Eastern Screech-OwlMegascops asio

adult, gray morph
Brian Henry/VIREO
owlets
Sam Fried/VIREO
adult, brown morph
James R. Woodward/VIREO
adult, gray morph peering from nest cavity
Warren Greene/VIREO
adult, brown morph
Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO
adults, gray and red morphs
Rob & Ann Simpson/VIREO

Family

Description

This robin-sized nightbird is common over much of the east, including in city parks and shady suburbs, where many human residents are unaware they have an owl for a neighbor. The owl spends the day roosting in holes or in dense cover, becoming active at dusk. Despite the name, screech-owls do not screech; the voice of this species features whinnies and soft trills.

Habitat

Woodlands, farm groves, shade trees. Generally favors deciduous or mixed woods, but may be found in any habitat having some open ground and some large trees, from forest to isolated groves to suburban yards. May be absent from some areas because of lack of dead snags with suitable nesting holes.

Feeding Diet

Mostly large insects and small rodents. Wide variation in diet. Eats many beetles, moths, crickets, other large insects. Catches mice and other rodents, shrews, sometimes bats; also some small birds, lizards, frogs, spiders, earthworms, crayfish, many other small creatures. Some catch many small fish.

Feeding Behavior

Forages at dusk and at night. Hunts mostly by watching from a perch and then swooping down to take prey from the ground or from foliage. Also catches flying insects in the air. Can locate prey by sound as well as by sight.

Nesting

Courtship displays of male include bowing, raising wings, clicking bill. Male brings food to female. Mated pairs preen each other's feathers, call in duet. Nest site is in cavity in tree, including natural hollows and abandoned woodpecker holes; will also use artificial nest boxes. Usually 10-30' above ground, can be 5-80' up. Eggs: 4-5, sometimes 2-8. White. Incubation is mostly by female, averages about 26 days. Male brings food to female during incubation. Young: Both parents bring food for young. Adults may bring back small, wormlike Blind Snakes and release them in nest, where the snakes burrow in debris in bottom of cavity, feeding on insects there, perhaps helping protect the young from parasites. Young leave the nest about 4 weeks after hatching, are fed by parents for some time thereafter.

Eggs

4-5, sometimes 2-8. White. Incubation is mostly by female, averages about 26 days. Male brings food to female during incubation. Young: Both parents bring food for young. Adults may bring back small, wormlike Blind Snakes and release them in nest, where the snakes burrow in debris in bottom of cavity, feeding on insects there, perhaps helping protect the young from parasites. Young leave the nest about 4 weeks after hatching, are fed by parents for some time thereafter.

Young

Both parents bring food for young. Adults may bring back small, wormlike Blind Snakes and release them in nest, where the snakes burrow in debris in bottom of cavity, feeding on insects there, perhaps helping protect the young from parasites. Young leave the nest about 4 weeks after hatching, are fed by parents for some time thereafter.

Conservation

Still widespread and fairly common, but thought to have been gradually declining in various parts of range. Helped in some areas by provision of nest boxes.

Range

Apparently a permanent resident throughout its range. Especially in north, may wander somewhat in fall and winter.

Listen

whinny
whinny & trill
squeals & bill snaps (interaction)
whinnies & trills (with pauraques)
monotonic trill

Similar Species

adult, Pacific

Northern Pygmy-Owl

In western forests, this little owl is often active by day. It may fly fast and low from one tree to the next and then swoop up to take a high perch, rather like a shrike. An aggressive hunter despite its small size, it catches more birds than most small owls. Little gangs of chickadees and other songbirds often gather to "mob" a pygmy-owl discovered in daylight, and they will react the same way to a birder who imitates the owl's whistled call.

adult, red morph

Flammulated Owl

The soft, low-pitched hoots of this little owl can be heard (if one listens carefully) in mountain pine forests over much of the west. Seeing the bird is another matter; its variegated pattern of brown and rust makes perfect camouflage when it perches close to a pine trunk. Because it is so inconspicuous, the Flammulated Owl was long overlooked in many areas, and was considered rare until recently.

adult, Interior Southwest

Western Screech-Owl

Inconspicuous but locally very common is this little owl. In the varied terrain of the west, its haunts range from coastal forests in southeastern Alaska to cactus groves in the Arizona desert, and it is often found in suburban areas. Until the 1980s, Western and Eastern screech-owls were considered to belong to the same species because they look so similar; however, their voices differ, and they apparently recognize their own kind by sound.

adult

Whiskered Screech-Owl

In mountains near the Mexican border, this little owl is common in the oak woodlands. Although its voice is distinctive, it looks very much like the Western Screech-Owl, which is common in the same general region. The Whiskered is a little smaller and lives mostly at higher elevations. Western and Whiskered screech-owls are often found side by side in the lower parts of canyons in Arizona, where the desert gives way to oaks and sycamores.

adult

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Birders who prowl through conifer groves in winter sometimes find this round-headed little gnome perched there, sitting still as if to avoid notice. Avoiding notice is a task at which this owl often succeeds; it is overlooked in many places where it occurs. Late at night in the breeding season, males give a rhythmic tooting song that may go on for hours with scarcely a break. The bird was named for this song, which reminded settlers of the sound of a whetstone sharpening a saw.

adult

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

Common and widespread in the American tropics, this little owl enters our area only in southern Texas and Arizona, where it is now uncommon to rare. It is often active by day, and may feed on small birds at times; songbirds in its range all recognize its whistled call, and will gather around to mob and harass the owl when they discover it.

Vireo

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