Red Morph Screech Owl

April 8, 2014

By Mike Coll, Preserve Manager

Yesterday I got an answer to a question I had been wondering about for a few years: Is it always the same Screech Owl that I see roosting in my owl box?

Photo: Mike Coll

Red Morph

The answer, apparently, is no.

Screech Owls come in two different color “morphs” or variations: grey morph and red morph. Previously I had only observed the grey variety but yesterday the head of a red morph  was peering out of the box, giving me the first clear indication that the box is being used by more than one individual.

Curiously, this new owl fell right in line with the patterns of the other owls that have used the box. In fact I had observed a grey morph owl in the box every day for the past few months until this red one took up residence without even a single day break. Also, the red morph sat in the box opening at dusk, flew out just before dark, returned at some point in the predawn hours and is currently sleeping in the box just as every other Screech Owl that I have observed there has done.  Were it not for the obvious difference in plumage I would not have even suspected that a new owl had moved in.

Photo: Mike Coll

Grey Morph

With breeding season for Screech Owls virtually upon us, the implications of this changing of the guard are unclear to me. I have assumed previously that the owl(s) I was seeing was a lone male who had not yet found a mate. This notion was supported in part because last spring I could hear the owl calling from the box- as a lone male would.  But knowing now that it has been more than one owl (possibly many different individuals) some residents could have been female as well.

I wonder if this new owl took the box by force in a territorial battle or if the box was abandoned willingly by the previous resident. I wonder also where the owl that was there last has gone now. And I wonder if any of these owls will choose to breed in the box in the upcoming months. As is often the case, an answer to one question only serves to create a host of new questions yet to be answered, keeping me continually fascinated by the secret lives of these nocturnal creatures.