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The Ivory Bill·Birds·Hawks & Owls

Screech Owls, Otus asio

A screech owl pair perched on a rotting tree trunk.

Screech Owls inhabit forests, woodlands, suburban areas, and even city parks. They can be found across most of North America, ranging from southern Canada to parts of Mexico. Within this range, they occupy different habitats depending on the subspecies. Eastern Screech Owls are commonly found in deciduous forests, while Western Screech Owls prefer coniferous forests and open woodlands.

Screech Owls are primarily nocturnal hunters, using their excellent low-light vision and keen hearing to locate prey. Their diet consists of a variety of small animals, including rodents such as mice and voles, small birds, insects, amphibians, and occasionally reptiles. They are skilled hunters, employing a sit-and-wait strategy, perching on a high branch or tree stump and swooping down silently to capture their prey.

Screech Owls nest in abandoned woodpecker holes or natural tree cavities and sometimes in man-made structures, such as nest boxes.  Screech Owl Nest Box Plans.

They do not build their nests but utilize existing spaces. They may also take over the nests of woodpeckers or squirrels. Screech Owls have a habit of roosting in tree cavities during the day, and they may use multiple cavities within their territory for roosting purposes.

Female Screech Owls lay a clutch of 3 to 5 eggs, with each egg laid a few days apart. The eggs are white and spherical in shape. Incubation is primarily the duty of the female, lasting around 26 to 30 days. During this period, the male provides food for the female. Once the eggs hatch, both parents participate in feeding the young. They regurgitate food for the chicks, gradually introducing larger prey items as the chicks grow. The parents continue to care for and feed their young for several weeks until they fledge.

Screech Owl chicks typically fledge when they are around 4 to 5 weeks old. Initially, they leave the nest and move onto nearby branches, where they continue to be fed and cared for by their parents. They are not fully independent at this stage and may still rely on their parents for food and protection. The fledging period lasts for a few weeks, during which the young owls develop their flight and hunting skills.

Screech Owls are generally non-migratory birds, with some individuals staying in their breeding territories year-round. However, in regions with harsh winters and limited food availability, some Screech Owls may migrate to more favorable areas. These movements are typically short-distance and altitudinal, with individuals relocating to lower elevations or areas with milder climates. Their winter ranges and habitats may overlap with their breeding territories or vary depending on local conditions.

Screech Owls exhibit one of two primary color morphs: gray and reddish-brown. Both allow them to blend with their surroundings, providing effective camouflage. Screech Owls also have prominent ear tufts, although these tufts are not directly related to their hearing ability.

Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio) have a variety of vocalizations. Their primary call is a soft, descending trill that sounds like a horse whinnying or a bouncing ball with a slightly raspy quality. The trill starts with a rapid series of high-pitched notes that gradually decrease in pitch and speed. This call is often used for territorial defense and communication between mates. Additionally, Eastern Screech Owls produce a series of short, high-pitched whistles that are used for contact calls.

Western Screech Owl’s (Megascops kennicottii) vocalizations are similar to those of the Eastern Screech Owl but with some variations. Its primary call is a series of descending notes that sound like a whistling or trilling song. The notes are often described as having a bouncing or tremolo-like quality. The Western Screech Owl’s call can be more melodic and prolonged compared to the Eastern Screech Owl’s call. It also produces short, sharp barks and a series of soft, mellow hoots.