Owls In the Desert Night

by Bryce W. Robinson

Western Screech Owl- Megascops kennicottii

This evening I joined some friends on an owling adventure into the evening heat which still hovered near 100 degrees farenheit. We were in search of the world’s smallest owl, the Elf Owl. The desert of southern California is not the normal range of this tiny creature, but for whatever reason, there has been a bird living in one canyon for some time.

We watched some palm snags with nice cavities as the sun light began to fade. At one point, a small head poked from a cavity. We thought we had our owl, but soon after an American Kestrel flew from the hole. We were disappointed, even though a nesting kestrel is quite the prize.

The sun fell, and darkness ensued. No owl. After a while we realized we would no longer be able to see the owl, even if it was around. We listened for any calls, but none came. Before we left we decided to check for other owls. We knew there were probably screech owls in the area. They had been heard before. We whistled a few calls and listened. Sure enough two birds responded. Interestingly, the birds were perched ten feet in front of us on some limbs. We had some great looks at them.

The two birds called, and each bird had an obvious difference in pitch. One bird was noticeably lower. I know that in many species of owls the vocalizations differ, with the male being a lower pitch. I’ve heard this many times in the Great Horned Owl as they hoot back and forth at the inception of nightfall. I’m not certain if there is a difference between male and female voices in the screech owl, but it certainly seems so. I plan to do some reading to find out.

Although we were unsuccessful in finding the Elf Owl, I was very happy with the night. An owling adventure is surely successful when any owl is found.

Western Screech Owl- Megascops kennicottii