Monday, April 30, 2012

Screeeech on the bridge!

No stroll around Allegheny College's campus would be complete without a visit to the 'rustic bridge'.  Last weekend my parents visited and we were fulfilling this requirement when we were stopped by a tour group listening to the history and legend of the bridge (or rather of the romantic 13th plank).  Instead of barging through and disrupting this magical moment for the prospective students we opted to take a closer look at the trees closest to us.  I am sure glad I did because upon closer inspection we spotted four little, puffy owls trying to catch some shut eye. 

Turns out these small fellas were screech owls, three fledglings and their mother.  And when I say small, I mean it- they appeared to be about as tall as your average banana (about 7 in).  This came as a huge surprise to me without a sense of scale the pictures makes them seem much larger.  Additionally, I haven't seen many owls during the day (and when I did they were always flying by confused) and it was too dark to gauge the size of the few owls I've spotted at night. 

Momma screech

Baby screech- all rights reserved
It is moderately acceptable that I haven't spotted many owls at any time of the day because they are masters of disguise.  Their plumage can take on various overall tones but each of those tones are made up of different complex spots and hues of color.  This coloring provides the perfect camouflage during the day  so that even though humans and animals are constantly walking by their napping site they are not often noticed.  This is also advantageous when it comes to finding a meal.  When the unsuspecting small mammal or bird flies under a screech owls perch it is likely to become dinner before even recognizing its lurking predator.

We were lucky enough to see fledglings because screech owls mate earlier than most other birds.  Few have been fortunate enough to witness the elaborate mating display males put on for females so I was unable to find a video but it sounds pretty neat.  It includes mating calls, head and body bobbing and swiveling AND (if the lady owl is lucky) a slow and deliberate wink that says, "How you doin'?" even better than Joey. 

A last tid-bit on screech owls: surely they must make some dreadful screeching sound that led to their current name... turns out no!  Although they have a variety of calls the most common one is a trill or tremolo.  This somewhat eerie noise is familiar from Maine from Texas.

So there you have it: my last entry provides a little background on the somewhat misnamed screech owl along with the reminder to keep your eyes open!  Countless funky creatures are living in right in your backyard-- go check them out!

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