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Western Pennsylvania Screech Owl Study



Little is know about the behaviors and activity within the roosting cavities of the eastern screech owl (Otus asio). In this live study we will observe the behavior of the eastern screech owl inside several roosts using artificial nest cavities fitted with small video cameras.

Traditional methods of monitoring roosting cavities and nest boxes include ascending trees with climbing spikes, using a ladder, or a pole mounted with a mirror or small video camera. While these methods are effective monitoring techniques they tell us little about the daily and nightly activity. The monitoring system we designed was used to monitor the activity continually without any invasive actions to view the cavities.

In our study we fitted seven artificial owl boxes with a small infrared video camera and a small audio MIC. The video cameras used were 1.20” in diameter and 4” long and include (8) infrared LED’s which produce an infrared illumination source in the 940nm range, which do not emit any visible red glow. The video cameras were wired back to a central monitoring station at a maximum of 1000’ from the study area. The cameras were connected to a multi-channel video server which recorded any activity within the owl boxes and sent real-time photo notification upon motion detection via an Internet connection. Each owl box is viewed live via a streaming webcam protocol using a standard web browser.

               Owl Boxes               Owl Box w/Camera        Camera

  Study Area
The screech owl study area is broken into two areas, Study Area 1 and Study area 2. Each owl box is fitted with a small, mini IR bullet camera and was wired back to the Base Station about 500’ from the study area. Study Area 1 located in a dry wetlands area surrounded by mature hardwoods in Westmoreland County, PA. six artificial screech owl boxes were constructed and placed 20’ high into mature hardwoods trees on the edge of the wetlands area. The boxes were spaced no less than 75’ apart, and all boxes were within a 300’ study area. In Study Area 2 we installed three owl boxes in an over grown farmland field, owl boxes #7 - #9. Study Area 1 and Study Area 2 are about 300 yards apart. In study Area 1 there is also an external pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) which we can remotely control and view all five cameras for an outside view.
        Study Area (click on photo to enlarge)          Owl Box in Tree

  Real-Time Video Monitoring System

Video Server and Control Electronics

The base station consisted of a two 4-channel video server which was connected to the Internet. The base station was placed inside an area with power and Internet access. We used audio/video baluns at the video camera and the video server ends, and ran CAT6 outdoor network cable between the baluns. The baluns were used in order to run long distances of wire to transmit the audio and video signal back to the video server without signal loss. This technique allows a maximum distance of 1000’ between the video cameras and video server.

The video server was set up to detect motion from any of the video camera sources and record the activity to a SD media card, which was integrated into the video server electronics. A JPEG still photo was captured upon the initial motion detection event and sent via email in real-time to notify us of the activity within the owl boxes. Photos are also archived to a website for viewers to review. The video stream from each camera could be accessed for live viewing via a standard web browser.

Set full motion detection


Set door way motion detection


Owl Box 1

Owl Box 2

Owl Box 3

Owl Box 4

Owl Box 5

Owl Box 6


Owl Box 7

Owl Box 8

Owl Box 9

PTZ Camera


  Winter Roosting Activity
Screech owls do not migrate; they maintain home ranges throughout the winter. During they day light hours the owls will find a roosting location and will roost until dark. The winter roosting time period is typically between October to March. Screech owls are primarily solitary except during the breeding season. Pairs occasionally roost together during the winter in hollow trees, nest boxes, and trees with dense foliage. The cameras enable us to view the activity inside the owl box and outside the owl box with the PTZ camera. During the day the owl boxes are often mobbed by song birds and occasionally bothered by gray squirrels.



  Caching of Prey
It is a well known fact that screech owls will cache uneaten prey items in cavities. We were surprised at the number of different species cached and how long the prey items remained in the owl boxes before being consumed. The most interesting item was a wood frog (see below) which was cached on the evening of December 24th when the air temperature was only 30 deg. F. The frog was consumed over a 2-week period in stages over multiple night feedings, and was totally consumed on January 7th, 2012.

                    Frog                                      Mouse                                        Shrew

  Visitor to Owl Boxes
The owl boxes do get the occasional visitor such as gray squirrels and Carolina wrens during the day and flying squirrels at night. We have observed unusual behaviors such as flying squirrels eating cached prey by the screech owls.

                   Carolina Wren                                Gray Squirrel                             Flying Squirrel

                 Bluebirds Mobbing                 Tufted Titmouse Mobbing

  Courting & Nesting

            Courtship Behavior                      Roosting Together

         Laying & Incubating Eggs                Male Feeding Female


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