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Eastern Screech Owl

"The screech-owl, with ill-boding cry, Portends strange things, old women say;
Stops every fool that passes by, And frights the school-boy from his play."

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

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Screech OwlGorda & Raisin

Left, Raisin by Brenda Dadds Woodward, Right, Gorda, a male from Florida, and Raisin, a female from Missouri
Photo by Steve Hall

    Eastern Screech Owl

         Megascops asio
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae
Genus: Megascops


The screech owl is quite common, even in heavily populated suburban locations.  Very few people realize they are there, even though they can be quite noisy, because they hide in plain sight. They live in trees the same color as their plumage and sit totally still, so people and predators take them for stumps.  Camoflage is the main function of the ear tufts, which have nothing to do with hearing. The Eastern Screech Owl is found east of the Rockies. Screech owls are polymorphic, with both a gray and a red phase.  These are color phases much like the color phases of hawks, and about a third of all eastern screech owls are red, with the percentage dropping as you move north and west through their range. Western screech owls are gray, and like the eastern, have black streaks and spots in the breast plumage Screech owls are not migrators, and may stay within their 200 acre territory throughout the year. Territories are not typically defended, and the territories of neighboring screech owls may overlap. Breeding territories are much smaller, about 10 to 15 acres, and these will be defended.

The ears of owls are  placed on their head to allow for triangulation of the prey’s location by sound.  This is analogous to how our eyes perceive depth by triangulation.  So sensitive and accurate is the hearing of the screech owl that birds kept in captivity because they are thought to be blind can still catch live mice in their cages.

Screech owls tend to be monogamous, and may mate for life, though a single male may mate with two females. As the late Winter breeding season looms, the male will locate and prepare a cavity, usually in a deciduous tree, or simply reuse an older nesting cavity. They may occupy multiple cavities within their territory while patrolling. Screech owls will use man-made nesting boxes. The male will call to the female, and, will begin an elaborate courting ritual, involving bobbing and swiveling the head, bobbing the whole body, and even winking at her. The male will place food in the cavity, and try to attract his mate by the quality of the location and the food. If the female accepts his advances, the two will touch bills and preen each other.

Six to eight eggs are layed at two day intervals. Incubation lasts 26 days, initially just by the female, though the male helps later in the process. The male hunts and provides food, which the female may stockpile. Fledglings remain in the nest for about a month.

Screech owls eat mostly small rodents, but will also take snakes, toads, frogs, crayfish, and grab large insects and the occasional small bird on the wing.  Larger birds like grouse are occasionally taken. Where blind snakes are found, for example, in Texas, screech owls have been known to use them as a kind of maid service, placing them in the nest, where they are harmless to the owlets, and where they burrow into the nest, consuming insect larvae and pupae, thus keeping the nest clean, while culling compettion for edible food in the nest.

Larger owls take a heavy toll on the little screech, as do minks, weasals, skunks, snakes and corvids. Life expectancy in the wild is about ten years, with captive animals living about twice that period.

Screech owls make a variety of sounds, ranging from raucous screams to a mournful one note trilling, which is used to court a female, advertise a nest site, or for family members to stay in touch.

Raisin was rehabbed at the Raisin River Ranch in Missouri, after being struck by a car.

Gary and Steve


Raisin, photo by Bill Woodall

Raisin by Bill Woodall

Raisin, photo by Bill Woodall

Eastern Screech Owl rangeRaisinWendy & Raisin
Raisin with Wendy

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