Jim Williams has been watching birds and writing about their antics since before "Gilligan's Island" went into reruns. Join him for his unique insights, his everyday adventures and an open conversation about the birds in your back yard and beyond.

Close look at Screech-Owl feet

Posted by: Jim Williams under Bird biology Updated: January 23, 2014 - 3:06 PM

Below are photos of the feet of an Eastern Screech-Owl. A friend recently found the bird dead in his yard, offering me a chance for photos before he disposed of it. (It is illegal to possess owls and raptors without a federal permit.) In the first photo a kitchen match has been placed behind talons to offer an idea of the size of the foot and talons. The second photo is a closer view of the foot pad. It's covered with papillae, Latin for nipple. These protuberances aid grip. In some species the pattern of the papillae is like a fingerprint, varied enough to allow identification of individuals. If this bird had its toes spread they would mimic the four main compass points. This configuration, called zygodactyl, also aids grip. Screech-owls have a very diverse diet. Hunting at night, they will pursue and eat mice, rats, chipmunks, squirrels, shrews, moles, small songbirds, game birds as large as Ruffed Grouse, fish, snakes, lizards, soft-shelled turtles, frogs, toads, salamanders, crayfish, snails, earthworms, scorpions, and various insects. Adult owls will spend winters in their breeding areas. They often roost in Wood Duck boxes, which is what this bird was doing before it died. Reason for this death is unknown.

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