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Nature Scenes: Eastern screech owl has great diversity in its diet
By Lynn Bowen
posted Jul 9, 2014 - 1:35:49pm
At a glance, an adult Eastern screech owl looks like a baby or juvenile because it is so small. But the typical adult is 8.5 inches tall, has a 20-inch wingspan, and weighs only 6 ounces. Hollow bones and feathers don’t weigh much! The female is a little larger than the male.
An Eastern screech owl can be gray-, red- or brown-plumed. The one in the photo accompanying this column is obviously a red adult. The owl’s pale underside is heavily streaked and barred with brown and white, which serves to camouflage him. These owls live in swamps, forests, or urban or agricultural environments — even orange groves -- in the eastern half of the U.S.
The Eastern screech owl appears to have ears on top of its large head, but those are merely tufts of feathers. It has asymmetrical ears on each side of its head. Those ears are small holes under the feathers.
The owl’s beautiful eyes are yellow with huge black pupils, and its beak and talons are very strong.
The Eastern screech owl is heard more often than seen. It has a trill call that may sound like the bird is in the distance, when it may actually be near. It screeches only when alarmed.
This owl is an omnivore, whose diverse diet of insects, fish, and small reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds enables it to survive in many habitats. So a meal could be anything from beetles, grasshoppers or earthworms, to small rabbits, mice, sparrows, fish, snakes or frogs, just to name a few! Eastern screech owls take their prey from the ground, trees, shrubs or water.
At night, a screech owl hunts from perches in semi-open areas. One amazing fact about the owl’s digestive system is that it uses only the nutritional components of its prey, which it eats whole. The fur, feathers, bones and teeth that cannot be digested are compacted into a pellet or two, which the owl ejects daily through its mouth.
Eastern screech owls nest in hollow cavities, either in trees or man-made nest boxes. The female lines her nest with a layer of fur and feathers left over from previous meals. On that layer, she lays two to six eggs, which she incubates for 26 days. The male provides the food for his mate and the owlets.
The Eastern screech owl is Florida’s smallest owl, and is usually solitary. It is a permanent resident wherever it lives and does not migrate. One nickname for it is “cat owl” because of its attractive catlike face.
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at email@example.com.
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