Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Blackland Prairie Raptor Center

Last weekend at the North Texas Irish Festival I had the pleasure of meeting Sweetpea - an Eastern Screech Owl (Gray-phase). "Hatched in the spring of 2003, she was found by a family and taken home, where they raised her on hamburger meat. After discovering that it was illegal to keep her, they took her to the authorities who found her to be in good condition.  Unfortunately, as an ‘imprint’ she was non-releasable."  Sweetpea had not been raised by owls and had no idea how to hunt, and upon seeing a person her response was "Gimme a hamburger!" She was transferred to the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center in August 2004 as an education ambassador. She excels at her job, calmly watching all the people as they ooh and ahh over her.

Eastern Screech Owls are native to North Texas and are, in fact, our most common owl. The gray coloring is more common here, although the other colors are present here as well. The variety of color morphs from gray to brown to red as you move across the US, with red coloring being the most common in the eastern states.

They live primarily in wooded areas and nest in the cavities of trees, however, they occasionally use nest boxes that have been placed 15 ft. up off the ground in protected areas. They lay 4-5 eggs that are incubated for about 26 days. The young fledge in about 4 weeks but remain dependent on their parents for another 8 weeks.

The full grown screech owl is 8" in length with a wingspan of 20" and they weigh 4 to 6 ounces. It is amazing to see a bird with the appearance of a Great Horned Owl but the size of a robin.  The adorable feather tufts on top of the head that act as camouflage but look like ears are not present until adulthood. These perch and pounce hunters eat large cockroaches and mice so they make wonderful neighbors.

Screech owls have two distinct, soft calls. A long trill on the same note is a communication between Screech Owls. The second is a descending whinny that sounds like a horse. This call communicates irritation by a human or animal intruder in its territory . I have heard this call in my neighborhood many times and it truly sounds like a tiny horse - made me picture a tiny Pegasus up in the tree.

The BPRC is a raptor conservation and education center with many activities and events scheduled around the Dallas/Fort Worth area. They care for numerous types of hawks, falcons, and owls. These birds have been rescued and are used in the education program to teach about our native birds as well as to teach appreciation and protection of these wonderful creatures.  Visit my blog post Birds of Prey for more info and images of some of their other birds.

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  1. Those are wonderful pictures! You are so talented.

  2. My husband helps with raptors and owls...we've got Western screech owls, barn and Great Horned. We put up and maintain owl boxes on all three of our properties, out on the local air force base and in the local town park. (Owls are great gopher predators!) Thanks for the pix. Pam

  3. What a great post. I love owls- in the green space in the back of my house, I go to sleep hearing the owls hoot in the fall, but I don't hear them the rest of the year. I'm not sure why, but it is such a soothing sound. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Awe.... quite a lovely picture! It is nice to see that they are using the 'wild' animal to teach.

  5. OH he/she is so gorgeous! I sort of wish the family was allowed to keep it, but glad there is a special place for it to live legally, as well!

  6. Thank you everyone for you kind comments.

    Pam...that's really cool about you and your husband maintaining owl boxes!

    Sweetpea is so adorable, everyone flocks to see her. I'm sure there are many, many children learning valuable lessons about conserving and protecting nature thanks to this group and Sweetpea. And everyone there seemed to want to take her home with them. :)