A studio for bird study

Tag: screech

Wild Boise: Western Screech Owl

by Bryce W. Robinson


The other night, a bird flew in front of my car as I drove through the Boise State University Campus. I immediately pulled the car over, grabbed my camera, found the bird, and recorded. It was too dark, so I did what I could with the camera, cranked the ISO, dropped the aperture, and lowered the shutter speed. This video shows the abilities of the Canon 7D at its absolute limits, in the dark. Not the best, but I’ll take it.

We’ve entered a very active time for owls. These birds are in the midst of pair bonding, preparing for the breeding season. They are very active and vocal, so take the time just after sunset, and you’re sure to find an owl or two.


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

Western Screech Owl

by Bryce W. Robinson

Western Screech Owl- Megascops kennicottii. 11×14″ colored pencil on bristol.

A few weekends back I had the good fortune of finding myself on an Audubon ranch in southern California. Starr Ranch is an incredible coastal forest tucked behind a large gated community in Orange County. I came to the ranch to band owls.

The night was incredible. We had a few Big Brown Bats find their way into the nets, providing me the experience of seeing these winged mammals up close. I have never seen teeth so delicate yet fierce. We did have luck with capturing owls. Our first owl of the night was a beautiful female Barn Owl. I was able to take her from the net and band her. Having this ghostly creature in hand, staring into its dark marble eyes, is an experience I will never forget.

We also had four Western Screech Owls caught in the nets. I love the small owls, and was looking forward to the chance of banding one of these birds. The small birds are so endearing. Cute fits them perfectly, they are so full of fight and life. Returning the bird to the night was spectacular. I walked to the woods and perched the bird on my fingers. It sat for a while, not certain of its ability to flee. After a minute or two, the bird took to the night air and disappeared into the dark.

Today I spent my afternoon illustrating a headshot of the Western Screech Owl. I thought it appropriate to revisit this subject, given my recent intimate interaction with the bird. Every time I finish the owl, I feel a bit dissatisfied with the outcome. For whatever reason, I can never get the owl quite right. I would have probably loved this illustration if I would have left the ear tufts tucked back. I feel I drew them a bit too long. Still the exercise was rewarding, and I’m sure I will come out with a screech owl I am happy about if I only keep trying.

A Sun Soaking Western Screech Owl

by Bryce W. Robinson

Roosting Western Screech Owl- Megascops kennicottii

With the help of friends, I was finally shown a needle in a haystack. I’ve searched long and hard for the cavity roosting Megascops kennicottii. I have repeatedly checked known roost sights with no success. After my experience the past summer with the Western Screech Owl, I became even more obsessed with finding the bird in daylight. Sometimes it’s about knowing the right people and getting lucky.

It is important to remain respectful when finding a treasure such as a roosting owl. The stress the bird undergoes if it is flushed can be detrimental, especially in the winter months. If you are ever so lucky to find a roosting owl, glimpse the bird and move along. Do not overstep your bounds. After all, it would be worthwhile to ensure that the bird is comfortable with the roost sight, feeling safe and sound to return time and time again. It is then that you will be sure to have plenty of opportunities to watch the daytime dozings of the darkness dwellers.