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Blacksburg Eastern Screech Owl Project

The Blacksburg Eastern Screech Owl Project is a collaboration between researchers and the broader Blacksburg community. We are focused on monitoring and understanding the biology of our nocturnal neighbors. 

How did it get started?

In the midst of major construction on my office building, I noticed a surplus of pallets laying around. After consulting with Drs. Annie Pearce and Lori Blanc, we came up with a plan to turn these pallets into owl boxes. I reached out to the New River Land Trust and was subsequently connected with conservation easement owners and the Director of Parks and Recreation. Word also spread within the local birding community and eventually 20 owl boxes were installed within the Blacksburg area. This project is currently providing research opportunities for Virginia Tech Undergraduates and connecting community members with the local biodiversity and researchers at Virginia Tech.


Eastern Screech Owls are small owls that nest in natural cavities within snags and nest boxes.

January 2023: Ignacio Moore and his students continue to monitor boxes for occupancy. 
Spring 2022: Congratulations to Catherine who capped off her senior year with a poster presentation on her owl research at the VT Fish and Wildlife Department Undergraduate Research Symposium. Catherine will be working with the American Conservation Experience and the National Park Service this coming summer.
Fall 2021: Catherine received a Conservation Grant from the Virginia Society of Ornithology to support her research!

Virginia Outdoors Foundation highlights the boxes on one of the conservation easements, Thundercroft Ranch

Meet the original team

Project Founder


 I installed boxes and assisted Catherine with her research from afar, engaged with community stakeholders, and keep the local New River Valley Bird club up to date with our progress.

Undergraduate Researcher Alumni


Catherine McGrath was in the Fish and Wildlife Department at Virginia Tech. Catherine's research focused on understanding which animals are using the boxes during the non-breeding season. Catherine presented her research at an undergraduate research symposium associated with the Virginia Tech Fish and Wildlife Department.

Community Stakeholders

20 owl boxes were installed on private residences, conservation easements, and the public parks around Blacksburg. We are grateful for support and participation of Blacksburg Parks & Recreation as well as local community members, who are just as curious as we are to know about their nocturnal neighbors.



Dr. Annie Pearce from the Department of Building & Construction provided materials for breaking down pallets and access to the BuildLAB at Virginia Tech. Sam Lane, a graduate student in the Sewall Lab, and Korin Jones assisted with building and installing the boxes. Dr. Lori Blanc generously provided building materials and field equipment, such as peeper cams, for monitoring the nests. Dr. Blanc also facilitated undergraduate research by bridging this project and Orion Living-Learning Community at Virginia Tech. Dr. Blanc also continued to monitor the boxes following my departure from Blacksburg.


Click on the image below to get a better view of the gallery.

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