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owl and house info / faq
° Generally thought to mate for life, eastern screech owls - ESO's - move to a habitat once a year to raise their brood, sometimes returning to the same nesting location each year. They seem to like suburban areas in addition to other wooded areas, probably due to the relative low number of predators, old trees, and available food and water sources. They do not make their own nests, instead using hollowed out trees and fortunately for us, mann-made nest boxes. They keep the nest very tidy and typically remove leftover, uh, "food sources", which can be insects, rodents, small snakes, frogs, lizards, and even common birds that may be larger than themselves. In central TX, most screech owls are "gray morph" as opposed to "red morph", easily recognizable by the color. They live somewhat solitary lives except when they mate and as they are nocturnal, usually they are quite difficult to find. ESO's do not screech or hoot; their common calls are more of a trill and whinny sound. The males are usually a little smaller than the females.
° The males find one or more possible nesting locations for the female to choose from, typically in the fall or early winter. 2 - 4 eggs appear in January / February / March time frame and sometimes later, incubated for about 26 days. After hatching, they stay in the nest for about 31 days, then they fledge and the entire family leaves the nest, moving on to other habitat areas. The owlets have to learn to fly and hunt with the parents for a month or more, then they are on their own.
° Once the female has laid her eggs, she rarely leaves the owl house, often sitting up in the opening to sun herself while resting throughout the day when not on her eggs. The male is almost always resting very close by, hiding in a tree, ready to defend the nest. He brings her food and when the owlets are born, both parents hunt at night to feed the fast growing chicks.
° ESO's may roost in an owl house briefly at any time of year as they move around in different habitats.
° ESO's are fairly small - robin size - and predators include larger owls, hawks, etc. Many common yard birds will harass the owls, as they are not happy to see a predator in their habitat. Squirrels and snakes may attempt to take owl eggs.
° ESO's typically rest during the day and hunt at night beginning at sunset. They are silent, agile, fast flying creatures with incredible eyesight and a wingspan of up to 2 feet. Their yellow eyes do not move, but their heads can almost swivel all the way around. They can change their appearance by making themselves "skinny" to hide up against a tree trunk or can puff up big to look intimidating.
° ESO's are very territorial, which means you're more likely to have owls take up residence if there is ample distance between your owl house and the nearest other owl house.
° House installation and location: mount the owl house at least 10' above the ground to a suitable tree with a trunk larger than 4" diameter and in healthy condition. Face it any direction but north (most of our big storms come from the north) and make sure it is mounted solid and as vertical / plumb as you can - no tilt. The owls need a clear flight path and sightlines, so no branches etc in front of it. Ideally no branches immediately near it, either, as that helps keep the predators and annoying others (I'm talking about you, squirrels and blue jays) from getting easy access. If you are not comfortable or experienced in both ladder use and basic tools, get someone who is to do the installation - seriously.
° You do not necessarily need to clean out the owl house each season since they keep it pretty tidy inside, but every other year or so isn't a bad idea just to remove the buildup at the bottom. Do add about 1" more fresh wood shavings as nesting material each year if you do not clean it out - not mulch or other stuff that will decompose quickly. Dried leaves work great, too. The house roof swings open for access and cleaning. Use a thin stiff wire to clean out the drain holes in the bottom each fall when you toss in a fresh handful or two of nest material. The owl houses should last several years or more depending on use and conditions. Do not paint or stain the inside and the exterior (cedar) will turn gray over time, blending in to the tree.
° Squirrels. . . there does not seem to be much we can do about squirrels raiding or even taking over owl houses, more so during the year when there are no owls in the house. Some have had success with adding squirrel baffels above and below the house, assuming the house is too far to jump to from a nearby branch. They do fear the owls, which helps.