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Jun 11, 2018 10:14 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Encounter With The Owlet

Last week, George Velmachos found this hatchling screech owl in the middle of Beull Lane, East Hampton Village. MIKE BOTTINI
Jun 11, 2018 12:53 PM

Last week, East Hampton Town Trustee and wildlife removal and rescue professional Dell Cullum posted a video pertaining to wildlife injuries and death as a result of motor vehicle collisions. This month is particularly dangerous for young animals born or hatched this spring that are getting their first experience with our roads, and slow-moving creatures like turtles that have to cross roads to reach their nesting areas to lay eggs.June’s spike in wildlife roadkills is also related to the fact that traffic volume picks up as we enter the summer season. And there may be some truth to the perception that many of us are a bit more frantic in our driving habits at this time of year: driving faster, tailgating and taking chances passing other vehicles on our narrow roads.

One young animal, just several weeks out of the eggshell, had the misfortune to fall out of the tree where it had been incubated last month. Along with a sibling, it had climbed out of its nesting cavity under the watchful eyes of its parents, and both had made their way out along a large branch that overhung the section of Route 114 known as Buell Lane.

This particular owlet was noticeably more developed than its sibling, and had begun to add some flight feathers and ear tufts to its soft downy coat of insulation. I’m guessing that it misjudged its abilities, and prematurely lifted off from its safe perch to flutter down onto the asphalt. Fortunately, it landed far enough from the double yellow line that several unsuspecting vehicles, roaring over it, straddled the bird between their left and right tires, doing no harm other than giving the bird such a fright that it froze, paralyzed, on the pavement.

And, fortunately, George Velmachos happened to come along, spotting the tiny ball of feathers and stopping to investigate. He moved the young bird off the road and placed it on the ground next to the tree it had fallen from, before making a call for advice.

It was a young screech owl. Fully grown, this diminutive but very pretty bird stands about 9 inches from head to toe, and is our most common owl. Most residents and visitors have probably heard them late at night, but not associated the mysterious, hoot-less calls with that of an owl.

One of their two most common vocalizations is best described as a strange whinny that descends in pitch; the other is a similar tremulous sound whose pitch does not change. Both are quite distinctive and hard to confuse with any other wildlife vocalizations.

From the ground, George and I searched the branches of the horse-chestnut tree for signs of the parents, and found one adult and one juvenile hunkered down in the canopy, the former keeping a close eye on us. A quick call to Dell Cullum helped hatch a plan. Dell pointed out that even the very young hatchlings, with their stout legs, large feet and sharp talons, are excellent climbers. We managed to climb up and place the hatchling on one of the largest branches in the tree, one that gradually slanted up toward the section of the tree where its parent and sibling perched. There was also a cavity not far along the limb that I hoped might contain its nest.

I returned just before dark. The hatchling was not where we left it and I could not locate it anywhere in the tree or on the ground in the immediate area. Its sibling had not moved, and the adult had changed perches but remained very close to the sibling. I hoped that the hatchling had decided to return to the nest cavity for a well deserved rest, and some time to gain strength before facing the fast-paced life in the Hamptons.

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