The Story of Spooky
This is “Spooky” a female Eastern Screech Owl. She was brought to my husband and me… we run a licensed wildlife rescue facility called Tooth and Claw. She was rescued after breaking her wing in a car accident (no, she wasn’t driving). We work with Maine Audubon to provide educational programs about owls that cannot survive in the wild.
Who is Spooky?
Spooky is an Eastern Screen Owl (Megascops asio), which can be found all the way from Mexico to Canada. She is strictly nocturnal, and has adapted well to urban and suburban environments which is probably how she wound up on the side of the causeway at Mackworth Island after being clipped by a car. Luckily there was a birder behind the wheel whose lightning-fast instinct caught the sight of the tiny owl going down in his rearview mirror. He used an old shirt to gently transfer her to an old box he had in the car.
Why is Spooky spooky?
Both male and female Screen Owls make a haunting trilling sound that is often associated with scary nighttime scenes in TV, film, and other media. The trill is usually an evenly pitched tremolo used to keep in touch with other owls. They also produce a shrill “whinny” when defending their territories. Ironically, screech owls don’t actually screech (though the sound of them may be followed by a human screech in a stereotypical horror movie). Barn Owls are actually more likely to make a harsh screeching sound.
Do Owls Make Good Pets?
Nooooo! They need special facilities and it is illegal for people to raise owls. Our licensed facility includes large flight cages for owls who can no longer survive on their own. Spooky is lucky in that she is likely to make a full recovery. Once she has “imprinted” with humans, however, she may be too habituated to them to return to the wild. For that reason we are currently using large gloves and owl masks to work with Spooky. Once her wing is healed we will move her to a larger flight cage and observe her hunting techniques and run a series of tests to see if she can fend for herself in the wild.
Spooky is currently living in a small outdoor cage with its own nesting box. She is not able to fly yet, but enjoys eating insects, earthworms and small mice. Screech Owls are eager feeders, hunting on most anything that comes their way, including songbirds, rabbits, squirrels, worms, small frogs, toads, crickets, and more. Early naturalists called them “feathered wildcats.” Owls like Spooky tend to stick around places where the foraging is good. Her sense of hearing is so acute that she can locate mammals under bushes or snow. Her feathers have serrated tips, which muffles the noise of flapping wings, so she can sneak up quietly on prey.
Fun Facts About Spooky
Owls are amazing! Here are some fun facts about Spooky:
- She is an expert at camouflage, blending in with trees almost perfectly.
- Although she has a “big” sound, Spooky is only about as large as a pint glass.
- She has a higher voice than her male counterparts.
- She is a cosmopolitan owl and thrives in suburbs.
- She mates for life, though her male mate may take another wife!
- She regurgitates oval “pellets” twice a day. These pellets are a mixture of fur, feathers and bone from the creatures she’s eaten.
- The 1992 movie My Cousin Vinny has a scene with a screech owl like Spooky, which disturbs the main character’s sleep, although the call is not realistically portrayed.
How to Spot Spooky
Here are some ways to spot Eastern Screech Owls:
- Look for their habitat – owl pellets at the bottom of a tree are great indicators.
- Pay attention to a particularly loud commotion of Blue Jays and other birds. They may be trying to chase a hawk or an owl out of the neighborhood.
- Build a nesting box prior to breeding season
- Make sure your sturdy box is made of untreated wood such as pine or cedar
- The finished project should be about 18” x 10” x 9”
- It will need an overhanging, sloped roof and rough inside walls
- A recessed floor, drainage holes, and ventilation holes are necessary
- No outside perches
- You will need to mount the box at least 10 feet high
- You will need to monitor and maintain your box
- You will need to make sure sparrows or starlings, which crowd out native birds, are not taking up residence
A Funny Story
It can be very easy to mistakenly identify species. When we lived in the city, we were walking down the street one day with a neighbor when we heard the familiar urban sound of a pair of mourning doves, cooing in the dusk. “Those mourning doves sound so pretty,” I remarked. Our neighbor stopped and looked us with a puzzled expression. “I always thought those were owls, “ she said.