Although the weather is still cold, very soon we can expect to hear the sounds of spring around Lillooet. In the upcoming weeks, the Western screech owl will begin courtship in hopes of finding a mate.
Western screech owls have very distinct feather tufts on the corner of their head along with bright colouring. Their bellies are pale with dark streaks, and their back is typically brown or grey. Perhaps the western screech owl’s most distinguishing feature is their size – at only 150-250 grams, a screech owl would fit in the palm of your hand!
In Canada, the western screech owl is found only in British Columbia. 350 to 500 adults remain along BC’s coast and southern valleys, including Lillooet, Kamloops, Lumby, Cranbrook, and the Okanagan. In the Lillooet area, the red-listed interior western screech owl subspecies can be found.
Although screech owls are found in a variety of habitats, their favourite is the dense cottonwood riparian ecosystems that boarder many rivers, streams, and wetlands across BC. Screech owls will roost and nest in large cottonwood or aspen tree cavities. In Lillooet, the screech owl has been observed nesting in old ponderosa pine trees as well. Interestingly, screech owls do not make their own nests, but rather find cavities made by large woodpeckers or cavities where branches have fallen off a tree.
To help the western screech owl:
Slow down at night when driving along rivers or streams! Collisions with vehicles remain a leading cause of death and injury for screech owls. Because screech owls are nocturnal, they will fly and hunt after dark. Slowing down beside screech habitat at night will help prevent collisions.
Protect riparian cottonwood ecosystems! The cottonwood riparian ecosystems that Western screech owls use as habitat are heavily impacted by human activities. By protecting and preserving these cottonwood habitats, screech owls will have nesting and roosting trees into the future.
Install a nesting box! If you are fortunate to live beside riparian habitat, installing nest boxes on trees will provide nesting sites for screech owls.
In the last weeks of January and early February, take an evening walk by a river and listen for the male western screech owls calling for a female mate. Although they won’t start breeding until March or April, the screech owl’s mating call is one of the first signs of spring. Check out their call on ebird!