Getting Some Sun

Posted: Feb. 08, 2013

Screeech owl - John Galluzzo pic

So you’re walking down the street, the same old side road you’ve walked a thousand times before, with your dog, on the way back from a friend’s house, or, perhaps with a pair of “heavy hands” and a sweatband on your head. It’s high noon. Suddenly, something catches your eye. You look up into a tree and see – after rubbing your eyes and second-guessing yourself – a small red owl in a hole in a tree.

Don’t be alarmed, or surprised, for that matter. Eastern Screech-owls have been here for a long time, and they know what they’re doing. Although we tend to think of them and most other owls as strictly nocturnal, they can be found hunting at the edges of day and night (times we classify as “crepuscular”) and even during the day. This fellow, though, is doing neither. It’s soaking up rays.

An Eastern Screech-owl will bathe in the sunlight of a cold day by choosing a west-facing hole and stepping up to a spot on which it can perch. It will puff out its breast and facial feathers, which to us might seem counterproductive, but actually makes a lot of sense. When we get cold, we grab ourselves tightly; when birds get cold, they fluff their feathers out. The result is that the cold air circulates farther away from their bodies.

And now that you know it’s there, don’t be surprised to see it there for the next month or so. Once the bird has located a safe place, it has no reason to give it up, until breeding season looms (for Eastern Screech-owls in Massachusetts, that’s about April 1). So be sure to look every time you walk, one eye watching the road, one eye always looking for wildlife.