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Blind Snakes and Screech-Owls

When escaping prey benefits owlets

During the breeding season, when Eastern Screech-Owls capture the worm-like reptiles known as blind snakes, they deliver them to their chicks alive and wriggling. Some are gulped down immediately, but others escape by burrowing beneath the nest. The surviving “snakes” feed on the insect larvae they find in the nest — larvae that would otherwise parasitize the owl nestlings. A study conducted by Baylor University scientists found that screech-owl chicks grew faster and healthier in nests kept vermin-free by the blind snakes. 

Full Transcript

Transcript: 

BirdNote®

Owl Farmers
Written by Rick Wright

This is BirdNote.

[Eastern Screech-Owl whinny [107366] by Wilbur L. Hershberger]

Screech-owls are cute — with stubby little bodies, poky little ear tufts, huge round eyes, and what looks like an expression of perpetual surprise on their face. Come nightfall, though, and they’re every bit as ferocious as they are cute, hunting down crickets, beetles and small rodents. But that’s not all… [Eastern Screech-Owl whinny]

Usually, the owls kill their prey before bringing it home. But if they’re lucky enough to capture the little, worm-like reptiles known as blind snakes, they deliver them to the chicks alive and wriggling. [Eastern Screech-Owl tremolo]

Some are gulped down immediately, but others have time to escape by burrowing beneath the wood chips, pellets, and other litter strewn across the floor of the nest. These survivors feed on the insect larvae they find there – larvae that would otherwise parasitize the owl nestlings. [Eastern Screech-Owl begging calls]

A study conducted by Baylor University scientists found that screech-owl chicks grew faster and healthier in nests kept vermin-free by these … domesticated … blind snakes. Now that’s what I call service. 

BirdNote’s lead writer is Bob Sundstrom. Other writers include Todd Peterson, Ellen Blackstone, Chris Peterson and Dennis Paulson. Today’s episode was written by Rick Wright.

For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein. 

###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.  Eastern Screech-Owl [107366] by Wilbur L. Hershberger. Eastern Screech-Owl [166554] by Robert C. Faucett. Eastern Screech-Owl [4457] by Lewis F. Piersall.
BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org    November 2015   Narrator: Michael Stein

ID#  EASO-01-2015-11-04  EASO-01

Baylor Paper: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4218201 

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