By Larry Czajkoski

The story of the Eastern Screech Owl in this article is due to and dedicated to Jim and Janet Walters. Heroism can come in many forms….THANK YOU, Jim & Janet…for your compassion and care toward our bird friends and for sharing your story.

On the evening of November 9th (just four days after the Party Rock fire started), Jim and Janet Walters were returning from taking some photos of the fire…..and this is what happened next…

Jim Walters with Eastern Screech Owl. Photos by Janet Walters

Larry, I think you will find this interesting…After taking pictures of the fire last evening Janet and I heard a thump against our car (it sounded like a tennis ball hitting us) as we drove on Chapel Point Road.  We turned around and went back to find this little guy (see accompanying photo) in the middle of the road.  The bird was standing with its wings stretched, both of which seemed like good signs to me, but it appeared slightly stunned.  I gently picked him up, cradled him, and carried him home to make certain that he was not injured.  As owls do, he was turning his head easily in both directions.  After I had held him for a while, he jumped from my hands to my shoulder, so I decided to walk up the road.  I had nearly reached the cul-de-sac when he spread and closed his wings, I rubbed my hand over his back, and he flew away.  The departure flight was absolutely silent – not a sound.  I stood there for about a minute to see if I would hear him hit anything or land, and there was no indication that he had any difficulty.  We think he will be fine.  Our presumption is that it is a juvenile owl – probably escaping the inferno on the hillside – and am hoping that you can offer your thoughts.  It is not apparent in these pictures, but the feet and legs are yellow.”

Indeed, this little guy is an Eastern Screech Owl that Jim and Janet rescued. This owl is very acclimated to humans, but their nocturnal habits and cryptic coloration keep us from seeing them regularly. Even when perched in full view in daylight, screech owls have a remarkable ability to conceal themselves. A non-migratory, resident bird through the eastern US, and here in North Carolina, the screech owl is found wherever woodlands are mature enough to have cavities. Unlike many other owl species, the screech owl is commonly found in cities, towns and suburban backyards. This small bird (8 ½ inches long) occurs in two color variations: reddish and gray, with gray being more common. The screech owl’s plumage appears very bark-like. When a “screech” sits with its body elongated and ear tufts extended, it tends to look like a broken branch stub. This bird’s name is misleading; a screech is rarely voiced. The call most bird watchers hear is a series of descending, whinnying whistles and tremolos on a single note.

Eastern screech owls will eat almost anything, from mice and voles to moths, earthworms, crawfish, frogs and fish. You may very well already have eastern screech owls in or near your backyard. Spend some time outside at night, especially when the moon is full, listening for the screech owl’s wavering calls.