Earlier this week a reader of my Weekly Nature Watch column (Enterprise newspapers) called to tell me they had a screech owl sitting on a branch in their yard. They had previously had screech owls in a nesting box they had built but the day before they called me a squirrel had moved into the box. It was rainy, windy and cold the day I went over and sure enough, there was the little screech owl sitting on the branch, watching the box…..Every now and then the squirrel peeked out of the box but mostly it stayed inside and let the owl stare and stare and get wet and cold…..Screech owls are pretty common on the Cape and they are fairly easy to lure to nest boxes. Owl nest boxes have a 3″ hole which unfortunately is plenty big for squirrels, too. You can see that this box has even had the hole edges chewed on, most likely by squirrels, which enlarges the hole. It is not uncommon for screech owls and squirrels to go back and forth winning the box back and then losing it again. Home owners that prefer the owls are encouraged to clean the squirrel nest materials out of the box daily so the owl can return. The squirrels may still win, however.
These homeowners were adding several other nest boxes this week so it will be interesting to see what happens next. Screech owls are using boxes or holes in trees to roost right now. They don’t nest until February or March. You may be hearing great horned owls right now because they are getting ready to nest and all that hooting is helping them find a mate. Screech owls don’t hoot, by the way. They either let loose with a blood curdling screech or make a sound that is sort of like the whinnying of a horse.
It’s the time of year that squirrels and chipmunks love. Fruit, seeds and nuts are everywhere and free for the taking. Squirrels in particular love to peel the scales off pine cones to eat the tender seeds within. There’s a lot of discussion among Cape naturalists as to whether or not gray squirrels eat pine seeds. Some insist only red squirrels eat pine seeds and gray squirrels stick to acorns.
No one has told the multitude of gray squirrels in Hyannis about this thought. There are no red squirrels in my quasi urban neighborhood but lots of gray squirrels. I watch them strip pine cones daily, especially from the tall spruces out back. This is what remains…..