(cont…) Blind snakes are small and plain, looking rather like earthworms, and are normally found burrowing in loose soil. Since screech owls eat a variety of prey items, it is not surprising that they bring blind snakes back to their nests. The surprising thing is that the owls often bring in the snakes alive, and whether this is intentional or not, the snakes are often released unharmed into the nests (they have a slippery coat of slime, so not easy to hold and transfer to a chick). It then quickly burrows into the nest. The blind snakes may live for weeks (average is around 15 weeks) in the accumulated debris and dead carcasses stockpiled by the owls, feeding on fly larvae, other insects, and parasites. The snake will stay put until the owl family leaves. Then it slithers down the tree and returns to its underground home.
Studying eastern screech owls in Texas, Frederick Gehlbach found that the snakes actually contributed to the breeding success of the owls, presumably by controlling the insects that would parasitize the young and compete for food left in the nest (7% less mortality and healthier chicks living with nest snakes). Western and whiskered screech owls as well as elf owls have also been known to bring blind snakes into their nests, but their interactions are not as well-known as the more-studied eastern screech owls.
(Excerpts taken from: “BirdWatching Magazine”, April 2011; “The Eastern Screech Owl: Life History, Ecology, and Behavior In The Suburbs” by Frederick Gehlbach, Research Professor of Biology, Baylor University, Texas; “Owls Of The US and Canada” by Wayne Lynch; National Wildlife Federation –
Now, keeping in mind those scratching songbirds and the occasional little owl that may be utilizing your garden as a hunting ground, remember that the poisonous insecticides we use in, on, and around our yards and gardens can migrate up the food chain (all the way up to us).
Instead of toxic weed killers, how about a little exercise and elbow grease to pull up those weeds!
Plant flowers and bushes that are natural deterrents to bugs. Borax mixed with confectioner’s sugar will kill small insects and is harmless to animals. Ants will retreat from lines of cayenne pepper, chalk, and talcum powder (my favorite). Squeeze a lemon into the entrance of the ant nest and leave the peels as a deterrent.
Make your own pesticide by placing a few hot chili peppers, ½ onion, and a few cloves of garlic in 2 cups of water. Boil, allow to cool, and then pour into a sealed container. Steep for 2 days, strain out the solids, and pour into a spray bottle. Strong soapy water in a spray bottle works well too.
Surf the internet for the many alternatives to toxic chemicals. I am sure Mrs. Plithiver would approve.
Make it personal and be part of the solution!