Saturday, January 07, 2006

Screech-owl sings while the GHO preens

Pale Male confronting the Great Horned Owl --1/2/06
Photo by NABIL

On Wednesday, Jan 4, 2005, The Great Horned Owl moved to a new location, a sheltering pine not far from its previous Willow refuge. On previous days the owl had been observed in hostile confrontations with crows and, on several occasions, with one or another of the Fifth Avenue Hawks. They cannot be happy to find another top predator settled into their territory. The owls previous day-roost was a deciduous tree -- very exposed to mobbing. Its new roost in an evergreen may make life easier.

Both its previous roost and its present one are not far from the hole where two screech owls, one gray and the other rufous-red, have been teasing their human admirers with an on-again off-again romance for almost a month.. The little owls have not been seen together for a few days and, indeed, the gray one has not been seen for the last few nights.

In an e-bird report Bob Levy, a writer whose book about Central Park birders and especially the park's red-winged blackbirds will be out in a few months, wondered about the screech romance and uttered the thought on everyone's mind: Maybe the gray screech had been on the losing end of a confrontation with the Great Horned Owl.

That evening, the Big One left his/her new perch at 5:01 pm. He flew just a few feet, to a branch near the top of a tall tree just above the path where a few owl lovers had gathered to watch him go.

Then the Great Horned Owl proceeded to preen. The bird preened for a long time. At about 5:20, as he was working on his tail feathers, the observers below heard a thrilling sound: The weird, musical call of a screech owl. I had my binoculars focused on the big bird at the moment the little bird called. It was clear that the big owl did not give a hoot about what he must have heard. After all, owls' hearing is superior to humans'. The Great Horned Owl didn't turn his head at the eerie screech owl call, nor miss a beat of his preening action. Perhaps our fears that the GHO might be a screech-kebob fancier are unfounded.

The GHO departed into the night at 5:35 p.m. A small number of faithful [and shivering] owl-watchers were there as usual to see him go. While waiting they too heard the screech-owl calling. After the fly-out Jimmy, standing with Lee and Noreen just a few feet away from me, was the first to spot the little owl on a low branch almost too close to see with any but the closest of close-focusing binoculars. None of us wanted to disturb the bird by shining a flashlight on it -- OK, none of us even HAD a flashlight that evening -- and so we couldn't tell if its color was red or gray.

PS Here's the GHO catch-up for the following days:

On January 5th the owl had moved into yet another tree, closer to the Azalea Pond. It was easily found during the day by many owl-watchers. Fly-out was at 5:08, after which the bird landed on several other nearby trees to preen. It flew off for the night at about 5:30.

On January 6th the fly-out was a little after 5.