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Species Description

Eastern Screech-Owl

Megascops asio


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Classification

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves
Order: Strigiformes
Family: Strigidae

Description

The bill is pale and the eyes are yellow. There are two phases, or main color patterns, of the Eastern Screech Owl. The red phase occurs primarily in the South; these birds are rusty red. The gray phase is mostly a northern phase; these owls are mostly gray. The color on the upper breast (gray or rust) is barred. 22 cm (8.5 in) in length. Both phases of this owl have ear tufts which are visible when they are raised, but can be hard to see when flattened. The call of this species is also important, because this owl is more often heard than seen. The Eastern Screech Owl has two calls. One call is usually a single trilled note. The other call, a series of whistles that descend in pitch, has been described as an eerie horse whinny.

Life Cycle

The breeding season begins in mid-March, peaks in early-April, and extends until late May. Nesting habitat encompasses a variety of wooded areas, including forests, parks, and residential areas. The nest is usually in a cavity in a snag, a live tree, or a hollow stump. The nest height is variable (4.5-15 m; 15-50 feet). The female lays 2-8 (usually 4-5) eggs that she incubates incubates for 26 days. The male feeds the female while she is incubating. The female does not go very far from the nest when she is taking a break from incubating. The young are semi-altricial, and fledge about 27 days after hatching. The adults will sometimes bring a live Blind Snake back to the nest. The snake does not appear to bother the young, but instead cleans up any uneaten food or insects living in the nest, reducing parasites and keeping the nest clean.

Natural History

Mixed woodlands are a favorite place for this little owl, but other habitats include residential and rural areas. This species is nocturnal, being active mostly at night. The diet of these owls include insects, small vertebrates, small mammals, and occasionally birds. This owl hunts from a perch or on the wing, capturing prey when it is seen.

Range

Eastern Screech-Owl Region Map The Eastern Screech Owl occurs throughout the eastern United States all year. In the Southeast, it is common except in extreme elevations (above 1350 m; 4428 feet).

Conservation Status

This species is fairly common and not listed as Threatened or Endangered in any part of its southeastern range. However, the Eastern Screech Owl is declining, probably due to limited nesting sites. This species will use nesting boxes placed in the appropriate habitat. During the breeding season when young are in the nest, this protective little owl will try to keep any danger from its nesting site, which includes flying at an unsuspecting human visitor. People commonly misjudge this action. As with any bird during its breeding season, the Eastern Screech Owl is only trying to protect its young.

Similar Species

The species most similar to the Eastern Screech Owl is the Western Screech Owl. These two species were once thought to be the same. The range of the Western Screech Owl is limited to the western part of the United States. The voice of the Eastern Screech Owl (described above) is different than that of its western counterpart. The Western Screech Owl call is a trill note that gradually reduces in speed.