A Eastern Screech owl, Otus asio. These photographs were taken at a raptor demonstation at the Queens Co. Farm Museum a couple of years ago. Such birds are partially rehabilitated rescuees who can’t be released back into the wild
The Screech owl comes in three forms, or morphs: gray, brown, or red, as here. It’s a small owl, but not our region’s smallest: the Northern Saw-whet owl holds that distinction (in the Southwest, the Elf owl is even smaller, barely larger than a sparrow).
There have been a few attempts to re-introduce Screech owls into Central Park, but that’s a tough gig: cars, unconscionably allowed on the Park drives — as they are in Prospect — kill them. It’s a rare bird for Brooklyn, but not unheard of. And speaking of hearing, sound is a surefire way to identify the owls, who all have distinctive voices. The Screech’s eerie whinny is here. Screech owls like to roost in tree cavities, so they are seldom found out on branches, unless it is near twilight and they are preparing to fly into the dark. But the tips of their “ears” (they’re not ears, which are unseen, and located further down) and their eyes peeking out of a hole in a tree, now, that’s something to see.
Note the bird’s bill here. It makes it seem as if the bird’s mouth is rather small, but in fact owls have very wide mouths. (The better to eat you with, my dear.) The mouth is hidden behind all those feathers.
A Screech owl was spotted in my neighborhood in late 2009, but alas not by me, and it turned out to be the first recorded sighting in Brooklyn in half a century — but I’d put money on there being more than we know.
This is the first of several postings on owls in New York City. In mock honor of TV’s hyped “shark weeks,” I’m calling it Owl Week. Hoot!