Saturday, December 9, 2023

Owl Facebook group a real hoot

A chance meeting with a screech owl led Jim Simpkins to start a Facebook Group about the raptors. (Photo by Helen’s Photography)

One night about 15 years ago, Jim Simpkins was walking around his neighborhood behind the Flower Mound Police Department when he saw a shadowy figure.

It turned out to be a small screech owl like one he had previously encountered hunting elk in Oregon.

When he tried to put a flashlight on the bird it flew up into a tree, but later he came across more and his interest became greater.

“I guess it just luck that we were there at the right time,” he said. “I built a box and put it out and had an occasional visitor but never an occupant. After a couple years of failure, I turned my back on the box.

“Then in 2017, I decided to go one more time with it. I bought a box at Wild Birds Unlimited and they sold me everything I needed. I put it up and two weeks later had nesting owls.”

The first year the nesting couple delivered two babies, the second year they had four, last year there were three and this year there were four.

Wanting to find other people to share his love for the critters, he started a Facebook page two years ago. He figured maybe 10-15 people would join “Screech Owls of Flo Mo” to share stories about the birds.

Much to his surprise he had 100 people by the end of the first day, 200 after the first week and 500 the first year. Today there are 950 followers and growing. While most are from Flower Mound and surrounding communities, some reside as far away as Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, Florida and even Europe.

Hoo’s that I spotted watching me? (Photo by Jim Simpkins)

“I just wanted people to visit with about the owls,” said the 73-year-old of his first time to engage on Facebook. Wanting to keep things positive and focused, Simpkins allows no political talk of any kind on the page.

“It’s always about the owls and what people have seen,” said Simpkins, who grew up near the Red River and moved to DFW in the 1960s.

Screech Owls of Flo Mo feature lots of pictures and videos to keep people interested. Many are shared from the beginning of mating season in February to egg-laying in March, hatching in April and to full growth by May.

Sometimes up to 15-20 people – including total strangers – will come to Simpkins’ backyard to view the birds.

When you think of an Eastern Screech Owl, think of a horse on helium: The little raptor lets out a descending whinny, capped off with a trill.

The small animals (eight ounces for females, 6-7 for males) are city birds that help control the rodent population. Simpkins said males generally have deep voices and females shrill voices and all typically eat rats, small snakes, lizards and geckos plus insects and smaller birds.

“If we have people interested in the owls we will have people who will not put out rat poison and that’s one of our goals,” Simpkins said.

“Every one of the raptors in our area are adversely affected by rat poison. If a rat gets hold of the poison and an owl takes a bite it will go to the babies. If a dog gets one of the babies it will kill the dog. You’ve got the possibility of tertiary damages to these critters.”

Though the group has not had any formal in-person meetings, Simpkins met some last year at presentations at the Flower Mound Library and Wild Birds Unlimited.

“We’re all learning. I share what I can and everyone shares what they can,” Simpkins said. “We could write a book. It would be a hodge-podge of facts.”

Find Simpkins’ Facebook group here: Screech Owls of Flo Mo.

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