Broody screech

Peace River Wildlife Center admitted an eastern screech owl this week when her nest was destroyed.  The landscapers that had been hired to cut down a dead palm saw a woodpecker fly out of a hollow in the trunk when they started to cut.  A little while later, an eastern screech owl flew out of another hollowed-out area and ,in her panic, hit their parked truck.  Thankfully, they immediately brought the injured owl to PRWC, where she was treated for head trauma.  Their quick thinking saved her life.

Hollowed areas in dead palms and tree limbs are common locations for woodpeckers, screech owls, and other songbirds to make their nests, which is a very good reason for not cutting them down.  If the dead and dying plants do not have a potential to damage property if and when they fall, please consider leaving them in place.  I have had dead cabbage palms in my yard for many years before they finally got so frail that they fell of their own accord.  And by that time, they were so hollow and light I could move them myself.  In the meantime, I witnessed several generations of birds use these natural habitats to raise their families. 

Our patient is an adult female.  We know because she has a brood patch, a featherless area of skin on her underside.  This area has many blood vessels close to the surface of the skin to transfer her body heat to help incubate the eggs.  She had at least two eggs that were crushed during the tree trimming.  This is probably why she waited so long before fleeing the nest and why she was so disoriented when she did attempt to fly away.

Many birds exhibit a brood patch when breeding.  It can be on the female or male bird, or both, depending on which parent does the brooding or incubating of the eggs.  The male screech owl provides food to the female while she is sitting on the eggs and caring for the newly hatched youngsters.  As the nestlings get a little older, Dad might feed them directly, but most of his time is spent providing food to Mom, who in turn feeds the babies.

While she was a patient at PRWC, our screech owl was apparently displeased with the provided accommodations.  I suppose she had the right to be in a bad mood, having lost her home and children.  But she really drove home the point that broody means not only incubating eggs, but being thoughtful and unhappy.  I don’t know how thoughtful she was, but she was decidedly unhappy about being in captivity, everything we tried to feed her, and life in general for a few days.

Luckily for this little mama, she recovered quickly from her mild head trauma and was returned to the area from which she was rescued.  It is still early in the nesting season for screech owls, so she and her mate have time to find a new nest site and start over.  Hopefully they will have better luck with their new home. 

Please think twice before trimming and removing trees that may provide nesting spots for birds and small mammals.  If your Home Owner’s Association demands it, consider having more nature-friendly rules put in place.  And be sure to hire tree trimmers and landscaping services that are familiar with our native flora and fauna and know the appropriate way to deal with both.

Be sure to attend PRWC’s final Sunset Celebration of the season, this Friday, March 17, 2017 from 5-7p.m.  We will be celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in style and you will have the chance to see the birds in a whole new light.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM