Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Squirrel Eviction

The squirrels have left the screech owl nest box, and thereby cleared the way for the screech owls, if they still want it.

Sunday morning between and 4 and 5 AM, I prepared an alternate nest box for the squirrel family, set it up for rapid mounting near the screech owl nest box, and, with considerable care for my shoulders, brought down the screech owl nest box. (Enough people had offered their help that I naturally felt that I had to do it myself. There's a logic—admittedly warped—to that if you look for it long enough. Really.)

I hoped to capture the entire family of squirrels (mom and three big, but still-nursing pups) under a towel, slip a sheet of cardboard under the bedding material, and then a gloved hand beneath the cardboard, and lift out the whole family as a unit, to be dropped gently, but with haste, into the waiting spare nest box. That box would then be closed-up, hauled up a ladder, and lashed to the tree. I'd then clean-up the screech owl nest box, check some wiring if time permitted, and restore it to the tree for the owls' consideration.

What actually happened was that I got as far draping the towel over the family, and was trying to push the sheet of cardboard beneath the bedding material when the cardboard hung-up on something halfway in and, as I repositioned the towel to work it under the perch inside the nest box, so that I could make a more credible effort to pick-up the family without the aid of the cardboard foundation, mom leapt for freedom. I caught her with one hand in mid-air, but she slipped through my grip effortlessly and bounded away into the night. That left me with the worst case scenario I'd been dreading all along: three stressed pups with no mother.

The best thing I could do for the pups was to leave them in the screech owl nest box and return it to its place in the tree, and then hope that mom would come back to determine their fate later. So that's what I did.

And then I waited and watched and felt like a complete bastard for making such harmless, contended creatures feel first terrified and then too miserable even to close their eyes and sleep.

Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. Somewhere around 7:30 AM, mom leapt to the owlet rail on the front of the box and all three overjoyed pups rushed out to see her. She alternated between sitting on the owlet rail with them, and sitting in the tree just behind and above the box. It seemed she had no intention of going back into the nest box again. The pups were so excited to have her back that they attempted to climb from the nest box to the tree to be with her. The first one to attempt it failed and plummeted into the yard below, but returned to the tree trunk unfazed, to find mom waiting there to guide he/she back up the tree, and from there she didn't stop guiding until she'd led the pup all the way to another tree, and her old nest in its outer branches. The pup matched mom's path branch for branch and leap for leap, as though it was already an old hand at tree traversal. It was great to see.

When mom returned to the nest box, another pup tried to reach her and plummeted to the ground as well. Once again she was there to guide it back up the tree, into the next tree and to her nest there. Then she returned for the third pup, who managed to climb from the box to her without falling out of the tree, and guided it to their new home.

So, the screech owl nest box is empty, but, in deference to the uncertain state of my shoulders, I haven't brought it back down for cleaning or maintenance, yet. If the owls move in before I can do that, the picture quality will be less than ideal. So far, however, there's no indication that anything has been inside the box since the squirrels left, which suggests that the screech owls may have found an alternate nest site this year. Only time will tell.

If the owls return, so will the live nest box cam'.


  1. Chris,
    I am so glad to hear that at least the owls have a chance of returning to us! I just wouldn't be spring without them.

  2. Anonymous7:34 PM CDT

    Thank you for all your effort especially with messed up shoulders! I had a frozen shoulder and know how painful it can be.
    I so miss the little screech owls this year and it would be nice to see them if they haven't relocated.
    I found your site after the tragedy that fell on the Barred OwlCam family so many years ago and now it isn't the same without the screech owls to watch and enjoy each spring. I love those little faces!

    Be careful lifting those boxes and stay well


  3. Yeah. My own personal Eastern screech has popped in a few times over the past month, but she (?) doesn't seem inclined to hang around this year. I haven't seen her since 3/9. So I'm thrilled ot know that my spring-time owl fix might at least be vicariously possible.

    Thanks for the effort and keep your shoulder well!

  4. Lorraine3:40 AM CDT

    I just want to say thank you for all of your efforts. You have know idea how much I look forward to following the progress on your site year after year. And by the way, I too would be content to watch the squirrels. You are a gift. Truly. Thank you.

  5. Chris, we are looking forward to the return of the owls. Thanks for all your hard work setting this up. You are listed on my website devoted to nature cams. I am just in the process this morning of making a new Owl Cam sideboard. Anyone with any suggestions for more owl cams, let me know.

  6. Anonymous1:37 PM CDT

    Thanks so much for your work on this. I just found the Cam last year and greatly enjoyed watching, but nature has a way of following a different path than we want it to sometimes. Enjoy the months off this year, and I'll look forward to seeing owlets next year!


  7. Anonymous7:33 PM CDT

    I also found your site after the tearfilled events which befell the barred owl family; a transplanted Texan, I have enjoyed it very much. I am sure that you have had plenty of "medical" advice, but acupuncture might help. At a certain point, it pays to try everything. Good luck and feel better.
    Betty Jo