Why do they show up?
By Rod Myers
By Rod Myers
April was the last time I saw a screech owl in the screech owl box that is fastened to a yard light pole in my yard. Every year for some time now, a pair of screech owls has spent most of the winter and several weeks of the spring in the box. Its usually a different pair every year, and its a mystery to me why they havent nested in it. Im glad to have them in the box part of the year, and I know they hunt in my yard year round. This year, the owls didnt return until New Years Eve. I know its a different pair because they are very skittish, and theyre colored differently.
Why do the owls use my owl box? Its because of the restored habitat beneath it. The restoration, 12 years in the making, is the home of a multitude of organisms. I remember the first time I discovered owls hunting in my yard. It was a warm August night. I was out on the patio when I heard a weak-sounding thud in the prairie section. Then a screech owl flew from a clump of prairie dropseed and landed on the fence. The yellow yard light enabled me to see this spectacle, and it revealed that the owls catch was a large moth.
Screech owls are attracted to insects, and native plants attract insects. I did an insect survey of my yard and discovered 300-plus species. My yard has a small restored wetland, wet prairie, hill prairie, savannah, woodland flower area and a very small sand prairie with sand wetland. These areas have attracted insects unique to these habitats. The survey included 68 species of moths, 43 species of butterflies, 12 species of dragonflies, numerous leafhoppers, spiders, bees, including a colony of bee species that appears to lay their eggs only on and in prairie grasses. Others were beetles, grasshoppers, ants and, of course, native flies and worms.
Several years ago on a bright, sunny winter morning, a screech owl dropped from the box in an attempt to catch a song sparrow feeding in the hill prairie. He missed.
What attracted the song sparrow? The native restoration73 species of birds have been identified in the yard. Twelve species of sparrows, 20 species of warblers, a pair of mallard ducks each spring, various hawk species, and the list goes on.
Last February, a screech owl dropped from the box and caught a small rodent in a clump of big bluestem grass in the hill prairie. It was still daylight when he made the kill, and he took the rodent up to the box opening and sat facing me with prey in talons.
Here are some of the mammals attracted to my restoration: deer mice, voles, moles, shrews, 13-lined ground squirrels, chipmunks, gray and fox squirrels, woodchucks, gray fox, skunk, deer, and others.
There is another factor that attracts wildlife to restorations besides food, shelter and water. Its the same factor that attracts me to restorations, and its called biophilia. Biophilia should not be limited to mans pursuit of living diversity; all creatures are biophiliacs. Biophilia is the condition in which instinct aligns with judgment. Biophilia is the inclination of species to focus on other species, their behaviors and their life processes. In a sense, they become spiritually woven together. As they understand other species, they develop a respect for themselves and other species. Its a fact that all living things, including humans, all share common behaviors. Look how we collect plants, raise pets, go to zoos. Look how mankind has spent billions on scientifically looking for evidence of extraterrestrial life. Dont you think that non-human earth species pursue, learn from and choose to live near other species with any less vigor?
Spring is not too far off. Make some great new plans for your yard. Invite some new species to your yard; bring your biophilia to a higher level. Join an organization that promotes native landscaping, especially in yards, such as The Wild Ones Natural Landscapers.
With todays urban sprawl, humans and wildlife need yard restorations using native plants. The address is: Wild Ones, P.O. Box 1274, Appleton, WI 54922-1274. Local chapter contact: Fran Lowman, membership chair, (815) 874-4895.
Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in nature and the environment. He is a member of the Rockford Amateur Astronomers Club, the Sinnissippi Audubon Society, Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and the Planetary Society.