A Chance for two Eastern Screech Owl Nests this Season!

A Chance for two Eastern Screech Owl Nests this Season!

Before we begin we need to give a little history. We started installing eastern screech owl boxes with cameras on our 90 acre property at PixCams, Inc. back in 2011. The purpose of this project is to study the eastern screech owl behaviors during the winter roosting and spring nesting periods in a natural environment. The camera system designed to monitor the screech owls is located in a wooded remote area unlike other screech owl webcams located in urban areas or backyards that are broadcast on the Internet.

There are a total of nine screech owl boxes fitted with small cameras and one external pan-tilt-zoom camera used to watch the screech owls hunt and move in/out of the owl boxes. Multiple owl boxes are needed for roosting, nesting, and caching of prey. 

The total study area covers about 30 acres. The cameras are designed to capture still photos when the owls enter and exit the boxes. This gives us information when the boxes are being used and when. During the nesting season it will give us information on how often feeding take place, when they take place, and what the prey was.


Aerial photo of the owl box locations

The cameras and live streaming technologies have changed greatly since we stared this project over 13 years ago. The original cameras were analog cameras with a streaming resolution of 360P. Today we are using the latest high resolution cameras of 1080P.

Owl box fitted with a 1080P resolution IP camera

Understanding the eastern screech owl mating behaviors

The Eastern Screech Owls are highly territorial. Their territories can vary in size, depending on factors like the abundance of prey and suitable nesting sites.  By adding several owl boxes over a larger area increases your chances of attracting owls to the boxes. Eastern Screech Owls are cavity dwellers, making them well-suited to coexist with human landscapes, where they hunt for a diverse diet of small mammals, insects, and even smaller birds under the cover of darkness. 

The courting process of Eastern Screech Owls in Pennsylvania typically begins in late winter to early spring, generally from February to April. During this time, the owls become more vocal and active in establishing and reinforcing pair bonds. We have seen the courting process start in January in the past several warm winters here in Pennsylvania.

The owls’ courtship behavior is closely tied to their breeding season, as they prepare for nesting and raising their young.  During the courtship period, Eastern Screech Owls engage in a series of intricate and charming behaviors that strengthen pair bonds. This process typically begins with male owls initiating courtship calls, consisting of soft trills and rhythmic whinnies, to attract potential mates. Once a pair forms, the bonding intensifies through mutual preening and tactile interactions. The male may offer prey items to the female as a gesture of provisioning and courtship. Nest site selection becomes a collaborative effort, with the pair inspecting and mutually approving potential cavities for breeding. As the courtship advances, the owls engage in aerial displays, where they gracefully fly together, demonstrating their agility and synchronicity. These displays not only solidify the pair bond but also serve as a means of communication and coordination. The courtship rituals of the Eastern Screech Owl are not only vital for reproductive success but also highlight the fascinating social dynamics and communication strategies within these enigmatic nocturnal birds.

How large is the eastern screech owl breeding territory?

The size of a typical territory for Eastern Screech Owls in Pennsylvania can vary based on factors such as habitat type, prey availability, and the owl population density. Generally, Eastern Screech Owls are known to have relatively small territories compared to some other owl species. Territories can range from about 6 to 60 acres, but they are often on the smaller end of this scale, especially in urban or suburban environments where suitable nesting sites and prey resources may be concentrated.

In more natural settings, such as forests or woodlands, territories may be larger to accommodate the owls’ hunting and foraging needs. The size of the territory is influenced by the availability of suitable nesting sites, the abundance of prey, and the owls’ need for space to avoid competition with neighboring individuals. The territorial nature of Eastern Screech Owls is an important aspect of their behavior, as it helps regulate population density and ensures sufficient resources for breeding pairs.

Four owls roosting in our boxes on March 3, 2024

We have a very interesting development in our eastern screech owl boxes on March 3rd in the peak of the courting season. We have 4 different screech owls roosting. We have this new pair of gray phase owls roosting together in owl box 8 named Lala and Grayson. We assumed this pair had driven off the other owls because when they pair bonded recently we have not see any other owls roosting in our boxes.

Four owls roosting in the PixCams owl boxes on 3/3/2024

However, on the evening of March 2nd we had a gray phase eastern screen owl spend a lot of the evening in owl box 4 calling. Then at 3:06 am that morning this owl called a red phase to the box. From this behavior we would assume this gray phase owl is a male and the red phase is a female.

At 6:33 AM this new what we assume male gray phase owl returned to owl box 4 and started calling. The owl called until 6:35 AM and left and roosted in box 2. Then at 6:36 AM this new red phase female came and roosted in box 4.
At 6:37 AM the new gray phase pair Lala and Grayson came and roosted in box 8 together.
What’s interesting is the possibility exists to have 2 different pairs nesting in our boxes. There is a linear distance of 0.4 miles between our 9 different boxes so there’s probably enough room for both pairs to nest within this area.

You can watch the screen owls live here: https://pixcams.com/screech-owls/

Roosting Videos from the morning of March 3, 2024

Male gray phase calling female red phase owl to roost in Owl Box 4

New gray phase male owl going to roost in Owl Box 2

Bonded gray phase owl pair going to roost together in Owl Box 8

Be sure to watch!

Since the distance of our owl boxes is spread over about 30 acres there is a possibility we could see two active eastern screech owls in our boxes this spring. Screech owls in our area typically lay their eggs at the end of March. Keep watching to see what happens this spring!

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