NEW YORK TIMES February 19, 2002
New York's Newest Night Owls
By JOHN B. FORBES
A young group of pint-size predators has begun to make a home in Central Park.
Eighteen tiny Eastern screech owls were released in three sections of the park in September in the hope that they would establish territories and start to breed. Although common in the eastern United States, the last screech-owl sighting in the park was recorded in 1955.
The experiment is part of the Parks Department's Wildlife Management Program, which has surveyed flora and fauna in its 28,000 acres with an eye to restoring species once native to the areas.
"We are trying to find species that fit into our current urban park settings — no black bears or rattlesnakes," said Alex Brash, head of the Urban Park Service.
The screech owls, less than a year old, stand between 7 and 10 inches tall, have wingspans up to 22 inches, but weigh only about 7 ounces.
People may have difficulty spotting these small raptors. Most spend winter days deep inside holes in tree trunks. When sunning, their gray-red and white camouflage blends with the bark. At night they slide soundlessly among the branches, hunting mice, young rats or smaller birds.
Radio telemetry is aiding the usual visual tracking. Seventeen of the owls were released with transmitters that are slightly larger than a nickel. (One owl was too small for a radio.) But after a month, 12 had managed to nibble or wriggle out of their radio straps. Five owls have been recaught and had radios with beak-proof titanium straps installed.
"We can track the birds up to about a mile away," said Dr. Bill Giuliano, a wildlife ecologist at Fordham University's field station in Armonk, N.Y. He and his group of students have visited the park four times a week since September, helping the park rangers track the owls in the day and at night.
On one such visit Dr. Giuliano and E. J. McAdams, the Urban Park Service's biodiversity coordinator, took less than 30 minutes to find one owl near the Sheep Meadow. The owl was No. 2 in the study. All owls have number designations. "Sometimes trees block the signal when the owls are flying," Dr. Giuliano said.
Dr. Robert DeCandido, a park ranger, has shepherded groups of up to 35 amateur birders on night owl walks. To attract the owls, Dr. DeCandido plays a tape recording of a screech owl's territorial call. The whinnying cry followed by mournful descending notes sounds eerily in the night calm. Soon the new residents answer in kind, then slide onto a high branch to inspect the intruders.
Those trying find an owl in daytime can listen for excited blue jays and other birds, Dr. DeCandido said. "They try to mob an owl and you just follow the noise," he said.
Several owls have established home ranges, and some courtship behavior has been observed as well as one mating. But three of the owls with transmitters are known to have died, Dr. DeCandido said.
"The mortality rate of first-year screech owls is between 60 and 70 percent," he said. "So we are doing all right."
Very cool - how big is that?
If you want to know what is happening with the Eastern Screech-Owls in Central Park since the birds were released in the park in 1998 (and again in 2001-02), see:
www.UrbanHabitats.org - click on the December 2005 issue for a scientific article on the results of the restoration efforts (they have nested twice in Central Park since 2002). And I also present what is known of the history of this owl in each of the five boroughs of NYC from the 19th century to the present. If you look at Table 2 of the paper (page 20), there is a a list of owls that have been documented to occur in NYC, and the species that have (and still) breed here.
See also: Laura's Favorites: Robert DeCandido for a popular article that appeared in December 2002 (Birder's World) about the Central Park Eastern Screech-Owls. The photos are by Deborah Allen...
Raptors, eh? What do these guys feed on? Squirrels? Rats? Pigeons?
Froim the article http://www.urbanhabitats.org/v03n01/...-owl_full.html :
Each of these raptor species preys upon the same small mammals that eastern screech-owls prey upon. Eastern screech-owls also capture a variety of other prey, such as small birds like the house sparrow (Passer domesticus; see Nichols, 1953) and invertebrates (Sutton, 1929), and these are common in Central Park for most of the year.
The dumbest birds in all creation.
Is that nice?Originally Posted by Edward
I saw one of the little guys a couple of nights ago (February 1, 2011). I was walking through the park at about 9:00PM, and I took an off-the-beaten-path route over some rocks near the Sheep Meadow. Out of the corner of my eye I saw something unusual fly by. I stopped to look but it was gone. I figured it was still close by, so I stood motionless for a few minutes, and eventually the bird flew off--it had been on a branch right near me, totally invisible in the low light. It was definitely a small owl. I had no idea there were owls in Central Park. Today I googled it and found this thread. There's no doubt it was an Eastern Screecher I saw. Beautiful little birds. Very cool.
^Thanks for posting that. Pretty cool, now I want to see one.
I was searching around last night, and stumbled onto a page describing how owls 'see' at night (besides good eyesight).
Owls have forward facing ears, and those distinctive 'facial discs' that make them look cool at Halloween act like radar dishes. The feathers can be adjusted to pinpoint sound location:
http://www.owlpages.com/articles.php...&title=HearingAn Owl uses these unique, sensitive ears to locate prey by listening for prey movements through ground cover such as leaves, foliage, or even snow. When a noise is heard, the Owl is able to tell its direction because of the minute time difference in which the sound is perceived in the left and right ear - for example, if the sound was to the left of the Owl, the left ear would hear it before the right ear. The Owl then turns it's head so the sound arrives at both ears simultaneously - then it knows the prey is right in front of it. Owls can detect a left/right time difference of about 0.00003 seconds (30 millionths of a second!)