Editor's note: Here's the first installment of "Darien: Where These Wild Things Are," a column featuring the uncommon creatures commonly found at the Darien Nature Center. If you've got an unusual species in Darien that you'd like us to feature, send an email to Darien@Patch.com.
Blinky is a Western Screech Owl who was found injured in Arizona about a decade ago, and who now resides at the on Brookside Road.
"Its sex is unknown," said Ioa Byrne, a member of the staff at the Nature Center who wore a thick glove when she took Blinky from a cage so that the owl's picture could be taken. Male and female screech owls look very similar (the females are a bit bigger).
Somehow Blinky became injured, Byrne said. "We're not sure if it was hit by a car," she said. Binky and another Western Screech Owl—which the Darien Nature Center named "Winky"—were flown east in the cockpit of an airliner about 8 to 10 years ago.
A third mystery about Binky is his or her age—since the owl was born in the wild, there's no way of knowing its age for sure.
Winky, who died earlier this year, was an older owl, Byrne said. "We knew that, because she had cataracts." Blinky, on the other hand, has caramel-colored eyes, normal for an owl.
Blinky dines on laboratory mice that the Nature Center buys frozen after they've been humanely euthanized. With proper owl etiquette, Blinky will snap the head off to eat the nutritious mice brains, and then eat the rest of the mouse. Larger owls will swallow their prey whole.
Like other owls, Binky's stomach will dissolve tiny animals until only the fur and bones remain, then cough up a completely sterile pellet. In the wild, Binky likely fed on insects, reptiles, small mammals (including bats and mice) and small birds.
Screech owls will perch near semi-open areas, often with old trees where their prey are more likely to be found. Their good sense of hearing and sharp eyes help them get a bead on their prey, which they bring to the nest, perhaps to guard against it being stolen by a larger bird.
Binky's grayish, brownish and white feathers help the owl blend in well among trees. Male screech owls build nests in tree cavities, often using nests abandoned by other birds. Females then pick mates based on the quality of the nest and the food in it. While females are pregnant, males will bring back food to the nest for them.
Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio)—the type found on the East Coast—and Western Screech Owls (Megascops kennicottii) look alike—so much so that DNA analysis or the birds' songs are necessary to tell them apart.
Normally, screech owls neither hoot nor screech—instead they have a trill for their typical territorial call, with four individual calls per second, voiced one after the other.
The Darien Nature Center reopens on Tuesday, Jan. 3. The nature center is normally open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., weekdays, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.