom window at something on porch beam. Usually it is a dove or house finch, but much to my surprise, it was the screech owl staring back at us. Since we didn’t see anyone in the portal of the nest box, we thought it might be Owlphelia on the porch. We went to the box and opening the door, we found two fledglings.  Don’t know what happened to the third egg. We were surprised that they were so far along. The last time we looked a few days ago, what we could see still looked like balls of fluff. 

This morning I noticed this face in the portal. My husband went out to take a picture from the porch.  The owl backed away a bit, so you get to see only part of him/her. While we were out there, Owlphelia flew into the nest and has been there ever since. Will keep an eye on the box to see when the fledglings come out on the tree limbs.

First sight of a nestling peaking out of the box

May 26, 2016
This photo speaks for itself!

May 27, 2016
Two young owls looking out of the box

June 1, 2016
Everyone seems to be gone!  When I looked out this morning, no one appeared on the branch or in the box portal.  Later this morning we opened the box and no owls, not even the one we think was not alive. We will miss them. It has been fun. 

June 2, 2016
We spoke too soon! Guess who's back? When we checked the house yesterday, there was nothing in it except for the shavings and other things we did not investigate. This morning when by habit I looked out the window to the nest box, there she was in the portal. Since returning, she has been in and out of the house, occasionally sitting on the branch. Have not seen any sign of the kids. Would screech owls continue to use the same home even after nesting? We are assuming, of course, that this is Owlphelia and not a different owl?

P.S.  Just looked and there is Junior in the portal window!  

Fledged screech-owls still hanging around the box
Everyone out!
June 23, 2016
When I looked out our bedroom window, I noticed a lot of droppings on the porch floor. Looking up, who should be looking back at me but our old friend Owlphelia. Further along the beam were two juveniles. There has been only been one with her when we have seen them lately. They obviously are hanging around our house and the nest box. We are happy to have them and are glad they have chosen to stay around.

Owlphelia in the porch rafters

Fledged screech-owls in the porch rafters near Owlphelia!

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