Photo: Rolf Nussbaumer/Vireo

Eastern Screech-Owl

Megascops asio

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.
Conservation status 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.
Family Owls
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.
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.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, gray morph
  • owlets
  • adult, brown morph
  • adult, gray morph peering from nest cavity
  • adult, brown morph
  • adults, gray and red morphs
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.


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.

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.


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.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

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

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Migration

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

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A tremulous, descending wail; soft purrs and trills.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.