Welcome to my world!

Backyard Birding in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas:
Surrounded by great birding destinations, our favorite patch is still the backyard (or the front), where we've seen more than 270 species of birds. Sit awhile, and watch the river and yard with us!

Monday, May 16, 2011


Another cold front this past weekend caused another fallout of spring migrants:  more warblers (Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Blackburnian, Nashville, Tennessee, American Redstart--and FOY Canada); more vireos (Philadelphia, Red-eyed, FOY Warbling), more orioles and grosbeaks and tanagers (in far fewer numbers than last week, but still arriving). The flycatchers and their relatives were here to confuse and delight me: Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Eastern Phoebes, Eastern Wood-Pewees, and Eastern Kingbirds started to trickle in and empidonax flycatchers in their maddening (because all so similar) variations.  (Luckily, some of the empids were calling, identifying themselves as an Acadian Flycatcher and a Least.  A Yellow-bellied Flycatcher had a definitive yellow throat, though its belly was not as yellow as the Acadian's.) Chimney Swifts were passing through and swooping over the river,  as were a variety of swallows.  A few thrushes feasted on berries of fiddlewood and anacua trees.

It was a good weekend for me to sit in our bird garden with binoculars, camera, and I-phone.  It wasn't so good for our little screech-owls, however.  Their fallout was of a distinctly different kind.

Yesterday I was walking up the driveway when I happened to notice a little face looking out of the owl house. It was smaller than the adult face I usually see peering at me.  Before I could even stop or slow my gait, the little owl flew or fell out of the box, landing about 10 feet away.  It could not fly well at all, and I wonder if it isn't too early for it to be out.  The same birds that are so upset when the adult owls fly out of the box were just as upset with this baby.  Mockingbirds, Hooded Orioles, Curve-billed Thrashers immediately started fussing. Green Jays and Black-crested Titmice added their calls to the cacophony.

The owl hopped/flew under an ebony tree,  across the neighbor's drive and then into the yard of the vacant house next door.  Northern Kiskadees were especially upset by that time because their nest is in the ebony tree. It didn't seem to matter that the little guy couldn't come close to  flying up to the top of the tree. The Kiskadees were still fiercely protective.
(Enlarge this photo by clicking on it and you'll be able to find the owl among the grass and oak tree saplings.)

Northern Kiskadee nest in Ebony tree
        I didn't know what to do about the situation.  If I walked toward the owl, it would fly awkwardly away, further out in the open where it would continue to be mobbed.  Finally it found a hiding place among low branches and the roots of a brasilian pepper tree.  I decided the best thing for me to do would be to leave it there and hope things in the yard would settle down if I weren't making them worse.

I've been second-guessing myself about the wisdom of putting a nest box in our  narrow yard where it would be near other nests and next to a driveway where we drive and walk past it several times a day.

Hooded Oriole nest under frond of a Sabal Palm
However, the kiskadees, thrashers, and orioles all built their nests after the owls started nesting in the box in March.  The Hooded Orioles, in fact, have a nest up under the fronds of the Sabal Palm where the parent owls roost when not in the box.  A nearby pine tree holds up some of the palm fronds and makes a little sheltered place for the screech-owls to rest.  The woven pouch of the oriole nest (made from fibers pulled from the palm fronds) is  on the opposite side of the same tree.  For all their fussing at the owls, the orioles chose their own nest location.  There were plenty of palm trees to choose from.

I have not seen the owl since I left it at the base of the tree.  It couldn't fly well, but I believe it could move along branches.  When I looked back up at the entrance hole as I passed by the owl house, I saw another little face peering at me.  I hope it stays in the box a while longer.  And I hope its sibling survives outside the box.

The Eastern Screech-owl in this photograph was being mobbed by several species of birds.  Usually it sits unperturbed despite the ruckus, but here a Curve-billed Thrasher gets its attention by spreading wide its wing and tail feathers in an attempt to look larger and more threatening.  The owl opened its beak and hissed in return, and the encounter was a standoff.   

It's always a dilemma deciding what to do about birds that fall out of nests or injured birds   My son's family found three robins that had fallen out of a nest at their house a few days ago.  The nest had a large hole in it.  They repaired it as best they could and put it back in the tree.  The baby robins were obviously not fledgling age yet.  It is harder to tell if the screech-owl is old enough to fledge.  I usually just move birds to the safest location I can when I find them in trouble.  I don't want to make things worse by interfering. But I want to help if I can.

the little hummer traveled to see grandchildren with us
Two weeks ago I found a Ruby-throated Hummingbird that had apparently fallen into a  flower bed under one of our back windows. Thinking it might be temporarily stunned by a collision with the window,  I left it alone and watched it for awhile.   The flower bed seemed a fairly safe and sheltered place for a short time, but when the wind changed from the north I moved it to another bed and put a nectar feeder on the ground for it.  Eventually I brought it inside to keep it safe from neighborhood cats.

I know keeping a wild bird is illegal, but I have been unsuccessful in a search for a bird rehabber in the area. There's one in Houston (a six-hour drive)  that I may be able to take it to later this week when we go to our daughter's house for a visit.  For now, I'll put the hummer outside when I can watch it and keep it supplied with nectar and fruit flies. This is the first time I've tried to care for a wild bird. I think it's pretty obvious after two weeks that the little guy is not going to be able to fly again.

This is not the kind of fallout I wish for.


texwisgirl said...

i do hate it when they leave the nest too early or get injured somehow. breaks my heart a little...

Suz said...

oh my goodness..what a week you've had
Oh do get that little guy to a rehabber...Oh that poor little owl...keep an eye on him
Our wards...we care about them don't we...what is best..Maybe you better get your rehab training and license...
my sister in law did after raising 4 crows...now she gets animals all year round..
What a slice of heaven you have there

Wanda..... said...

The owl is such a lovely little thing, hope it's doing OK and good luck with the hummingbird. I loved the photos of the thrushes in your previous post.

Anonymous said...

I would love to have screech owls or any other kind of owl in an owl box. Mine was taken over by squirrels and eventually rotted through (outdoor plywood). I had a pair -- one red and one gray.

Love this little guy. And hope and pray they stand their ground.

I like your other bird photos too. I think you are a fabulous photographer and you are taking photos most people would not be able to take. That is a kind of Christmas Day for many bird watchers.

Kelly said...

...that poor little owl! I hope his mama finds him out of the nest and helps him along. You live in an amazing place...a bird lovers dream. To have all this activity in your backyard is incredible!

Kay said...

Thanks for your nice comments and for your concern for the owl and hummer. I'm happy to say the hummingbird is now in Houston at the Texas Wildlife Rehabilitation Coalition. They gave me hope that he may be able to fly in a couple of weeks. I'll let you know!

eileeninmd said...

How cute, I love the juvie Owl. I hope it was OK. Wonderful birds and photos.

eileeninmd said...

How cute, I love the juvie Owl. I hope it was OK. Wonderful birds and photos.