tl;dr version:

Two adult EASTERN SCREECH-OWLS seen together yesterday, but not today.
Also screech-owl sightings in two other spots nearby (including our yard)
since February 16.

Full story:

It’s late Monday afternoon in northeast Ithaca.  Together on our first
neighborhood walk since early January, Miyoko Chu and I casually check tree
cavities for screech-owls as usual.  We find none at first.  Then we
approach a dead tree.  I tell Miyoko how I’ve eyed this tree for years,
wishfully expecting to see someone in any of its several owl-sized holes,
but never cashing in.  We pause and look.  We each sense that the other
sees something, and then detect something ourselves, and exclaim pretty
much in the same moment… “And THERE IT IS!!” – a gray-morph screech-owl.

Miyoko remarks about the owl’s chosen hole.  I reply that I wouldn’t even
really call it a hole, but rather just the broken top of the snag.  Miyoko
gently insists that the owl is in a hole.  We both drop the subject and
marvel at the sight together.

I take out my phone for a photo.  As I compose the view, I finally see that
Miyoko and I are both right – there are *two* owls together in this dead
tree, one nestled in the broken-off top and one poking out from a cavity
about five feet below.  This is the first time either of us has ever seen
two adult screech-owls out in the open together.  It’s also the first time
that we’ve ever found any screech-owl in a natural cavity by sight only --
no nest box, no mobbing songbirds, no previous listserv posts.   Astounded
by such shared good luck, and bonded by the owls bonded to each other, we
agree that it’s one of the great moments of our birding life, or indeed our
whole life together.

And this is only the latest of several screech-owl encounters we’ve had in
our neighborhood since last week.

On the evening of February 16, we saw an Eastern Screech-Owl in a nest box
in our yard -- our first owl here since 2016, and the first one we’ve ever
seen in this particular box.  Before then, over more than a decade of
winters and early springs, various screech-owls had roosted in a drafty old
nest box on a willow tree in the yard.  That tree finally fell down last
year, and we retired the old box for good.

On that same February 16 evening, I went out to Siena Drive and saw a
second Eastern Screech-Owl in another natural cavity.

I had found an owl here in late 2016, just about when we ceased to see owls
in our yard.  I posted to the list back then, and many people saw the owl
during that winter and part of the next, up to December 2017.  At that
time, I witnessed a group of birders whom I know from eBird whistling at
the owl, inducing it to respond repeatedly.  I understand that they did the
same thing the following night.  These birders were rather young and I know
that they surely had no ill intent.  But after that second night, I didn’t
see the owl again all that winter, nor the following winter of 2018-19,
despite repeated visits during prime evening hours.

I finally found an owl at this spot again nearly two years later, in early
December 2019.  It’s been in view most nights I’ve looked since then, up
through last week, including Sunday, February 23.  But I decided not to
post about it anywhere because of that December 2017 incident, plus a
couple of cases of trespassing photographers that I also found out about.

Anyway, I checked both our nest box and the Siena Drive location last night
too, but found no owls there.  So it seems quite plausible that the two
owls that Miyoko and I found together are the same ones that roosted
separately in our yard and on Siena Drive last week.  (All owls I’ve seen
have been gray-brown.  Photos don’t really show enough to definitively
identify individuals.  See album link above.)

I also checked last night’s two-owl site again on Tuesday morning, but
found no birds.  Maybe they’re hunkered down somewhere else, out of the
light rain.  I’ll post again if there is any more news, and if the owl(s)
seem viewable by the whole community without too much disruption of the
owls’ breeding efforts and the privacy of human neighbors.

Mark Chao


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