Marc Morrone Newsday columnist Marc Morrone

Marc Morrone was born in 1960 in the Bronx and, when he was 2, his family moved to

My husband made a small squirrel nest box, according to Internet instructions, and placed it high up in a nearby tree. A squirrel took up residence within weeks and we were hoping to watch a family grow come spring. However, the squirrel was hit by a car. Now we have discovered that a small owl (about 6 inches high) has moved in. It comes out in early evening, hangs out on the limb until dark, then flies away to hunt. I have witnessed blue jays and mockingbirds harass the owl by squawking loudly while it is in the nest. I go outside, clap my hands loudly to scare the birds away. My question is, will the birds harass the owl enough to cause it to move out or kill it or will the owl stand its ground? Is this a natural behavior; if so, why? We are hoping this owl finds a mate so we now can watch an owl family grow. We've lived near Smith Point County Park in Shirley for 44 years and this is only the second owl we've seen. -- Madeline Jubenville, Shirley

You are very fortunate to be able to witness this bit of drama in the natural world. This "mobbing behavior"

has been studied as a natural phenomenon for 2,500 years. All songbirds have an inborn fear of owls and other birds of prey even though they may never have seen one. When they do, the conflict of emotions -- fear of the owl vs. anger at its presence along with the curiosity of wanting to learn about this ancient enemy -- causes the commotion.

However, the mobbing birds are smart enough to do this only when the owl is not actively hunting and just sitting quietly, as you have noticed. The birds will rarely make contact outright and hurt the owl, but they do their best to let the whole neighborhood know who has just moved in. The beleaguered owl finds the whole encounter highly distasteful and confusing and becomes increasingly ill at ease until eventually the din and intrusions become too much for it and it flies off to find a quieter spot.

If the owl does find a mate and there are no other tree cavities to use that are in a quieter spot, then the new couple will make the best of the situation as it is very rare that the songbirds will hurt them (although they could hurt the baby owls should the opportunity arise.) Either way, you really do not have much say in the situation as the birds will mob the owl no matter how many times you go out to chase them off.

If you could put up a few more boxes in other parts of your property, one of those could possibility be out of sight of the songbirds and thus grant the owl a more peaceful nest.

We live on the East End of Long Island and this is the first time we've noticed many of our squirrels look either really beat up or sick.

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One has the end of his tail gone with a bloody end, and the tail that looks like mange. One has an ear almost gone and open sores or wounds down the side. Another has a large lump under the neck getting larger and starting look like it's opening up. Another one has a healed ear that looks clipped like a neutered cat but does not use one hind leg and appears to be moving much slower than the others, like it's weak.

We've had a bird feeder and bath in the yard for years with a constant population of squirrels and have not seen so many looking like they do this year.

Can you advise if this is something new to the area? -- Kathy Burke, Westhampton Beach

I would think that the squirrels are doing this to each other. If a predator gets hold of a squirrel it is rare that the squirrel gets loose, and if it does the injuries are so severe that death follows in a few days. This time of the year is when the squirrels mate and their hormones are raging. Fights -- with resulting bites and injuries to extremities -- are common.

If the squirrel population is low, then as soon as the fighting starts the losers take off to other territories, but if there are more squirrels than the habitat can hold or they are forced to concentrate in one area to take advantage of a food source, then the weaker ones cannot avoid the dominant ones. It is just a situation that occurs in the natural world that we can only watch without judgment.

We just took in a teddy bear hamster for our son. Every time we try to take the hamster out of his cage he rolls on his back and squeals. We have left him alone for a week now and he still does it. How can we get him to be friendly? My son seems to be as afraid of the hamster as the hamster is afraid of us. -- Josh Lieberman, Hewlett

The hamster will never learn to be friendly if you just leave him alone. He needs to interact with you in a positive setting with no drama so he can realize that nobody will hurt him. The best thing to do is to just scoop him up in a coffee cup and pet him in there and offer him treats that he would not normally get. This way he gets to hang out with you and he feels secure and your son will not be afraid of him. In just a few days of this the hamster will lose his fear and thus you can pick him up with your hands.

At first you should put his cage on the floor and sit down on the floor next to the cage with him in the cup. This way should he panic and bolt out of the cup he will not be hurt by the drop to the floor and you can then just scoop him back into the coffee cup and try again.