I recently traveled to Starved Rock State Park to enjoy some time at Eagle Weekend. I was helping staff the The Conservation Foundation display table and brought fox, beaver, coyote, opossum and skunk pelts with me for the table. A lot of folks stopped by to say hello and reach out to stroke the softness of these furs.
But what stole the show was a young Eastern screech owl at the adjacent table only three feet away. How beautiful she was. And I got to sit next to her for several hours.
Every once in a while, as she sat patiently allowing everyone to gather around her, she would look up to the rafters of the lodge and look like she would love to be sitting up there rather than on the table level with the rest of us. What an expressive face.
Eastern screech owls typically live in woodlands, but they are quite at home in our urban/suburban “forest” if it offers sufficient cover. They need tree cavities for nesting (yet another reason to leave that old tree standing as long as there is no safety risk) but they will accept nesting boxes of a size large enough to accommodate other birds such as wood ducks or purple martins. At only 10 inches tall, they are highly adaptable to neighborhoods with enough trees, and are considered generalists as far as eating and nesting habits. Their diet is widely varied and includes small animals (mice and voles for example) and birds, earthworms, insects, crayfish and frogs.
This little owl is being cared for by the Illinois Raptor Center after being rescued from another center that was not providing good treatment. Thankfully, she has found a better home. She cannot be released into the wild because she has imprinted on humans.
The IRC staff thinks someone picked her up as a young chick/fledging and brought her inside to care for her. Don’t do this and think you are doing a good deed. Young birds can be picked up and returned to the nest without breaking the chick/parent bond. Contact them if you have any question about a bird you find that appears to be in distress.
Do you have a native garden or a natural area on your property? Some good tree cover around you? This beautiful little owl may consider it part of its territory and you may already enjoy its presence! I only know I’m in love. What another great example of how Conservation@Home helps support the broader community of which we are all a part.
Come out and learn more about winter birds in the Fox Valley from 7 to 8 p.m. Wednesday Feb. 26, at the Kendall County Historic Courthouse building in Yorkville. TCF is partnering with the Kendall County Forest Preserve District to offer a special Fox River Program series January through May. February we will be learning about “Winter Birds of the Fox River: How Are They Doing? What Are We Seeing?”
Want to learn more? Here are some links.
Native Plants/Native Gardens/Conservation@Home: theconservationfoundation.org/conservation-home.
Illinois Raptor Center: illinoisraptorcenter.org.
• Trish Beckjord is program manager, Fox River Education and Outreach Initiative at The Conservation Foundation.