Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the August 21, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA

Late in the afternoon I was trudging along a dusty trail across a wooded slope when on the ground before me the shadow of a robin-size bird moved among the shadows of tree-top limbs. The bird itself was perched right between the sun and me so he was hard to spot, but when I did see him it was a dramatic view. It was a small owl almost grown but with juvenile down-feathers sprouting all over his body. Sunlight exploding inside the fluffy down feathers created a blazing halo around the otherwise mostly silhouetted owl.

At first I wasn't sure what kind of owl he was. The size suggested a Screech Owl but Screech Owls bear conspicuous "ears" of feather tufts, and this owl's head was as smoothly round as mine.

Finally I remembered that young Screech Owls don't have ear tufts. Those special feathers must grow there over time, and this young owl clearly hadn't had time enough.

Still, my uncertainty caused me to look at the owls in my field guide. Maybe I'd discovered one of those famously rare and earless Spotted Owls that has stopped logging in certain tracts of the Pacific Northwest, but no such luck. Spotted Owls are twice as large as Screech Owls, and their breasts don't bear the bold vertical striping my Screech Owl showed.

I haven't heard a Screech Owl since I've been here but I'm glad to see they're among us producing nice, round- headed babies.