A visual journal exploring the birds of Inwood and Northern Manhattan

by Teri Tynes – writer, photographer, and illustrator

The Office Hours of an Eastern Screech-Owl

Many regular walkers in Inwood Hill Park enjoy taking a stroll through the Clove, a small picturesque valley between the two prominent hills in the park, and stopping to look for a little owl that resides way up high in a hole in a tree. The owl is an Eastern Screech-Owl, a small gray-colored owl that naturally looks wise and old and sometimes gruff. The crevice in the tree perfectly frames the owl’s face and upper breast when it shows itself at the opening. 

Eastern Screech-Owl. Inwood Hill Park. February 26, 2023

A celebrity among bird watchers, the owl’s infrequent appearance is always an event, a choice moment for the bird paparazzi that scramble the facing slope for a good viewing. 

Owls require respect, distance, and safety, so specific sightings with directions are often under-reported, shared at a later date, or not shared at all. This goes for other birds, too, especially rare ones. That said, this owl is so high up in a tree that I will share some directions here. Even then, do you see an owl in the following picture? (It’s there.)

Walk a short distance up the Clove path from the athletic fields, pause in front of the grouping of Rock Caves and look for a tree that seems to lean to the left on a jutting sliver of rock. Follow the tree branch up about one-half to three-quarters of its height to the place where the tree splits into two dominant branches. At that juncture look for a hole facing the park path. It’s a tiny hole, but if the owl makes an appearance at the surface, anyone with good natural vision or vision-correction may be able to spot the owl with the naked eye. When I first saw an owl here in 2021, experienced birders were present to show me the location, but it took me forever to see it.

Eastern Screech-Owl. Inwood Hill Park. February 19, 2023

Second, you need to know when to look. Based on only a handful of observations over the past two years, I would recommend the late morning or middle of the afternoon. But that’s just me. I first saw an Eastern Screech-Owl in this spot in mid-March of 2021, documented with a fuzzy close-up, and I’m not even sure it’s the same owl I saw this week.   

• March 14, 2021. 10:46 am. Sleeping

• December 30, 2022. 2:22 pm. Sleeping and then wide-awake at 2:56 pm.

• Feb. 26, 2023  2:24 pm – 3:29 pm. Awake.

• March 3, 2023. 11:55 am. Half asleep. One eye open.

• March 8, 2023. 3:37 pm Dozing off.

On several visits, I didn’t see the owl, but I did see Blue Jays taking turns to look in the crevice. The jays may have prompted the owl to slide back into the tree cavity. Other times I have observed the owl slipping out of sight when a Red-tailed Hawk appeared nearby. The Eastern Screech-Owl chooses its own limited office hours, proper for a little owl that has earned tenure at this nature university.

Blue Jay visiting the home of the Eastern Screech-Owl. March 12, 2023.

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