The couple are a pair of eastern screech owls that live in the Northwest Austin area, and their family is about to get a lot bigger.
The duo live in an owl box made by a Northwest Austin resident who hooked up a streaming webcam to watch all aspects of Merlin and Minerva’s daily routine. At any point, viewers can tune in to watch the owls build their nest, bring food home and, soon, watch a handful of owlets hatch and grow up.
Minerva, a female screech owl, laid her first egg March 20, with a fifth and expected final egg laid April 1, according to the owl keeper that runs the webcam. The owl keeper, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to concerns of residents coming to watch the owls in person, said the first eggs could begin hatching as early as April 18.
“Then they usually sit in the box and get fed by the parents and grow for another month or so,” the owl keeper said.
The owl keeper began filming Merlin and Minerva in 2017 after he built an owl box outside his house. Within weeks of installing the box, he said, the pair moved in.
“We were thrilled we had a tenant move in. ... That first season there were four baby owlets,” the owl keeper said.
While the couple are not tagged or marked, the owl keeper of Merlin and Minerva believes the owls nesting in the box currently are the same pair he has observed over the past several years.
Eastern screech owls are typically monogamous and mate for life, commonly returning to the same nesting site each year to hatch and raise their young, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
“We choose to believe it's the same Merlin and Minerva—the names my daughter gave them,” the owl keeper said.
The eastern screech owl is one of 11 types of owls that can be found in Texas, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology states that eastern screech owls typically hunt small animals, including rodents; small reptiles; insects; and even songbirds, such as sterlings and Blue Jays.
Because of the hunting habits of eastern screech owls, Merlin and Minerva’s owl keeper advises residents in Northwest Austin against using poisoned bait to kill rodents in the area. Instead, the owl keeper advises using traps as a means to prevent owls from ingesting poison bait.
“They seem to do a pretty good job of controlling the rodent population because they’re pretty efficient hunters,” the owl keeper said.
In 2018, the owl keeper installed a camera inside the owl box to view Merlin and Minerva inside their home. Since then, the owl keeper has streamed live video of the nesting owls.
The duo even have their own social media accounts, where the owl keeper posts edited videos of Merlin and Minerva nesting and raising their young.
After the eggs hatch, the owl keeper said the owlets will stay in the box with Minerva until late spring, when the family leaves the box altogether. Once the family leaves their Northwest Austin home in late May or early June, Merlin and Minerva will not return until fall, at the earliest.
The owl keeper’s webcam runs 24 hours a day on a daily basis, allowing viewers to check in on the family to watch the eggs hatch. The owl keeper said he observes Merlin coming back from hunting expeditions a handful of times every day with food for the young birds.
“The female will sit on the eggs and depend on the male 100% to bring the food,” the owl keeper said. “It is amazing that these little animals are so incredibly dedicated parents.”