WE OWN OWLS! And it only took seven years! Well, five really. The nest box went up in December of 2009. Its only occupant during the first five years was a starling family, until the winter of 2014 when (at last!) a solitary male screech owl started using the box, apparently as a bachelor pad. There was no sign of a mate, and we didn't hear the telltale courtship/mating calls that would've indicated that he was wooing a female. For two years he resided alone in the box, hunting sphynx moths and cockroaches in the garden, and growing comfortable enough with our presence that he'd sit on my fence and calmly watch us when we were out in the evenings.
Then, one evening in March of 2016, when we arrived home from a weekend away and started unloading the truck, which was parked in its usual spot near the nest box, we heard warning clicks coming from the nest box. We looked up and there was our male sitting with his face in the hole, like normal, but he was clicking at us like he was unhappy about us being near the nest box. Whuuuut? He was used to us. He knew us. He never clicked at us. Why was he clicking at us now?!
Then we heard a hoot coming from a nearby tree, from a second owl... and realized that the owl in the box was clicking at us because it was NOT used to us, did NOT know us, because the owl in the box was NOT our familiar male, but a NEW owl, a SECOND owl, a FEMALE, finally come to mate and nest with our boy!
From that night forward we regularly heard mating calls, watched as the male brought food to the female in the nearby trees, noticed when the female stopped leaving the box, and finally heard the chirping of babies in the end of April. We kept a nightly vigil through the spring, witnessing feedings, including a whole starling corpse that the female drug into the nest box, getting the first glimpse of a fuzzy baby head on May 12, worrying about the sudden presence of a Great Horned Owl in the area, worrying about the raccoon traipsing right under the nest box at dusk, and watching as the babies made their first exploratory leaps up into the hole, where they teetered briefly, doing disco-esque bee-bopping head rolls before popping back inside. When the babies started bouncing off the walls -- flapping, fluttering, squawking, and making clouds of dander -- the mom moved out of the box and started sleeping with the male in a nearby pine tree.
By May 21, we had seen two baby heads, but during the evenings when we were watching the nest, we only ever saw one of them sitting in the hole hogging all of the food deliveries. If there were more babies in there, we figured they must be starving to death. The parents, however, knew what they were doing, because when the babies finally fledged on May 24, there were four of them. The first owlet leaned out of the hole, lost his balance, scrambled back in and disappeared. He jumped up into the hole again, leaning, leaning, leaning, getting a wing out, and lost his balance, dangled by a claw, flapped and thrashed and managed to get back into the hole a second time. On his third try, he leaned, leaned, leaned, stretched his wings, and leapt, making a clumsy downward arcing crash landing into the linden tree next to us. While he was crashing about in the leaves, another baby head popped up into the hole for a repeat performance. That evening's show ended with a fourth owlet, clearly fuzzier and younger than its siblings, falling and scraping and thrashing to the ground, then climbing (not flying yet) ever so slowly back up to the box where it remained until the next evening when it had another go at flying, this time more successfully.
Once all four owlets had fledged, the parents started showing them around the neighborhood, teaching them to hunt, feeding them in the trees, and gradually taking them further and further from home base. By June 14, they were gone. All of them. No parents, no babies, no hooting, no sign of them at all for ten days. We took this opportunity to take the box down to clean it, replenish the pine shavings, and install a (new and better) nest cam for next year's brood (we hope).
On June 24 the male reappeared, alone. Did Mom take the babies away to go find their own territories? Would she come back afterward? For another three weeks we heard the male calling in the evenings and getting no reply. Then, on July 13, we heard two owls once again doing mating hoots. Since then, they've been in the area, sleeping in other nest boxes during the day and regularly checking in at our box during the night. There are three nest boxes within a one-block radius for them to choose from, and we're hoping that they'll move back into ours when it's time to lay eggs in the spring. Word on the street is that they tend to reuse a nest site if they produced a successful brood in it previously. If this plays out, we'll have an even better view than we did last year.
Videos of nest box activity since July 2017 are here: Western Screech Owl Nest Cam
So far there is a whole lot of flicker activity and just a bit of owl activity... perhaps at some point we'll witness an epic battle between flicker and screech owl. My money is on the owls.