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Texas Zoo gets new screech owlets (video)

By Gheni_Platenburg
May 14, 2012 at 12:14 a.m.
Updated May 17, 2012 at 12:17 a.m.

One of the Texas Zoo's new owlets is held by animal curator Michael Magaw. The zoo is asking for the community to help name the owls. Go online to VictoriaAdvocate.com to see video and vote.

EASTERN SCREECH OWL FACTS

ALSO KNOWN AS: Otus Asio or Megascops Asio

MEASUREMENTS: Has an average body length of 7-9 inches, a wingspan of 18-24 inches, and weighs 5-9 ounces. It is slightly smaller than the Western screech owl.

HABITAT: Found in wooded areas from 3,000 feet to river valleys and city parks. They occupy the United States east of the Rocky Mountains and northeastern Mexico.

DIET: Diet consists mainly of insects, small mammals, birds, crayfish and earthworms. Their hunting strategy is to survey prey from a perched position then swoop down to catch the prey, or forage while walking along the ground.

REPRODUCTION: Nests in natural tree cavities, old woodpecker holes, or man-made nest boxes. The female lays three to seven eggs that are incubated for 26 days. Both parents feed the young owls. The owlets will leave the nest in about 25-27 days, but will be tended by the parents for another five to six weeks. Can reproduce at one year of age.

NAME DERIVATION: The scientific name comes from the Latin words otus, meaning a kind of owl with long "ear" feathers, and asio, a word used by the Greek philosopher Pliny to specify a horned owl. The common name indicates the bird's range in North America. Eastern screech owls have also been known as common screech owl, little owl, scritch owl, little horned owl, little grey owl and red owl.

BEHAVIOR: Its hunting is mostly nocturnal but often crepuscular and occasionally diurnal. Its whinnying and trilling songs are familiar, but its vocalizations also include rasps, barks, hoots, chuckles, and screeches. It is named for its surprising call, which can sound like a crying child.

OTHER INTERESTING FACTS:

The Eastern Screech-Owl's color ranges from gray to brown to reddish. The chicks in a nest may be different colors.

Dead tree snags are important to cavity nesters like screech-owls.

Eastern Screech Owls are the smallest "tufted" owl in the Eastern United States.

Eastern Screech Owls are almost entirely nocturnal unlike other owls that are sometimes active during the day.

Eastern Screech owls have been known to dive bomb humans who get to close to their nests.

They have special feathers, which buffer sound; thus making them silent flyers.

Sources: peregrinefund.org/subsites/explore-raptors-2001/ owls/escreech.html

chattanoogaanc.org/www/docs/110.223

Michael Magaw, animal curator at the Texas Zoo

Name that owl

Because the owlets are sure to impact Crossroads residents young and old for years to come, the Texas Zoo is inviting Advocate readers to participate in naming the baby owls. Readers are asked to submit their name suggestions online.

Zoo staff will announce the winning names in coming weeks. Winners will have their names announced both on the Advocate's website and the zoo's newsletter.

Michael Magaw beamed as he leaned over to nuzzle the fuzzy, gray baby owl sitting in the palm of his hand Tuesday afternoon.

A proud surrogate papa, Magaw, animal curator at the Texas Zoo, spent the last few weeks feeding and caring for the Eastern screech owlet, who along with its four siblings, was dropped off at the zoo in late April.

"They're adjusting very well," said Magaw, as the nearly 3-month-old, pint-sized owlet closed its large, yellow eyes and nuzzled him right back. "They've put on lots of weight. They are actually up to about their adult size."

At what would have been a time of mourning among zoo staff, the owlets' arrival provided staffers with a needed distraction.

The zoo's longtime screech owl, Beaker, died of complications related to old age the day after the baby owls arrived.

"It's almost as if he waited for his replacement ambassadors to arrive," said Andrea Blomberg, executive director of the Texas Zoo. "He was a real sweet owl. We will miss him."

Beaker, 13, was donated to the zoo in June 1999.

During his time at the zoo, he served as a representative of his species at countless educational programs for zoo visitors.

Unsure of where else to go, Charles Porter, owner of Grass Hopper lawn care brought the five owlets to the zoo after their home, a large dead tree, was cut down by landscapers, leaving their parents unable to find them.

"I looked in the basket, and there were five sets of eyes looking up at me," said Blomberg. "I started then considering how many of them to keep."

While the zoo donated three of the owlets to the Gulf Coast Wildlife rehabbers in Bay City, they kept two for education purposes.

Zoo staff members hope to engage the community in naming the owls, who have only been known by the colors of their anklets - tan and black.

"Leave your print on the zoo in an obscure way," said Blomberg.

Since their arrival, the owlets have been in quarantine.

They are expected to be available for the general public to view around the end of the month.

The screech owls, whose genders remain unknown, joined the ranks of the zoo's two great horned owls and two barred owls.

Blomberg said the owlets, will participate in popular events like the recently resurrected Owl Prowl, an interactive event where participants learn more about owls by getting up close and personal.

"When you can get people to interact with animals, they appreciate them and want to do things for them," said Blomberg. "That's why we do what we do. To get people engaged."

The friendly owlets enjoy pulling on ponytails and are quickly acclimating to being around people as well to their new home.

They are not only flying quite well, they have also taken their first stab at hunting.

"The owl got its first mouse," said Blomberg, who joked about one of the owlets landing on her office computer mouse.

If they were still in the wild about now, said Magaw, the owlets would be getting ready to leave their parents.

Screech owls can live to be about 15 years old in captivity, but only about five to seven years old in the wild, said Magaw.

The owlets' arrival reaffirmed the zoo's desire to become a rehab facility, said Magaw.

However, the high costs of rehabbing, lack of space and concentration on other pressing projects have kept the idea on the back burner for now.

The nearest rehabbers to Victoria are in Bay City and San Antonio.

Even if their rehab facility dreams come to fruition, Magaw reiterated that not every animal found in the wild needs to be rescued.

"By all means, if it is in the middle of the street or your cat is stalking it, move it out of the street and put your cat inside the house," said Magaw. "But if (the wild animal) lives there. Leave it there."

Corrected May 17, 2012

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