Every time I walk through a forest I know there are screech owls nearby but no matter how hard I scour every snag or tree hole, I rarely ever find one. Their camouflage and knack for staying hidden is nearly perfect. They often sit right in the tree cavity and effectively block the cavity from view with their body. Their plumage closely resembles the color and pattern of tree bark and they even lay their feathers over the tree bark like this one has done. Look at the feathers on the right side of the bird’s face and its ear tufts, and how they blend right in with the bark. They’re really common birds in most places, you hear them often at night, but by day it’s another story. It’s as if they disappear altogether into the forest. Sometimes you’ll get lucky like I did with this bird. A group of chickadees had spotted this owl roosting in a red pine, and they’re scolding calls tipped me off to the owl’s presence. If it hadn’t been for the chickadees, I would have walked right by. Even when an owl is sitting more in the open like this, they are still very difficult to spot. This one just looks like a broken off tree branch. I feel extremely lucky any chance I get to see one and I like walking through the forest knowing that they’re there, sitting someplace watching through squinted eyes, whether I’m able to see them or not. [Audio Recordings: Jonathan R. Storm, Kevin J. Colver; Photographs: Gerrit Vyn]

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The Eastern Screech-Owl is a master of disguise. The owl sometimes seeks out a tree cavity to rest in during the day, and positions itself to fill the mouth cavity. Its gray and brown feathers blend in seamlessly with the surrounding tree bark. Even when the owl perches on a branch, it is still difficult to distinguish it from a broken snag. When hidden like this, they’re hard for even experienced birders to spot. Most birders only know this owl by its nightly song. Would you be able to spot the Eastern Screech-Owl?

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