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Natural History of the Screech Owl

Red phase eastern screech owl

Red phase eastern
screech owl

This small, softly singing owl is a denizen of parks, gardens, woods, field edges, and suburban and urban yards. Common even in the most populated cities, the screech owl serenades with its tremolos and whinnies while it sits on favorite perches, watching for its prey below.

These pretty little owls are easily observed and can be coaxed down close by imitating their calls either by voice or recording.

Approximately 9” tall with a 22” wingspan, this stocky owl sports two ear tufts that give it a horned appearance, bright yellow eyes, and highly cryptic plumage that resembles bark, an adaptation for concealment. The Eastern screech owl comes in two colors, gray morph, which is more common, and red morph. The Western screech owl comes in gray and brown.

Read about our innovative Screech Owl Nest Box

Diet and Hunting of Screech Owls

Studies show that rodents contribute the highest amount of prey, including voles, shrews, and house mice, however screech owls will also take small birds, beetles, and even crayfish. Screech owls are strictly nighttime animals, and hunt by perching on low branches and pouncing on prey from above. You can often find where these owls are perching by looking for concentrations of their droppings which look like white latex paint.

Screech owls like to hunt in open understory–very similar to many suburban yards. They usually perch ten to fifteen feet off the ground and make short stoops toward their prey on the ground.

Screech Owl Breeding and Development

Screech owls begin breeding in spring. They normally lay 3 to 5 eggs that take about 26 days to hatch. The chicks fledge approximately 31 days later. They do not add any material to their nests, so it is important to put about three inches of mulch on the floor of the nest box.

Screech Owl Seasonal Movements

Screech owls do not migrate; they survive well in northern climes during the winter. However, they will often move short distances in the winter, most likely to find better hunting grounds. In the spring, screech owls return to the areas they nested in before, often returning to the same nest box.

Observing Screech Owls

Screech owls are not shy. In fact, when enticed down from their tree-homes with a taped recording of other screech owls, they can be downright defiant. It is not unusual for such an owl to land right on the boom box! However, another behavior of screech owls also makes them observable: they have the habit of watching out of their nest box entrances for half an hour or more before venturing into the night. This behavior occurs at dusk while there is still enough residual light to see them.

Range Map of the Eastern and Western Screech Owls

Screech Owl Nest Boxes can be placed anywhere within the breeding range of the two species.

Links to Websites on Screech Owls