Back to Nature (Published on - June 1, 2006)
A treasured guest
Drawing by Karen Mitchell TremmelL
An Eastern screech owl
We discovered a gift in our garden early today. While pulling weeds and watering irises the sun shown upon a small patch of rusty feathers high upon a live oak branch.

An Eastern screech owl snoozed in solitude in the sanctuary of our garden canopy.

For the past couple of weeks we’d heard its call from the orchard behind our home at dusk and attempted to locate the owl by morning light, to no avail. But there he was taking a nap right in front of us. The little owl fluffed his feathers and stretched his legs seemingly unaware of our whispered oooohhhs and ahhhhs. But we decided if we wanted our treasured guest to stay we’d best not disturb him and let him get some beauty sleep.

Pretending to not notice him we puttered around the garden until it became too warm to work. But later as evening approached we couldn’t resist carefully tiptoeing to the tree to sneak just one more peek. As we stood looking up at the tree, the screech owl spread his wings with a little shake. He then looked directly at us with his large yellow eyes, as if to say, “Aren’t you supposed to be asleep?” He was right! This was his time to go to work. It is the owl that owns the night.

Screech owls prefer dense oak and pine woodlands near streams but can often be seen in suburban woodlands, forests, swamps, orchards and gardens. The most readily visible markings are the ear tufts that are prominent when raised.

A small owl of between 8 to 10 inches, the Eastern screech owl weighs approximately 7 ounces. This owl has large yellow eyes, a yellow-gray bill, white fluff (facial disk) between eyes and bill with a gray to black fringe. The chest of the screech owl has mottled brown to dark brown streaks extending from the chest along sides and flanks.

Screech owls choose to nest in old tree cavities or the abandoned nest holes of other birds such as woodpecker holes and are resident throughout the year. The clutch size is three to seven with incubation taking approximately 26 days. Young fledge out at approximately 30 days.

The Eastern screech owl in Florida often has a rufous-rusty brown coloring referred to as the red phase. No other eared owl is this color. Further north the Eastern screech owl is shades of darker grays without the rusty overtones. As well a similar species is the Western screech owl that is slightly larger with black-gray bill and overall gray plumage.

The most common way to tell you have an owl in your garden is by their calls. These are in two parts: quavering, mournful, drawn out descending whistles, “Whooeeeee...” and a single vibrating low whistle, “Qohoho-ho.”

We’ve decided to install an owl house next weekend in hopes our treasured guest will decide to stay in our garden year-round and become part of our family – back to nature.

Karen can be reached at

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